Africa’s tattoo industry is thriving

Posted on May 31, 2017 12:05 am

When a friend who lives in Cape Town, South Africa told me recently that he has a new tattoo depicting his fang, i wondered whether tattoos should have a meaning or philosophy in every design. In my view, once the pictures are embedded in the skin, it will be very difficult or even impossible to remove. Despite the negative opinions held by many in Africa, tattooing has remained appealing, at least according to the enthusiasm shown by the Cape Town friend. Through my travels across Africa, i can say tattooing has taken root in present-day African societies with relative difficulties because the practice was not part of African culture. Tattoos have not existed in Africa for many decades and the tattoo culture can’€™t be considered present from Africa€.Some Africans still believe in the spiritual side of the tattoo culture, although having interacted with many people who have tattoos, no doubt motivation of tattoo design making is almost always based on the spiritual obsession of an individual whether its a fang like that friend in South Africa or others who have tattoos based on religion, friends, families, pets etc. The one whose body is being tattooed wishes to realise his or her obsession, so that people can perceive the message to be conveyed or at least such designs serve as self motivation.On the other side, while many are obsessed with tattoos, others are working endlessly to remove them. According to data available, tattoo removal is a lucrative business. According to some figures, about a sixth of Africans in capital cities under 25 have a tattoo. And approximately a quarter of these people are planning to have it removed.Tattoo removal remains unregulated, so it’s impossible to say how many clinics are currently operating in Africa. However, when you look online and you’ll see an abundance of services advertised directly to consumers.

In South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria, treatment providers in their adverts claim they offer high quality service which is safe, fast and painless and apparently is performed by by experienced staff mostly trained in Europe and North America. Of course, such claims are difficult to verify. They tend to rely heavily on carefully crafted glowing testimonials from clients.In Egypt, the service providers advertise the most popular laser treatments for the removal of a small sized tattoos for as little as $5. Some also offer to remove tattoos by surgical excision and dermabrasion, which involves wearing away layers of skin with a wire brush or similar tool.Treatments can involve a great deal more physical and financial pain that consumers are led to believe.An expert of tattoo whom we grew up in the same neighbourhood but trade her skills in Auckland, New Zealand, told me that patients were at risk of suffering burns and scars from lasers used by unqualified and unskilled tattoo removers. She indicated that some removers were using much cheaper versions which are largely responsible for injury and unsuccessful tattoo removal.In her view, the relative ease of becoming a tattoo remover would seem to be one of the factors underpinning the growth of this industry. Virtually anyone can open up shop. And laser tattoo removal machines of varying price and no doubt variable quality can be readily purchased online.Chinese and Malaysian treatment providers are promoting across Africa tattoo removal as a market opportunity that involves few start up costs and offers potentially significant profits. One Malaysian company offers tattoo removal training programs in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt and markets its laser machines and accessories throughout the region. In recent past, tattoos have become popular among a broad section of the African population. The practice of tattooing reflects the individualistic and consumerist ethos of Africa’s neoliberal times like the Cape Town friend case demonstrates.

Contador Harrison