A handful of designers presented the first fashion show in several years to be held in the eastern Congo city of Beni two weeks ago. The fashion show was an attempt to give the residents something positive in light of all the attacks committed by Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels and other armed groups who have killed thousands over the past three years.
One designer who got to show off her work was a Congolese designer named Miki Sikabwe who has been shown in Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya but never in her home state.
“I am happy to be exhibiting my necklaces and clothes made with local products here in Beni and I believe this will give hope to the people here,” Sikabwe said, also showing off men’s clothing made from bright African wax prints.
She, alongside thousands of others in eastern Congo, have wondered when the violence will stop. Earlier this month, ADF members attacked the local United Nations mission, killing 15 Tanzanian keepers and an additional 5 Congolese soldiers, making it the single deadliest attack on a UN peacekeeping mission in over 25 years.
Beni’s fashion week was canceled back in 2014 after rebel attacks began with 1,000 deaths within a couple of months. Mayor Nyonyi Bwanakawa said he believes the city is becoming safer.
“We would like to show the world that in Beni, and in northeast Congo, there is life and tourists can come here,” he said. Beni is near the bottom of Mount Ruwenzori, which is surrounded by the well-known Virunga National Park.
At the event, nearly 600 people gathered in a nightclub for the fashion show that featured colored loincloths, masks and traditional materials turned into modern styles. Roselyne Mbiya was the lead designer of the show, using Congolese fabrics alongside some floral designs and even lace. She has stated that some of the show’s proceeds will be donated to women who have been raped by ADF rebels, also stating that these women need to feel like they are still loved and cared about by society.