By Grethe Koen
Politics is a risky business. People say things, other people get annoyed. Dictators rule third world countries, people get annoyed. Fashion designers charge the price of a third world country for a pair of shoes, people get annoyed. Annoying dictators dress themselves in interesting regalia and fashion critics wish they could beat them over the head with a pair of shoes the size of a third world country.
African leaders have continuously shown a unique sense of style. Thabo Mbeki and Tokyo Sexwale always look immaculate in pressed designer suits and patent leather treads. The link between African renaissance rhetoric and Dolce and Gabbana is a strong and resilient relationship on the continent.
One may question the advisability of Mugabe’s moustache which resembles the look of a certain even less desirable dictator. Along with Hitler’s many other atrocities, there appears to be consensus that he definitely killed that look. Mugabe’s moustache is edgy, albeit weird, but certainly is heavy on the Third Reich symbolism. However, Uncle Bob seems to be able to wear the style and still claim not to be a dictator.
Of course one cannot dispute that African leaders should seem to belong to the continent. Jacob Zuma in an impi skirt was risky, to say the least. That sultry image can only lead to the conclusion that some politicians would be wise to focus more on their presidential skills and leave the fashion to those more diplomatic with their style.
One such candidate is Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. Most notable for his trade in blood diamonds and recruiting child forces with his National Patriotic Party, Taylor struts down the catwalk with a few million Liberian refugees to his name and always sports a pair of Ray-Bans the price of an average annual Liberian income.
Once upon a time military cargos were in, and Idi Amin set the trend. Famous for always being dressed in full military regalia, we wonder how he managed to keep his blazers so clean and sustain his less attractive and rather gory political campaigns. The Associate Press estimates that the Ugandan dictator was responsible for 300 000 deaths during his eight years in office. In the unlikely case that his abuses can be forgotten; one is unlikely to forget that Amin was probably the first and last African dictator to wear a kilt.
In this mix of presidential trend-setters, Nelson Mandela’s printed shirts seem almost tame. Brian Gordon, a Conservative Party councillor who dressed up to imitate Mandela at a party, hosted to celebrate the Jewish festival of Purim, was accused of racism by a fellow party goer. Regardless of the British councillor sentiment, South Africa has definitely come to recognise the prints as symbolic of the leader’s proposed ‘rainbow nation’.
Most people living in Africa can hardly afford bread, let alone a pair of Manolo Blahniks, but it’s good to know that our leaders still care about their threads.