African Women: A Modern History

By Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch; Beth Gillian Raps | Go to book overview

16
Women and Politics: Delay in Zaire

Women of the deep Congo, in contrast to their sisters in West Africa, had a very hard time escaping the double oppression of their role as beasts of burden in traditional rural societies and the narrow conformism of the Belgian Catholic church. Tradition in effect denied them any opportunity for political participation. As everywhere, the enormous burdens that they carried finally led them to react but sometimes not until long after independence.


Peasant Women Discover Insubordination

This is what finally happened among the Temba women of Kivu, a relatively fertile province in eastern Zaire, when regional economic shifts gave peasant women the chance to try their hand at market work. Up until this point, while women were exhausting themselves in the fields men had begun to join the workforce and the money economy. Since the early days of colonialism, men had been called on to produce peanuts and to staff construction sites and had gone on to work in the mines or elsewhere. In order to achieve this end, Belgian colonial officials had restructured the country and given traditional chiefs (mwami) more power. Women began to grow cash crops for regional markets. Cassava, introduced between the wars to replace plantains, increased in importance. Women produced and prepared it and began taking it to market on foot, especially when a road was built connecting Kivu with the region's main center, Bukavu. This obsessive cassava production and transportation began to be called ebutumwa bw'emiogo, "the cassava tyranny." The women became exasperated when their small trade, as unprofitable as it was exhausting, began to be the target of price-fixing by local potentates. Starting in the 1970s and increasing during the 1980s,local

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