You see the long article you and I wrote last week…shame on you. Today too I suspect we will be doing same. But in all fairness to us, there was really no way around it. Or was there? Because we could have chosen to keep it very trim, but that would mean being coy and not forthcoming. And that would be a bad idea, especially when touching on a topic as crucial as clothing—and mental bondage.
And also, what’s with this thing we have, tied around our necks—these nooses around our necks? I mean, fashion has showed itself as much a tool built for satisfying the necessary as it is, for our idiosyncrasies…but this thing around our necks... ‘Necktie’, the Caucasian, its originator, calls it. I’m sorry but it looks like something designed by a disgruntled wife.
This is History—I insist
Caucasian Husband, having picked up his golf clubs, pretends to be headed for the golf course, when in fact what he needed for his insufficiently-compartmentalised brain was a quiet thinking space to…think—reflect on life. And he, finding one, abandons his golf equipment, ‘wedges’ by a tree, and sets to thinking, by that I mean, sleeping. And naturally, he oversleeps—his curfew is long past. He wakes up and makes his way gingerly back home. Caucasian Wife, having had to play god; balancing the impossible task of children, feeding, keeping alive (the children), cleaning, finishing up work’s task at home, etc. is beside herself to see Husband return home that late.
Where is he coming from this late? He is caught off-guard by this question. His insufficiently-trained-compartmentalised brain, having not prepared him for this obvious question, he stammers a non-answer. So, there it is! It has finally happened! What society on numerous occasions warned her about, has finally happened! Another woman. Sniffs him out; he smells of perfume. ‘It is my perfume,’ he stutters. No, no, there’s another perfume in the mix—another woman.
Maybe—just maybe—if the depressed-brain Husband had noticed that the tree against which he wedged was a queen of the night tree, maybe—just maybe—he would have made a better lawyer for himself. But alas, he would rather accept the accusation of infidelity than admit to the fact that his brain, having faced a dip, was drowning him—that life had for some time been weighing him down—and he needed release.
So, this historic, wronged Wife, she invents the necktie. Picturing, fantasising about how she would hold Husband by the noose, with him on all fours, dragged around, she invents the necktie. Because other than that what purpose is that thing tied around the neck to serve? Listen to the name ‘TIE’…the clue’s in the name; dragging him on all fours, wronged Wife looks for a tree, against which to tie Husband. And of course, Husband being down on his luck, the tree found may just be a lavender tree. Another perfume? Another lady! This right here would be a good time to write Husband’s obituary. That belt around his waist, supporting his waistline, would serve the purpose of a good lashing.
A World in Straitjacket
“There is a need for a change of attitude with reference to the belief that one is a gentleman only when he wears a suit.” We repeat this quote by Mr. Alan Kyeremanten. ‘Gentleman’, ‘lady’, those are mere social constructs with meanings, on many occasions, regional, not universal. This is so especially when it comes to the matter of clothing. Each society constructs for itself its own notion of gentility. And surely, we the people of the world, did not meet in a global summit to vote unanimously on the necktie—a nonsensical piece of apparel, as the true, God-ordained means of gentility. Surely, we did not meet to vote on the suit (those thick jackets for men and women made for temperate regions of the world), the trousers, the skirt, etc. as the only pieces of apparel inherently capable of demonstrating stability of mind—of gentility.
The notion of such world-wide agreement on clothing is nonsensical, is it not? The Middle-Easterner’s history, weather, ideology, etc., differs greatly from the West’s, from the African’s, the Asian’s, etc. So, all these sets of people interspersed worldwide, having differing realities, histories, climates, have differing clothing systems—one which when mined, serves as great boost to their respective economies. Because then it means that citizens of the country do not all have to go to the government’s doorstep seeking employment (a doorstep not infinite, but finite; a payroll which can actually get full). A portion of these citizens can venture into textile making, sewing, pattern design, etc.
But what we have on our hands is a citizenry busily donning clothes made not for our weather—oh! so much so that we even bring cold upon ourselves with 16 degrees settings on our air-conditionings just to don these jackets; oh! so much so that it becomes a battle of proving oneself more gentlemanly or ladylike, more Western, more like the Caucasian, by how breezily one is able to withstand 16 degrees. COVID-19 has brought many people down to their knees, avoiding incredibly low temperature settings, but very steadily we are reverting back to this old behaviour.
