Dakar Fashion Week
Last May, Vogue Italia devoted their entire issue to Africa and called it “Rebranding Africa”. Naturally, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was on the cover. The issue details the Vogue expedition into Africa, with editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani pleading with Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan to build an “African Rodeo Drive”, and gallantly emerging with development statistics, trend reports and photo spreads that purposefully did not include anything “sad, trashy or poor”.
If the articles read like NGO-funded, feel-good “development” stories that make you half-expect a request for donations in the envelope enclosed, it might be because Sozzani has been appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador for Fashion4Development — a UN initiative intended to ‘help’ Africa.
The Vogue Italia issue is just one example of the pervasive patronizing frameworks underlying the sudden discovery of fashion and hence, ‘modernity’, on the continent. Even journalists seem to surprise themselves when, as the New York Times put it, “Africa is in the news — but not just for the sad and familiar reasons of conflict and suffering.”
But who is rebranding Africa really? And for what purpose? How much does the shift towards “positivity”, as Sozzani refers to it, actually accomplish if the main narrative still offers Africa as a continent to consume, save or exploit? Most importantly, do the tokenizing special issues really only work to allow the industry to exclude and marginalize African professionals from the fashion arena?