You must have heard the one about the Speaker of our parliament banning female legislators from entering what they call the august House wearing fake nails and eyelashes.
That was another example of the kind of stroke of genius produced at regular intervals by our underemployed chiefs.
Somehow they find themselves so bored by the tedious business of being a government rubber stamp that they have to shop around for something interesting to say or do.
I have met many women parliamentarians since that “ban” and some of them looked to me like they were wearing those dangerous articles, but, since I met them far from parliament, I surmised that they were indulging those illicit pleasures just because the Speaker could not see them.
Or, maybe, the ban had simply expired, as such silliness tends to do often.
I was reminded of this when I recently read somewhere that Sudanese women were banned from wearing such offensive gear as trousers, and that men with Afros were being shaved forcibly.
I was wondering why women could not wear trousers and men could not grow afros.
Maybe it is because trousers are seen in some twisted minds as garb for men only, which means that women who wear them are literally transvestites, an abomination.
But the gown, or dress, that we tend to associate with women was for a long time the only wear men were seen in.
We cannot claim to have photographs of Moses or Jesus, but the paintings we have of them show them in gowns, as well as Leonardo da Vinci, Filippo Brunelleschi and Marco Polo, plus all the popes to this day.
So, seriously, there is a compelling argument for a dress code that is gender neutral.
We can take a few pages from our friends of the Scottish Highlands with the miniskirts they call kilts, or our brothers the Maori who wear short skirts (rapaki) to show off their well-developed calves.
I personally would shrink from that kind of exposure only on account of a poor leg-line hardly worth showing.
Still we must ask, why do our rulers waste so much time on non-issues when real and urgent problems are left to solve themselves?
It is mainly because the hard questions of societal and national life do not lend themselves to easy categorisation and sham solutions.
No ruler, however powerful, can ban hunger, but they can ban people saying that they are hungry.
They cannot abolish disease, but they can order people to not say they are sick on pain of being locked up. Our rulers sometimes act and talk as if they are about to order us to be happy.
In the Sudan, however, there seems to be a very practical consideration for the intrusive behaviour of the rulers who go after young men and women who dress in offensive ways.
Some years ago, the president of that country, Omar al-Bashir, was indicted before the International Criminal Court on war crimes committed in the region of Darfur, and since then he has been ducking and dodging arrest whenever he travels outside his country. He is virtually a prisoner at home.
This may have sobered him somewhat, and we hear very little of the atrocities that we used to hear about that province.
But the Janjaweed that Bashir used to unleash on the people of Darfur have to be kept in a job, and so they are deployed elsewhere.
Restyled the “Public Order Force,”’ they are now kept busy harassing young people who look like they are “deviant” by their dress or other outward behaviour.
The Janjaweed served Bashir well in Darfur by attacking villages and hamlets suspected to be sympathetic to anti-government rebels.
They established their ferocious reputation as horseborn jinnis, massacring the men and raping the women. Now they have found a gentler, more ’civilised’ calling.
They only flog the badly dressed women—those in trousers and whose hair is not covered – and brutally shave the Afros of wayward young men.
By this account we can count ourselves lucky that we are not Sudanese, but it is still little comfort when you know that your rulers are becoming more and more illogical by the day.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]