Our Discussions So far
Last week we came to the realisation that should the West, having gone through the history they did, especially that of the clothes rationing era of WWII—should they have fallen into the wearing of sack clothes as wedding gowns and groom-suits, we in Africa would today not be donning these white gowns, black suits and trousers, but these sack clothes for our weddings.
I know a number of people who stammer now because they learnt the ‘habit' from childhood friends. My own father is a culprit. Don’t blame the man; a child’s brain is an itty-bitty thing… ‘It sounded nice to me, Adam’s stammer, so I learnt it.’ That is the story of how my father came to be a stammerer. It’s a silly thing, isn’t it? A nation of lispers (if the Spaniard legend were factually accurate) and stammers (a semi-developed child brain learning another’s flaw)—those are on their very faces, generally agreed upon to be very, very silly things. But a nation donning the apparel of another… apparel whose tracings are found in the other’s peculiar history, their weather, their own mental bondage (owing to this history of theirs, resulting in a ‘lack of confidence and imagination’ in them to wear patterns and colourful clothing), for nations such as ours, and other African countries to don the apparel of these other people proudly, without seeing the inherent silliness in it, that arguably, renders us all, the silliest of them all—not even the child who learns a stammer comes close. Yet, our minds are tightly closed to this glaring idiosyncrasy.
The idea of a uniformised world is ridiculous, we can all agree. But in the African’s case, this incredulity is lost on us, because to us, the West is the default. The Caucasian has been very successful with the African. For their dream of a worldwide assertion of ideological overlord has been successful with us. Intentionally carved out with slavery and colonialism, and the virus having developed wings of its own, the now independent African still remains in the claws of these ideological overlords—the Caucasian.
“There is a need for a change of attitude with reference to the belief that one is a gentleman only when he wears a suit.” This statement is one of a man attempting to liberate himself from the imposition of thoughts—from mental bondage. Absolute imposition of thoughts—that’s always scarcely healthy. Because the tyrant (imposer) who imposes their thoughts upon the other, they always do so without giving cognisance to the peculiarities, the differences of the realities of the ‘imposee.’
The Price and Prize of Liberation
With this three-part series on clothing, from ‘This Whole Thing Began with Textiles’, to ‘The West Used To Be Full of Colour!’ all the way to today’s piece, we are calling for a liberation of mind—starting with the very clothes we wear, the very things we term as ‘official wear.’ We are calling for a liberation of mind, and freedom to don African apparel. We are saying all things of African origin are ‘professional’, ‘official’, ‘classy’, and all those other fanciful terms originally, Eurocentrically reserved for all things Western.
I should be able to don my African print—my Kente cloth, Tie-and-Dye, Gonja cloth, Tuareg, Kabyle, Akwete, Chitenge, Leteisi, Shweshwe, Aso Oke, Toghu, Kuba Rafia textiles, etc.)—from Monday all the way to Friday, to work. The Ghanaian, the African should be able to wrap a head gear around her head, don a hat—his kofia, abeti aja, glaniclo, gobi, habar kada, tarboosh, tengade or bolga hats, to work and to all important occasions. Our own Ghanaian smock (i.e., batakari, fugu, or dansika), our kaba and slits, our African beads, our African shoes and sandals, all African styles, apparel, that the wearer feels do not inhibit their movement, they should be able to run around their workplaces in. African textiles, African styles, African accessories, etc., should be the actual normal, with globalisation of clothing having just a sliver of space in our wardrobes (giving way for Western, Asian, Middle Eastern etc. influences). Now what do we stand to gain from undertaking this mundane, essential national act?
I mean, just think of the market this change of mind opens up to us. Picture yourself, Ghana, your youth going to school to study textile making, fashion design, embroidery, jewelry and beads making, footwear making, etc., because they see at the end of the tunnel real market awaiting them. ‘Government payroll is full’ becomes to them utter nonsense because they have plans of their own. ‘Government payroll is full’ becomes a statement the government itself would find ridiculous uttering, because…err…who would be bothering you, Mr. and Mrs. Government?
