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Are Suits Suitable? A Meditation on Clothing

Why on earth would anyone wear a suit in Dar es Salaam or anywhere else during the hot season?

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Every few years, some cabinet minister or other flunkey comes up with the idea, yet again, of finding a national dress, as if it could be imposed from above. 

Even Mwalimu Julius Nyerere adopted Nkrumah-style attire, but nothing became of it because it was not embedded in the people. Of course, who could resist the national poshos, or allowances that go with the search for the unsearchable?

However, a friend made a telling comment when mocking me for my flowery –African!–shirts: “You’re wrong, Mabala. These shirts are not African. Apart from artists like yourself, who wears such shirts? These are now European shirts. The real African dress is a suit. If you don’t believe me, look at what they are wearing.”

Duh! When I look around at the meetings of the big and powerful nowadays, I see it. Yes, they are all wearing suits. When I went to the people’s representatives in their cosy home in Dodoma, the same thing happened—suits after suits, rows and rows of suits.

And then I became deathly afraid.

READ MORE: Are Tanzanian Leaders Living In the Country They Purport to Lead?

Michael Moore, a U.S.-based filmmaker, wrote in one of his works that if he were walking down the street and saw a flock of suit-wearing men walking in his direction, he would turn and run. Why?

Biggest thieves of all

Because they are the biggest thieves of all, they can leave you stark naked without you even realising it. How true, I thought. Who are the biggest thieves and exploiters? Geita MP (Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM) Joseph Msukuma would say the wasomi, or the educated, but I would say the suit-wearers worldwide. 

They avoid taxes, vote themselves massive allowances, take bribes, and exploit the hell out of their workers, all the while wearing suits to give a veneer of respectability to their wanton theft.

Of course, I admit I, like Michael Moore, come from a generation of suit deniers. The generation that was dissuitified, saw the stifling, restrictive clothing that is the suit as a symbol of the stifling, restrictive society we were being moulded to accept. 

We rejected suits just as much as we rejected the system that fetishised them. And I haven’t changed my mind. 

READ MORE: Are Tanzanians Becoming More Intolerant?

Of course, the global suit-loving culture is syphoning off our wealth. But coming closer to home, I had the good fortune to teach literature in the 1970s, when kasumba, or cultural imperialism, was real. We relished Lawino’s attacks on her husband and his class for, among other things, wearing a suit.

And they dress up like white men As if they are in the white man’s country At the height of the hot season
The progressive and civilised ones
Put on blanket suits
And woollen socks from Europe
Long under-pants
And woollen vests, White shirts;
They wear dark glasses And neck-ties from Europe Their waterlogged suits Drip like the tears Of the Kituba trees After a heavy storm.

There is a little exaggeration here. After all, her husband rejected her for an equally kasumba-fied lady, Clementina. I doubt whether our suit lovers wear woollen these days – though I’m not sure as I make sure I don’t get too close to them! But the point remains. 

Waterlogging is real

Why on earth would you wear a suit in Dar es Salaam or any other place during the hot season? Sure, you come from your air-conditioned house to your air-conditioned Mavee 8 to your air-conditioned office, but there are moments you have to face the reality of the weather. 

Waterlogging is real. And then the tie! Of all the most useless pieces of clothing, nothing can beat the tie. What is it there for? I have heard tie defenders claim that it keeps out the cold. Rubbish!

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And what is cold here in our equatorial country? Or we could award all climbers of Kilimanjaro the Order of the Tie to congratulate them for reaching a point of cold in our overheated land. But Lawino went further. She told her husband:

You are hiding Under the blanket suit Your sick stomach That has swollen up Like that of a pregnant goat

So, in our case, the suit hides the theft, tax evasion, exploitation, and corruption and the physical state caused by the above. These days, the suitists have become wiser. 

They realise the stomach size is equal to the amount of the national cake devoured, so they try to keep a little slimmer, but the point remains.

Epitome of respectability?

Which brings me back to the beginning: why have we adopted foreign attire as the epitome of our respectability? Msukuma likes to attack the educated, and it is probably true that they wear suits more than any other. 

READ MORE: As Tanzanians, We Use ‘Kubali Yaishe’ And ‘Ndiyo Mzee’ As Covert Acts of Resistance

But the political class and the busy business people also wear suits. So, the problem is wider than a certificate of attendance at a school or college. What does it say about us? Is it a reflection of a much broader issue? 

Why do we insist on English as the language of civilisation and impose it, like some foreign attire, on our children as a national education asset? More broadly, why do we adopt the whole education system from the outside? 

We are educating our children to leave the country as nearly everything they are given is foreign. How Tanzanian are our homes? Let me give one final example from A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe. 

Chief Nanga, a big politician, takes his coffee brought to him by his servant and then claims he has been poisoned. The cook only saves himself from ministerial murder by drinking the coffee, with no ill effects. 

It turns out that when the cook went to the shop, there was no foreign coffee, only the local one. The minister thought it was poison, as he had never tasted local coffee. Ho hum.

So my only hope is that just as the constituents of all these suit lovers in their airconditioned corridors of power have not followed suit, they will come to realise that the time has come to build our own systems without the kasumba that has been inculcated into us from the moment we join these mini-universities that call themselves pre-schools.
Richard Mabala is an educator, poet, and author. He is available at or on X (Twitter) as @MabalaMakengeza. These are the writer’s own opinions, and they do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at for further inquiries.

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