Fed up with Western-style suits, the government of Tanzania is organising a competition for a national dress. Tsh54m has been set aside as prizes for competitors at local, district and national levels.
Tanzania is searching for a national dress. That has come somewhat as a surprise for a country that had blindly fallen in love with Western culture after decades of socialism. Top government officials and even messengers here crave for Western-style suits in order to appear "urbanite" and "business-like'.
Except for a few politicians like John Malecela, the influential vice-chairman of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, who wear the Chinese-style Chou-En-Lai collarless suit, most politicians, including President Benjamin Mkapa himself, love their Western-style three-piece suits.
Even then, when Malecela married Anna Kilango in July this year, he wore a Western-style suit for the wedding while the bride appeared in a Western-style veil. Later he joked to a reporter that he had last worn a Western suit "some 40 years ago".
Western suits are de rigueur in Tanzania, although women widely wear flowing cotton "vitenge" and batik dresses. Twenty years ago, the "Kaunda Suit" (named after the then Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda) was trendy among Tanzanian male dignitaries, but with globalisation sweeping across the world that has been consigned to the fashion reject shop.
Now there appears to be a change of heart, else Joseph Mungai, the education and culture minister, would not have invited local fashion designers to compete for a national dress. "The competition will start right flora the grassroots and go through the rungs of the ladder to the district, regional and national levels," he announced.
Angela Ngowi, the deputy director for Arts and Culture in the Ministry of Education and Culture, revealed that Tsh54m had been set aside as prizes for the winning designs at all levels. But she cautioned: "The dress should be flowing. It shouldn't restrict someone from walking. It shouldn't be tight. And above all, it should be truly Tanzanian."
By April 2004, the winners in all the 26 regions of the country will be known, and their samples will be sent to compete at the national level. The winning prizes will range from Tsh200,000 to Tsh400,000, depending on the level of the competition.
But the couturier, Ndesumbuka Merinyo, is not amused by the short deadline to produce samples and the modest prizes attached. "The Tsh400,000 reward is a big joke...