Whoever got His Excellency the President to switch from his western-style dress sense in the initial days of his presidency to shirts from these locally-designed fabrics deserves tonnes of applause.
Beyond his sense of fashion for dashing western-styled dark suits which seemed to run in tandem with his law profession, Nana Akufo-Addo in the 1990s adopted the white smock as his favourate political attire. He attended almost every political activity spotting that all through to the end of the 2012 political campaign season.
Upon election, Nana Akufo-Addo adopted a combination of white caftan shirts in addition to his white smocks. Upon swearing into office, he appeared to have switched again back to the western-styled suits from January 2017 for a few months.
Then in March 2017, out of the blues, the President was spotted in very fashionable shirts in African fabric. After some days of what had now become his trend, His Excellency the Vice President Dr. Bawumia appeared to have abandoned his preference for western-styled suits for African shirtsand also began wearing shirts sewn out of African fabrics. Like a thunderbolt, almost all the Ministers of State followed in similar fashion (whether ordered or by example).
I must hasten to add that the ‘craze’ for wearing African apparel began with Osagyefo the founding President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. He was known for constantly spotting either the ‘kente’ cloth in traditional fashion or the northern smock (mostly white in colour). Thus, whether conducting presidential business in Ghana or on his official travels, these two apparels symbolizing the cultural unity in diversity of northern Ghana and southern Ghana became global symbols of fashion. Indeed, all the Ministers in the Nkrumah government literally used the ‘kente’ cloth and ‘smock’ as their ‘uniform’. Indeed, a few of the liberation fighters from other countries who had adopted Ghana as their second home all took to this fashion.
Somehow, the overthrow of the Nkrumah regime came with it everything else, good or bad. Thus, overnight the political collaborators of our liberationists had abandoned the African fashion and reverted to the pre-independence western suits. Even though the entire House of Parliament in the Second Republic attended their swearing-in in ‘kente’ cloth and the ‘smock’, this was very short-lived as they soon reverted to the western-fashioned suits. This continued all through the succeeding decades until the Third Republican regime of Dr. Hilla Limann. As a former diplomat, he seemed to have adopted mainly to western styled political suits with occasional wearing of the ‘fugu’ and the three-piece ‘agbada’ or on few occasions, the northern ‘smock’. Interestingly however, his official portrait portrayed him in three-piece ‘agbada’ from the ‘kente’ fabric.
When the Limann government was forcibly removed by the 31stDecember Revolution in 1981, the new military Head of State was perpetually in his dark green khaki uniform or occasionally in camouflage uniform. From 1991 when Flt. Lt. J.J. Rawlings increased his engagement of the international community, he certainly was mindful of the abhorrence of the western world to military governments and he had to tone down the usage of the ‘camo’ and dark green khaki. In a very smart move, he switched to the wearing of neck-opened western styled long-sleeved shirts over trousers but wore the northern smock over it. Though initially looked upon with scorn by Ghanaians who by their fashion sense saw this as offensive, this was to catch on with time.
All through his tenure, his wife (Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings) stuck to the wearing of very fashionable ‘slit and kaba’ to all official functions. Unfortunately, for whatever reason(s), the weavers of smocks in the northern regions were unable to take advantage of this to popularize the smocks and allowed such golden opportunity to market the product worldwide to slip by. I recall that when Bill Clinton visited Ghana in 1999, Flt. Lt. J.J. Rawlings was spotted in that kind of smock while the First Lady wore kente ‘kaba and slit’. By the year 2001 when Flt Lt. J.J. Rawlings exited office, his style of wearing the smock over long-sleeved shirt had become a regular fashion for men for all manner of activities and remains so to date.
