I’ll be going to see my boyfriend again soon. Just kidding. For those of you who don’t obsess over central African news the way I do, let me introduce you to President Joseph Desire (that’s deh-sir-ay) Kabila, inaugurated Dec 6, 2006, after three years as a sort of illegal leader (following his father Laurent’s overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko and Laurent’s subsequent assassination) of the ‘transition government.’ Transition as in, going from five years of civil war to something a bit less violent.
There was quite a bit of campaigning during the lead-up to elections last year, but I’ve seen very few slogans on T-shirts or bumper stickers. In DR Congo, it was primarily billboards, printed cloth which can be made into all manner of garments, and – apparently – watches. The watches are more rare, but cloth, commonly called a pagne when it is cut into a 2-yard piece and wrapped around or used to carry something, can be ordered to advertise your organization, your slogan, or to commemorate the Pope’s visit to Africa. I am not kidding.
Leaving my job and the travails of hanging out in a central African capital city out of it, I will say that although there is definitely not a yarn shop there, you can find all manner of crazy textiles. Here are examples from my last trip.
1. Heureux Mariage (Happy Marriage): 1+1=1
2. Celebrating corn! I for one would love to have a dress or skirt made from this fabric. Sewing skills – well, maybe I should just hire a tailor while I am there.
3. They say “shrimp” (actually, they say cossa cossa), I say CRAWFISH! Four years living in New Orleans had its effect, what can I say?
All of these fabrics are cotton and many are imported from Europe and then printed locally. You can find western-style fabric shops for different materials, including synthetic fabric or uphostering. And there are batiks and tie-dyes, some very beautiful, imported from West Africa.
But those shown above came from CongoTex, formerly UtexAfrica, which is a company in Kinshasa recently purchased by a Hong Kong business man who allegedly owns a fabric business in every African country. I have some concerns about the recent surge in Chinese involvement in the African economy, though it has nothing to do with China per se. It has to do with the fact that it’s painfully obvious that Africa needs the economic input but doesn’t have the investors within its own borders.
As well, I can’t find a good link for you but I have heard that the mass import of second hand clothing from organizations such as Good Will or the Salvation Army effectively handicapped the textile industry in Africa. WTO-initiated new trade rules effective since 2005 have also negatively affected textile industry in Africa.
Nonetheless, Congolese use lots of bright fabrics purchased locally, though some are imported, and have their clothing made by local tailors. Someone has pictures of me in one of my outfits, but I don’t have any on hand to show you… But I’ll be sure to take some fashion photos on this visit, because the full-on effect of outfits fashioned from these fabrics is stunning.