Accepted Paper:

Congo's Intrepid Trader Women: The Gendered Politics of Transnational Trade  


Lesley Braun (Basel University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the world of transnational trader women in Kinshasa, DRC. Dependent on the logics of the contemporary gift-economy, trade in the DRC, offers insights into the moral implications for women who, like men, rely on their social networks to ensure the success of their business.

Paper long abstract:

Increased state-level agreements between Congo and China have facilitated the possibility of mobility for both Chinese and aspiring Congolese entrepreneurs. Unlike other African countries, women in Congo have only recently begun to participate in transnational trading activities. Trader women, known as femmes commer├žantes, are not only an important part of a changing economic landscape, but are also representative of changing gender dynamics in Kinshasa.

Without any support from Congo's banks, traders must search for ways to finance their trips and navigate complex bureaucracy relating unpredictable, and expensive custom tariffs. Just as men rely on their social networks to ensure the success of their business activities, trader women too must forge relationships with people in positions of power. While both men and women conducting business abroad are seen as worldly, this proposed research examines whether, for women, this new status comes at a cost: the cost of their personal reputation as "virtuous women."

How to do Congolese at home regard this emerging class of women? Do women's trading activities alter household structures? This paper considers the gendered politics of trade and explores some of the moral implications for transnational trader women who, like men, are engaged in a dynamic search for opportunities and contacts that can sustain their business, and thus their livelihoods.

Panel P128
The Rise of African Transnational Traders