A god failing
Strategies we have put in place over the years, have, in as much as they have targeted themselves at providing demand-driven support to the textile industry, have arguably provided more of supply-driven assistances instead. These two, existing in isolation of each other, in the end, end up as an exercise in futility, although each time, these strategies are gone into by the government wholeheartedly. We seem to tackle these problems with supply-driven solutions hoping that by so doing, the demand side is concurrently and automatically taken care of. That by filling the market with supply of Ghanaian-made textiles, automatic and concurrent demand will ensue. Government strategies have come in the form of financial support, such as tax and tariff exemptions, with the hope of reducing the cost of productions of these industries and consequently (hopefully) their risks of running at losses, and sometimes outright government bailouts as done by the Government of Ghana to Akosombo Textiles Limited (ATL) in 2018, when an amount of GH₵17 million was exerted towards the saving of this national, historic textile industry.
Sometimes the government steps in with skills and technological assistance, hoping that by amping up the skill-set of the Ghanaian, by improving access to technologies, this dying industry will receive new boost of life. The Ghanaian government has, in this capitalist market, on numerous occasions, attempted playing god, descending into the market to pull out our Ghanaian textile industries from the rut, babying these industries in a market of ruthless laws of supply and demand, as many other African countries have had to do for their own textile industries. The government by so descending, loses money—physical cash are lost (from these bailouts), and tax revenues lost (from tax exemptions granted), but we persist still, because the aim is to save a very vital national industry—the textile and apparel industry. In African countries—Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, etc., textile companies are thriving not due to their own success at playing effectively in the game of demand and supply, but because of state support, protection, bailouts, etc. That is obviously not a good look—not especially for an industry as crucial to the fabric of state as the fabric and apparel industry.
ATL, for one, is still famously struggling, even with this much needed government bailout, tax exemptions and attention. Why? Before we jump straight to our favourite tool we like to use against our own Black selves (i.e., corruption) let’s go rather to the real cause—the market.
Supply hang out to dry
There is an endemic lack of ‘demand’ and ‘love’ (if we be metaphysical) for Africanness in this and other African nations. And with AfCFTA lending a much-needed togetherness to our continent, more than ever, a continental approach to all national issues have become imperative. The Ghanaian, as we have in the past two weeks shown, has been carefully conscientised to trash out all sense of Africanness and don Western culture in all things—even down to the garments we wear. We are conscientised into believing that that is the only true way—the only dignified way of being. This is a big problem needing systematic uprooting and rectification. Last two weeks we saw how our own Ghanaian government, in 2004, achieved enormous success in attempting this rectification.
But total ‘uprooting’, we saw, was not achieved by this government. This is because the government, owing to a mental bondage it, like the rest of us citizenry, suffers, did so un-thoroughly. The ‘National Friday Wear Programme’ could have been more unapologetic in its approach by dropping that ‘Friday’ and going for all the days of the week instead. We have with these series of articles called on the government to show its power once again, by doing the needful, by instituting yet another campaign, the ‘National Wear Programme.’ The Ghanaian government has showed itself capable before, she can do it again. The government’s ‘Strategic Anchor’ initiative which has the ‘Textile, Garments, and Apparel’ sector listed as one of its sector of focus to benefit from “formulating and implementing policies for the promotion, growth and development of domestic and international trade,” might just in the end be rendered futile if demand-fueling strategies are not put in place to meet supply.
Demand for Ghanaian and African-made textiles is very low in the country (just like other African countries). And once again with the commencement of AfCFTA, more than ever, this failure on the part of our own selves and our African brothers and sisters, ought be taken more seriously, because “our [liberation] is meaningless unless linked up with the total liberation (of mind) of Africa.” Because, without uprooting this problem of indoctrination against Africanness (African apparel) in the entirety of Africa, even with the opening up of our markets by AfCFTA, there will still ensue the problem of ‘a lack of market.’ We complain a lot of a lack of appetite for Made in Africa apparel. A situation which comes as no surprise, with the history we’ve had, and with a large chunk of our leaders unintentionally lending credence to the miseducation done upon us by this history by wearing Western clothing in lieu of African fabrics and styles every chance they get.
