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The Travail and Travels of Congo’s Transnational Trader Women

The Travail and Travels of Congo’s Transnational Trader Women

Lesley Braun (University of Basel)

Heure: 17-19h

Salle: ULB Salle Henri Janne

Abstract : The reliance on imported products has rendered many sub-Saharan African countries like
the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) vulnerable to global disruptions which have engendered
supply chain bottlenecks, rising shipping costs and inflation. As there is little to no industry in the DRC
for everyday goods for the Congolese consumer base of over ninety million people, manufactured
goods are imported from countries like Dubai, Turkey, and China. China dominates other countries in
terms of manufactured goods, and has enabled more people, particularly women in the DRC to
participate not only as global consumers, but also as entrepreneurs.
Transnational trader women called “femmes commerçantes” are at the forefront of creating new
social classes, as well as household structures. While transnational trader women are a new and
driving force within Congo’s economy, these women are also sometimes considered morally
suspicious within their own communities—a woman’s financial independence can be threatening to
a man especially if she competes for the same resources. As such, the role of the “femme
commerçante” represents a new context where power and morality come into play, highlighting how
local conceptions of womanhood and female sexuality exist in relation to economic change.
Approached through multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Kinshasa, Guangzhou, and
Istanbul between 2018 and 2021, this research examines how Congolese women navigate an
economic landscape that is premised on social networks and transactional exchanges. More broadly,
it seeks to explore how global economic change impacts gender dynamics in the DRC.
Biography : Lesley N Braun is recipient of the Swiss National Foundation’s Ambizione Grant (2020-
2024) and is hosted at the Institute for Social Anthropology, University of Basel, Switzerland. She has
taught at Humboldt University in Berlin and has held fellowships at the Forum Transregionale Studien
(Berlin), as well as at the University of Chicago in the Department of Comparative Human
Development. Thematically, her research investigates the gendered dimensions of transnational
mobility, and how gender and sexuality impact, as well as shape women’s activities in the public
sphere. Her forthcoming book Congo’s Dancers: Women and Work in Kinshasa will be published with the University of Wisconsin Press in Winter 2023.