When clothes became political statements

A simple search of Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine on Google today will present an image of the artiste-turned-politician wearing a red beret. It is a headgear he adopted during the togikwatako campaign that dominated the biggest part of 2017. Then many of the MPs that were against the age cap removal had adopted red as the colour of choice. Yet Bobi Wine, on his part, instead of adopting the traditional round Igbo hat that many MPs wore, he had gone for a beret. One of the most famous photographs of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara shows him wearing a black beret with a brass star; after his assassination in 1967, the image became iconic and so did the beret as a revolution symbol. Thus, Bobi Wine’s picture in a red beret was indeed not another attempt for the youthful leader to appear chic but a statement that channelled both Che and Burkinabe revolutionary Thomas Sankara’s spirits. Of course this was not the first time fabric, costume and colour became a message; Mobutu Sese Seko, the Democratic Republic of Congo dictator for 32 years had mastered the art of making animal print look cool on his head. There were allegations that even when his soldiers were too impoverished to protect his head, the tight-fitting hat was present on his top, which was said to represent authority as similar to that the animal enjoys in the jungle. In an interview with Huffington Post, Samuel Weidi, who works as a professional Mobutu impersonator, says that the hat is almost an identity of the dictator, though with the animal print “it almost feels as if the print’s power makes the wearer stand up a bit straighter”. While for South Africa’s freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, the leopard skin was a political stand during the 1962 trial. He was clearly representing himself as an African man in a White man’s court. It has also been widely believed that cultural leaders in the pre-colonial era dressed in skins of power like lion, leopard or tiger to emphasise their strength and drive fear among subjects. Politics of colour in Uganda During the pre-independence political era, new parties such as Democratic Party, Kabaka Yekka and Uganda National Congress aligned with colours they later identified with through their clothing. However, when President Museveni took over power, he instituted a non-party movement system of government though fashion politicking wasn’t done. Cloth and style continued to crop up on the political arena to drive perception or alliance, for instance, in the subsequent 1996 and 2001 elections, different aspirants especially in the central region had their campaign posters with pictures of them in attires deemed traditional like the busuuti for women and Kanzu for men, a practise that is common to date. According to fashion designer Ras Kasozi, clothing is one way people express themselves; “people express their emotions through what they decide to put on, it is one thing that creates our identity.” Fashion in a multi-party Uganda After a referendum […]

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