As a child, Djibril Gueye Marvin dreamed of being a make-up artist, no easy feat in the chronically unstable Central African Republic, where he faced ridicule for doing a “girl’s job”.
Help came from an unusual source: the make-up tutorials that have flooded YouTube over the past decade, launching influencers across the globe and generating billions of dollars in beauty sales.
“There is no make-up school in Bangui, without YouTube tutorials I would not be where I am now,” said the 23-year-old, nicknamed Djibou, who lives in the country’s capital.
Today, his services at a small Bangui beauty salon are highly sought after, and his TikTok account has more than 36,000 followers.
Djibou is all smiles, but life has not been easy in what the United Nations says is the world’s second-least developed country, gripped by armed rebellion and daily violence.
As he works on the face of a client in the cloying heat, the electricity cuts out — as it does several times a day — halting a whirling fan and cutting out the lights.
Unphased, he moves his client towards the entrance to continue applying foundation in natural light.
“I do what I can with what I have, but I always manage,” said Djibou.
His client agrees: “He is the best!”
– ‘We all fled’ –
Djibou charges a minimum of 10,000 CFA francs (15 euros), admitting it is “not within everyone’s reach” in a country where the minimum wage is only 44 euros a month.
Getting the make-up brushes, foundations and eye-shadows he needs is also a “struggle.”
“I bring my products in from France or Nigeria, you can’t do good work without good products,” he said.
After growing up amid a brutal civil war, which broke out in 2013 when he was 13 years old, Djibou fell in love with the idea of “people being transformed, beautiful and chic”.
The mineral-rich Central African Republic has known little peace, with decades of coups and rebellions since independence from France in 1960.
But the 2013 coup, by mostly Muslim rebels, led to the bloodiest sectarian violence in the country’s history as mainly Christian militias sought revenge against their Muslim foes.
“One day, my little brother, little sister and I were almost killed by a rebel on our way to school, so we all fled, to Cameroon,” said Djibou.
Despite numerous peace agreements, armed groups and government forces backed by Russian mercenary group Wagner continue to clash,
– Prejudice –
Djibou also had to battle prejudice from a traditional society in his bid to become a make-up artist, hearing a thousand times: “It is a girl’s job.”
But he did not give up, and hid his make-up at his friends’ houses when he was younger.
“If my parents found it, they would destroy it, but I just kept buying more,” he said.
“I had to study for an international business licence and prove myself as a make-up artist for them to accept my job,” he added.
Now, when he is criticised, he brushes it off.
“I know they are a little jealous.”
Djibou shares his work, inspiration and stories about his daily life on his TikTok channel.
With his face smeared in greenish-blue powder and gold glitter, Djibou poses in a dilapidated photo studio to show off his artistic make-up skills.
“For my fans,” he said.
Later, he talks about the future, in the modest room he shares with one of his sisters, where a statue of the Virgin Mary, a Bible and rosary lie among the cosmetics scattered on his night table.
“I want to go to a make-up school abroad, but I don’t have the means,” he said sadly.