Le Marché des Valeurs is the largest conglomeration of Congolese arts and crafts for purchase in Kinshasa. The only problem is that it is also the largest conglomeration of crooked Congolese salesmen in the entire city.
It’s an obvious magnet. There are countless expats wandering through the stalls of the market, looking for a good deal on something “authentic” to take back to friends and family or to decorate their Congo home with. The Congolese aren’t stupid, far far from it. They picked up on this fact and the fact that most of the people are from countries where haggling is considered low brow and thus, they don’t do it. But even for those who are willing to haggle, it’s a lot of work to get anywhere near a decent price on the goods offered.
On our first visit, we did rather well. It was a Sunday and it seemed like it was a slow day or they were just out of it, but the haggling was expedient and strong to our favor. We managed to pick up two necklaces for $7 that they originally wanted $25 apiece. That’s not so bad, but it should be kept in mind that they probably cost less than 50 cents to make, so even this markup is quite massive, but we were happy with these few souvenirs that were hopefully made in DR Congo.
It should be noted that the actual name of the place is “Le Marché des Valeurs” which means, “The Value Market”, but most everyone calls it, “Le Marché des Voleurs” which means “The Thieves’ Market”. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that our second visit fared much worse.
The biggest problem that most folks run in to is the general and very random attitude of the market on the day that you visit as it heaves as one giant, haggling beast. The second day we were there, they were not in a haggling mood. There were one or two other mundele (white folk) wandering the stalls, so they didn’t feel like they needed to come down on their prices at all. The other big problem is that they communicate with each other faster than the speed of light. Seriously, Apple should look in to Market-Salesmen Fiber for their next communications system.
If you start looking at an item in one stall and ask about the price, but then put it away to go to another stall, it’s more than a little suspicious that the next guy will offer you the same thing that you were just looking at with the same starting price. For instance, we took a liking to these tribal necklaces that probably originally consisted of red, flat, round stones or other items strung next to each other, but were now round plastic discs. Despite this, they were still quite cool, but the “merchants” had the nerve to quote a starting price of $65! Again, they’re probably about 50 cents to make and when throwing them down on the table in disgust, they halved their prices immediately because they knew that they had completely overshot. We moved on to other stalls to find the same type of necklaces with the same unfortunate prices. There was no bargaining with these guys. They knew that we wanted one of those necklaces and so we just gave up. It was not a good day to shop.
For anyone else that finds themselves amongst the “value thieves”, keep a few things in mind such as the fact that you can easily haggle 60-75% off the asking price. Also, while they will tell you that someone is coral or a precious stone, they most likely are not. Beware the sellers that can speak English. The assumption in Kinshasa is that if you speak English, you’ve got money and they’re ready to get that money from you (we spoke Spanish with one another to avoid English at all costs). You will constantly hear about how much “quality” there is in each piece. I’ve had nights out drinking in dive bars that consisted of more quality than is in most of the stuff at the market. I mean, it’s a bunch of stuff on a string, let’s be realistic and just call it a knickknack that most of us aren’t planning to have become part of their inheritance to future generations. Lastly, if you don’t feel like dealing with these guys, then go to a place to eat like Surcouf where there are some guys who will come by your table with the same things that are at Le Marché des “Voleurs”. The difference is that their prices will be lower and you can sit down while haggling and take your time as you eat. It suddenly makes the tables turn just a little bit more in your favor.