When the Kufuor government took over the reins of government in January 2001, the new Minister of Trade in his bid to promote ‘Made-in-Ghana’ products began a campaign to have Ghanaians wear apparel made out of local fabric. This was championed by John Alan Kwadwo Kyeremateng the Trade Minister. The government launched the ‘Friday-wear’ concept that encouraged Ghanaians to drop their typical western-styled dress codes on Fridays. Mr. Kyeremateng himself served as an example by religiously wearing locally produced shirts not just on Fridays but on all other days for official business. A few other government officials followed him and actually extended it to cover other days and to date, Hon. Alan still wears local in his dressing. The others included Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu (Minister of Local Government, Education and Finance at various times), Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng (Chief Executive of Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital).
While this initiative went on, the President interestingly appeared to be much more interested in adorning himself in western-styled suits leaving his Vice, Al-Hajj Aliu Mahama who was always resplendent in his three-piece ‘agbada’. Thus, though very well intentioned, the promotion of the usage of African fabrics ended up being limited to the ‘Friday wear’ and with this, only with very regimented institutions who enforced same.
Things did not really change much under the Atta-Mills government. During the second term of the John Mahama presidency, it does however appear that some effort went into the switch of his apparel to wearing a lot more of the smock and plain-fabric sewn in long-sleeved caftan style shirts during public functions. When President Mahama took to local fabrics in 2012, it soon trickled down to the Vice President, Paa Kwasi Amisah-Arthur and some of his ministers such as Prof. Naana Opoku-Agyeman (Education Minister), Victor Bampoe(Deputy Health Minister), Dzifa Gomashie (Tourism Minister), etc. This continued till the end of his term in January 2017.
Growing up, I had always heard about the adage, that “leadership is cause; everything else is effect” and I have over time come to fully appreciate the import of that adage as I watched our political leadership and their fashion sense.
In times when leadership at the very apex led the citizenry by example in the promotion of any policy, the citizens have responded in equal measure to the charge. Clearly, the use of African fabric in Ghana has clearly alluded to this. Today in Ghana, it is common place to find almost all members of the Akufo-Addo government, Members of Parliament, public officials and other shades of workers regularly donning shirts made from African and Ghanaian designs. A visit to most of our churches on any given Sunday will reveal that the use of these shirts from local fabrics has become the order of the day. Indeed, long-sleeved shirts sewn in local fabric is now commonly called ‘Akufo-Addo’ shirt, clearly indicating the popularity of the shirts among the populace. I have been so excited about the consistency of the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta using local shirts (constantly white in his case) for all functions including the delivery of his annual budget statements, a situation that even die-hard promoters of local fabrics like Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu could not hold.
I am most confident that the current situation, if continued, will surely create a great boom for local fabrics as well as create business for tailors and seamstresses in Ghana. It is up to our local fashion designers, tailors and seamstresses to be up to the task and ensure that they produce shirts and apparels that do not just match the international standards but also do so timeously and at affordable rates. The situation where products are made for automatic patronage will certainly not work in this instance and so the textile industry better watch out. Already, some textile industries in the Far East have started producing fabrics using local Ghanaian designs and pushing it onto the local market as though they were produced here. It is up to the local manufacturers such as Ghana Textiles Printing Ltd, Akosombo Textiles Ltd, Volta Textiles Ltd, etc to up their game so they can cash in on the status-quo.
It’d for instance be recalled that a few weeks ago when the new Ya-Naa was being installed, this country witnessed a situation where Yendi and northern Ghana had become the cynosure of all activity. Almost everyone who mattered moved up north wearing the ‘fugu’ or the ‘smock’. Followed closely was the independence anniversary celebrated nationally in Tamale for the first time as a country. Yet again, all who mattered moved up north in their northern Ghana apparel. Interestingly enough, the local textile industries do not appear to have positioned themselves to cash in on the situation while the Tourism Ministry did very little to use the occasion to promote the northern culture including the apparels.
Aside promoting our culture, the use of local fabrics and apparels would in the long term encourage thousands of Ghanaians to increase their use of African fabrics, greatly enhance the textile industry as well as the design and production of locally-produced clothes and dresses.
I really pray that Ghanaians emulate the leadership of Mr. President by wearing more local apparel and being time-consciousness in everything we do. Ghana must work again and it begins from you and me. Let us begin by wearing Ghana!
My dear friend,