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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

When the search for a national dress takes decades

25th December 2011

On special occasions like Christmas, which are characterised by merry making and relaxation, it is common for newspaper columnists to comment on light subjects in their endeavour to compliment the season’s entertainment menu and make the event as memorable as possible.

A week ago, yours ever was in the process of figuring out a mind teasing subject to comment on, come Christmas day, when Hon. Dr John Nchimbi offered him one on a silver platter, by announcing a special committee to undertake a task which serious newspapers described as “ overseeing the process of establishing an official national dress.”

Dr Nchimbi needs no much introduction, as he is currently Minister for Information, Youth Development, Culture and Sports.

A ruling party cadre who climbed to the party top leadership positions on the youth wing ladder, the relatively young Minister is said to be guided by the principle that where individual achievements are concerned, only the sky is a limit. It is claimed he is one of the leaders aiming at great things which this nation can ofter. This is surely a side issue.

Our focus today is on the national dress project he has embraced with zeal during the twilight days of 2011, creating an impression that working on this mission seriously is one of his New Year resolutions.

We may call it the Kusaga Committee, for the 8- person team is chaired by Mr Joseph Kusaga of the famous Clouds Entertainment Company, and is already in business, expected to present its report to the Ministry on the 28th February, 2012. Is the national dress likely to be Dr Nchimbi’s new year present to the citizens of our land of apparent peace and harmony?

There are a few interesting things worth noting about the new twist on the national dress search story. First, five members of the 8- person team are either journalists or are involved in media related work.

Given that mobilisation of citizens and strategising on this cultural project would require services of people from different professional backgrounds like community workers, cultural consultants, grassroots operators, designers etc, you have those who feel there is an imbalance of some sort in the nomination of committee members, although the nominating authority may cite media power as a justification of its choice.

There is the issue of what exactly the committee is supposed to do, how to do it effectively in two months and come up with a worthwhile report which can lead us anywhere insofar as getting a consensus on national costumes for men and women is concerned. Since we have no idea about the committee’s terms of reference, it is not easy to say much about how things will move on from this stage.

We are told the nation earnestly embarked on the process of searching for a national dress since 2004, if a press release issued by the Ministry is anything to go by. This is not true, as the idea can be traced to the early post- independence years, when most African countries were preoccupied with a search for cultural identity, after attaining flag independence.

A handful of countries have succeeded to come up with acceptable national dresses. Most of them, including Tanzania, still continue to chase the wild goose in the name of a national costume - the main reason being that it is not easy for citizens with different ethnic backgrounds to have consensus on such an issue.

Minister Nchimbi’s latest move has, in fact, revived a public debate on the subject, with some commentators wondering whether given the cultural, political and economic challenges we have to contend with at the moment, the national dress is a priority.

Some social analysts in this school of thought further contend that the cultural area deserving utmost and urgent attention is one on national ethics, as this is where there is a crisis and a confusion of alarming proportions.

We may as well digest this observation as we happily digest our excessive Christmas special dishes and drinks. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant [email protected]

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