Read On

Fed up with Conrads' Colonel Kurtz and done with David van Reybroucks epic history of the Congo? There is more to entertain you.

The German journalist Andrea Böhm has travelled the Congo intensely and met many different people. She tells stories of a boxing-trainer for women. Where Muhammed Ali lost the legendary "Rumble in the Jungle" fight, she talks to victims of violence and to desperate miners and mixes her portraits and impressions with pieces of Congolese history. 
Andrea Böhm: Gott und die Krokodile, Eine Reise durch den Kongo. Pantheon: München 2011

Informative, detailreiche Globalisierungsgeschichte - aus Perspektive des Baumwoll/Textilhandels

Sven Beckert: EMPIRE OF COTTON: A Global History. Alfred A. Knopf, 2014

KING COTTON - Eine Geschichte des globalen Kapitalismus. C.H. Beck, 2014

Lieve Joris

Since 1985, the Belgian writer Lieve Joris has visited the Congo many times. A great-uncle of hers had been a missionary in the then Belgian colony. Her travel diaries and novels offer a rich insight to everyday life and contemporary politics. Her novel "The Rebels Hour" tells the fictionalised story of a warlord. Years after her first trip to the Congo, Joris became interested in the relationship between Africa and China. For her book "Op de vleugels van de draak" (On The Wings of The Dragon, 2013), Joris travelled between Africa and China, immersing herself in the world of Africans and Chinese who venture into each other's territory in the slipstream of big business contracts. 
Lieve Joris: Die Stunde der Rebellen, Malik 2008
Lieve Joris: On The Wings of The Dragon, 2013

Félicité's Run

A breathless race through Kinshasa with the soundtrack of the Kasai Allstars

Director: Alain Gomis, Release: 2017

Félicité, a proud and strong-willed woman, works as a singer in a bar in Kinshasa. After her 14-year-old son has an accident, she quickly has to get hold of some money. In order to save the boy she resorts to a desperate race against time through the city’s districts. Alain Gomis’ fast-paced feature film explores the energy of the Congolese metropolis, with a soundtrack from the cool “Tradimod” band Kasai Allstars, who also perform as Félicité’s bar band.

Screening: Fr, 08/11/2017 HKW, 22 h

Félicité, R: Alain Gomis, F/SEN/B/D/LIBN 2017, 123 min. Omu

The Makings of a Sapeur

Styles of Resistance

By Goitseone Montsho

The Kinshasa fashion aesthetic does not merely serve the function of covering the body but also pays homage to the joy of the eye. It was inspired by the black working class who found themselves in the lavish households of their colonial superiors. The poor suddenly had access to the luxurious brands of their oppressors. This cross of fate between colonizers and colonized gave birth to a calibre of man who chose to see himself as above average. Most of them had been paid in trinkets and / or items of clothing for their work. Now, they had access to the white man’s world through servitude. They formed a class of their own. Their demeaning status became a platform on which they could mould their identities. Using the very tools given to them (second-hand clothing from their oppressive masters) they killed the racist trope of the ‘naked dirty savage’, declaring themselves as more than what met the colonizers eye, just through the use of fabric. It is not what they were given but what they did with what they found themselves handed. The transcendence of man above his dire circumstances is the essence of what makes one stylish.

What, I found, separates fashion in Kinshasa from fashion in the West is the creativity that is born from lack. The excellence that one has to acquire in order to make do with what one has can be seen in the style and sense of godliness the members of Kinshasa’s fashion elite exude as they walk down the streets of their otherwise contrasting environment. When your environment is hostile, Sapology insists that you take some fabric, look flash and continue to resist. Fashion consciousness always starts with the acknowledgement of one’s identity; how the world perceives you versus how you would like to be perceived. Class has always been an important factor regarding who gets to wear what. It is easy, really. Rich people wear diamonds. Poor people wear sacks. Being “civilized” is also communicated through clothing. Savages wear nothing. Civilized people wear clothes. This lens that we are all socialized to absorb the world through tells us who is who and departmentalizes everyone in our minds according to who deserves space and time. If a gentleman in a suit stops you to ask for the time, you are socialized to stop and help him. If a gentleman with tattered clothes stops you to ask for a dime, you are socialized to ignore him. These unconscious biases inform how most people walk through the world. For the black working class of Kinshasa this bias was barred by the creativity of second-hand clothing and a hunger to become more than what they are handed.