When the day comes that the Ghanaian and African is totally healed of this ailment, and they begin donning, from Monday to Sunday (to work and to functions), African apparel, demand for Ghanaian and African textiles will increase exponentially. It is only then that governmental supports given, if any—because at this point these industries, having wide markets on their hands, would on their own, find their feet—would reaped desired results, and not be lost in the heavily foreign-infiltrated market.
Inwardly we need to create for our own selves, our own markets, before expecting the rest of the world (the West, especially) to open themselves up to us—and getting excited when they do. Just look at the excitement AGOA caused when the only true textile market existing for us in USA happens, arguably, during the shortest month of the year—February, Black History Month. Yet we have right here with us, the exciting AfCFTA, but a mind unchanged—that is not a good recipe.
We will, after effecting this change of mind, and establishing the National Wear Programme, have to be quick on our feet to effect all the other necessary ingredients to render our Ghanaian textile industry very well-prepared for the AfCFTA market—with other African countries doing same for their respective markets. Because without so doing, what we would have ensuing, to our dismay, would be our fertile soil of African market (even more fertile than it is now) laying bare for countries like China, and the West. One of the top challenges the Ghanaian textile industry faces is infiltration of cheap, fake textiles from Chinese markets. This multinational treaty, AfCFTA must be protected against conflicting bilateral treaties—trade liberalisation agreements existing outside the AfCFTA that allow for unfair competitions, further strangling our struggling industry (textile and apparel industry).
Many have attributed the growth the African textile industry has been slowly witnessing to foreign investment confidence and foreign patronage, ‘African fabrics are slowly making it to fashion catwalks of the western world’, we say these with some sort of flawed national and continental pride. Yet this is a sector whose growth needs not be hinged on FDIs and acceptance by foreign tastes. Our own markets are very great (and enough, in fact) starting points. This is one of those sectors whose dependency when heavily built on FDIs, can only spell doom, and can be indicative of non-seriousness in the nation. We have no business convincing the Chinese to wear Ghanaian, nor the American, nor the European, as we would them, say, Ghanaian-made chocolate and other cocoa products. But we have to effect such campaigns upon our own selves. And the rest of the world, being inspired by the unapologetic pride demonstrated by us in our very own, and perhaps wanting to share in this pride, would, on their own accord, begin to demand a piece of us—our textiles and apparel, at which instance we would be glad to oblige. Because no one says no to an even larger market, abi?
Roadmap to Heaven
Companies countrywide can enter into partnerships with textile industries, whereupon African prints would be given to staff and deducted from their monthly salaries. And clothing allowances traditionally given by companies to staff, can, instead of misguidedly being used for purchasing European, can rather be used for sewing these African prints of theirs. And the informal sector, unaffected by the demands of formal sector bosses, and having arguably been better consumers of African prints, as they, have since 2004, had the liberty of donning African wear whatever day of the week it is, they will amp up their patronage of these textiles all the more.
With market demand meeting supply, hence encouraging the springing up of more Ghanaian textile companies, prices would be placed competitively, and the average Ghanaian can afford authentic, quality Ghanaian fabrics. Who needs a ‘Chinese fake’ when you have a ‘Ghanaian authentic’ pegged at the same price? And the illiterate and semi-literate, wanting to be like their educated counterparts, seeing them wear proudly their African textiles and styles to work, they will replicate this national pride. This, right here, is heaven, I tell you!
“So, this is Christmas...” I hear we are in the festive season. I hear people complaining a lot that there’s no money in the system to afford festivities. Can we all agree then that celebrating Christmas this year is ‘nhwenhwenim’ eh? I know some of you will breach this trust and wear your nice shoes and dresses…and go places. Nhwenhwenim! If we are going to breach this trust, how about we do so well, eh! How about we step out, going wild with our Africanness—our African wears in preparation for the coming year.
Because in 2022, the National Wear Programme will happen ‘live and coloured.’ I know so because that’s how I intend spending my Christmas. I plan on looking for the Minister of Trade and Industry, Alan Kyeremanten, and pouncing on him—"Rambo style”, harassing him with this national imperative. So, if you hear they have arrested me, just remember that I ‘kraa-ed’ you.
[Published in the Business & Financial Times (B&FT) - 22nd December 2021]