How the Congolese lost their Cultural Heritage and Business to Chinese Textile Industry

I read this article and realised the loss is not unique to the Congolese. Everywhere in Africa even as governments  fight second hand clothes, we are still far away from seeing policies that facilitate local industries to be competitive. From the farm to the industries, heavy reliance on imports while exporting less finished goods has many countries in debt.

While i do not have answers, this good feature by Quartz documents how lives have been changed in Lubumbashi. A combination of insecurity and instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the mushrooming cheap Chinese cloth has left devastating impact on families and communities that once held up the Congo glory of textile production.

I remember growing up not so far from the Congolese border with Uganda, we were told that good cloth (Kitenge) must come from Congo. Yes Congo was known to us as the land of great music and fine cloth. Today the Dutch and Chinese industries have virtually taken of the market not just in Congo but in most African countries.

The drop in textile production did not just start with the Chinese influx, the drop in textile production begun during the misrule of Mobutu Sese Seko who held onto power from 1965 till 1997. The mayhem that characterised his fall saw many medium sized enterprises go down and affecting chances of normal farming. This meant cotton production on a large scale was no more plus industries had not seen any upgrade which made the textile sector all the more venerable once Chinese businesses started penetrating the markets.

” The Chinese entry was subtle, despite the large volumes of cloth that came to the Congo. At first they only supplied the bales of plain cotton fabric, according to Kashala. Then printed fabric began to arrive, the quality seeming to improve with every run until they were able to mimic the Congolese designs. Soon, it required a meticulous eye to notice the difference.”

The writer chronicles the lives of people that once flourished depending on the textile production and local artisan in Lubumbashi, a Congolese city in the south east side of the country near the Zambia border. Many cite government failure to protect not just the business but textiles as a cultural heritage of the Congolese people.

It is a glimpse into the impact of globalization and trade and how many African businesses and art struggle in the face of gigantic pushes from China and Europe in a place with no sound government policies in place.

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