For me (a budding fashionista), growing up in an environment that does not have the resources to nurture a luxury such as having tailored garments made for you, rather than preventing a perceived style adds an element of conflict that is eventually realized through creativity. The man selling fashion on the street and the tailor in your back-house become the buyers and stylists that the wealthier people can afford. They become an important part of the process of gaining access to sought-after western labels. With a lack of funds and a hostile environment, the counterfeit market also plays an important role in what makes your style. Most of Kinshasa’s lovers of cloth live below the breadline. This leaves the responsibility of access to counterfeiters and local tailors who can replicate the style of western brands. This creativity is weaved into the journey of sacrifices a Sapeur has to make in order to look his part in the world. It is the performance of a poor man to confuse class by looking like his wealthier counterparts—a form of confrontation through conformation. If people cannot tell your class or background simply by looking at you, the way you move through the world changes. People put prefixes before your name. You walk differently. You look like you belong in all the spaces reserved for the upper classes.

White Frenchmen used fashion as a tool to exploit Congolese people for cheap labour and the fact that this tool that was used to exploit is being used to kill the capital of white Frenchmen is an ironic twist. Most western fashion brand labels are trademarked and hard to legally replicate. Having access to the wardrobes of their repressive masters changed this dramatically. The working class saw a hole in the market and filled it with counterfeit goods from China. Most western brands moved production to China due to cheaper costs. The search for cheap labour and resources is what made the leak in the production line. The greed for profits and high mark-ups fostered an environment where counterfeit products could enter the market without scrutiny because they came from the same place as the originals. Buying and consuming ”illegal” fashion has becomes an illegal operation, with designers using the law to crack down on counterfeiters. The trademark imposed on fashion consumers, however, lies only in the branding and not in the actual cut of the sewing pattern. Which means designers cannot patent patterns but can put out a pattern with their branding on it and that cannot be replicated. There is a lot of innovation and creativity involved in making ”knock-offs” and counterfeits. The trick is to make it look as similar as possible without branding it as the original. This loophole and the inability for fashion designers to successfully persecute individual offenders make access to fashion a little easier for those who want high fashion at a street price. Under these circumstances Kinshasa’s fashion gods could be defined as people who are willing to pay the ultimate price for their fashion.

But we have the music.

Fiston Mwanza Mujila is a poet full of speed, rhythm and male slang. Born 1981 in Lubumbashi/DRC, he lives and teaches African Literature in Graz, Austria. His first novel "Tram 83" is named after the rotten bar, where a whole bunch of losers hang out, get drunk every night and dream of diamonds and sex with the chicks or single-mamas. Amongst the characters: a nice lunatic writer without a glimpse of a chance and his former friend, who went to war and came back a rich and brutal guy...
Fiston Mwanza Mujila: Tram 83, Zsolnay 2016

Comprehensive overview on China-African relations

Comprehensive overview on China-African relations provide: DEBORAH BRAUTIGAM: THE DRAGON’S GIFT. The real Story of China in Africa. London:Oxford University Press. 2009 and CHRIS ALDEN: CHINA IN AFRCA. London, New York:Zed Books. 2007.


AFRASO is an acronym for: AFRICA’S ASIAN OPTIONS - an interdisciplinary and transregional research project which comprises scholars from various disciplines at Goethe University in Frankfurt a.M./Germany. AFRASO aims at analysing and describing the currently developing and increasingly more complex relations between various African and Asian regions within a comparative inter- and transdisciplinary perspective. Details, research blogs, literature, newsletter and much more on: