Fabrics, designs and colours that take the dirt off the politics

Friday October 09 2020

Opposition Chadema presidential candidate Tundu Lissu (left) will face President John Magufuli of ruling CCM in October 2020 elections. PHOTOS | AFP


The ‘sexy’ thing about an election year is that we are encouraged to think politics, politics and more politics. And the struggle for power is, yes, extremely fascinating.

But it comes with culture too and that can be more fun. Let us talk about fashion because when it comes to getting voted in, cotton goes a long way.

Did you know the Kaunda suit, made popular by one Kenneth Kaunda and thus named after him, has many iterations? All stemming from one principle: Do not wear a tie. And that has a history itself: Colonial administrators wore ties, so of course any African nationalism had to reject this uncomfortable vestment in order to give a message.

No ties, no matter what else you wore, signified that you are a daughter or son of the land and that message still stands to this day. And since ties come with a history of their own — very martial business, Europeans and wars et cetera — kicking them off the platform is a strong statement.

I like it. The simple omission of one item of clothing has led to so much creativity. It has been decades of fashion in this style of which I am a fan, probably starting and ending with the Congolese sense of Bien Sappe. And nothing brings out the brightness in us as much as an election year. That’s when we shine. So many colours to work with!

The thing about Tanzania is all our colours are amazing since we stopped limiting ourselves to the flag. There is a whole history there, the various shades of green of ruling party adherence. Whichever green somebody can afford, why not? Material is cheap, taste costs money, the two combined tell a story all its own.


The adoption of blue, red and white is still being parsed. The newish insistence on polo shirts is a lot of fun, even though there are no polo clubs in Tanzania that I know of. Perhaps the shirts are just easy to make, and look good on anyone? Or perhaps those are the colours of capitalism. Much to think about.

And some of our designs are so interesting. One thing we have taken from the Congolese is the face on the khanga business. A friend tried to gently protest about that, putting people’s mugs exactly where an endowed woman is most likely to sit on it. I say: Hail the designer, they knew what they were doing. Everybody needs to sit from time to time, right? Even if they do so on a commemoration of someone dear and near.

Beyond all that, I am bedazzled. It is beautiful with all the colours, shapes, patterns and clothes that people choose to wear to tell their stories. The yay and the nay, the struggles, the muscle shirts and the suave grey tie-less suits. The fashions that keep you in the game, and the fashions that keep you out of the game.

Sometimes an election year can be nice to look at. And then an article ensues. In all its tie-free, Kaunda suit fabulousness. And then, unfortunately, it is still an election year and we have to consider how to vote, neh?