black panther: another growth opportunity for african textiles – made in wakanda!


IT’S been a couple of weeks of me ranting about AGOA (Africa Growth Opportunities Act) and the awkwardness of the situation surrounding textiles made in Africa being stopped from entering the United States under a commercial arrangement that benefits the Africans.

I am clearly not done with this yet but providence has stepped forward, dressed up in an outfit made of irony, courtesy of the ‘Black Panther’.

This irony, I hasten to add, is not because the movie is making ordinary, Africa-bound Africans gush exuberantly and dress up in costumes to celebrate our African-ness over a movie that is really an American’s version of Africa.

No; Africa, I am happy to declare that we have another Growth Opportunity in front of us today if we choose to ACT upon it!

See, the run-up to the global non-stop conversation about the movie ‘Black Panther’ was kicked off by a movie premiere in Hollywood, Los Angeles, which the actors and actresses celebrated by turning up all decked out in “African clothing”.

That term “African clothing” is too general to be considered accurate or even sensible on its own, because #AfricaIsNotCountry. It is difficult to categorise all the clothing of all the different tribes across these 54 countries. In fact, some of these tribes have different clothing patterns that differ between CLANS!

Gwe, Africa is complicated…but therein lies the opportunity.

We saw it on the red carpet of the Premiere: Part-time Ugandan David Oyelowo, who played Robert Katende in ‘Queen of Katwe’, showed up in a kitenge shirt-and-trouser outfit that many women on this continent declared ill-advised but that drove the point home like a brilliantly coloured assegai.

One of the other Ugandans there, Daniel Kaluuya (W’kabi in the movie), turned up in a kanzu and made headlines for both the outfit and awards that will continue rolling out for months and years to come.

W'kabi Kanzu
Owaakabi (Photo from http://www.usatoday)

Around the rest of the world it was picked up by Africans of all walks of life with access to the internet, contacts among socialites or enough money to buy a ticket to ‘Black Panther’.

On Twitter the hashtag #WakandaCameToSlay kicked off and slew.

A number of African-Americans, who we (proper Africans) often accuse of being too far removed from our realities to deserve the title ‘African-American’, turned up in that outfit that Eddie Murphy’s character in ‘Coming To America’ wore – ComingtoAmerica1988MoviePoster.jpgthe one with the Mobutu hat and a dead leopard (or was it a cheetah? Come to Uganda and see for yourself what they look like in real life!) over his shoulder.

But the rest of us have the opportunity to make people the world over learn the meaning of kitenge, kanzu and busuuti (all words recognised by my computer dictionaries because I MAKE THEM LEARN).

There is more irony to how, until recently. it was mostly bazungu we saw wearing kitenge dresses and carrying kitenge bags. For years and years, we had these beautiful pieces of fabric around us but we insisted on wearing bland suits and ties like we are clueless Europeans, sweltering in the heat of the tropical sun.

Until recently, I am proud to point out, because a few years ago ordinary Ugandans like you and I started toting those kitenge bags around. Clever young Ugandans took to customising shoes, hats and bags with bits of colourful kitenge and “African print” cloth to brighten them up and make them stand out from the crowd of others.

Thanks to the ‘Black Panther’, we will now do a lot more of this. And instead of exporting denims and t-shirts made in Uganda, we might actually start making our own designs and exporting those to a global market that WANTS them.

After that, the sky is the limit. Once we have dropped the shackles of imported suits and ties, t-shirts and jeans and adopted the Wakanda attitude evidenced by our clothing, maybe next we will choose to use our own names rather than English, Hebrew and Italian ones.

I desperately hope that this is the dawn of a new age on this continent; not just another passing phase during which hundreds of millions of dollars will be banked elsewhere and our the self-esteem or validation of the African is found in relation to some new type of master channeled by Hollywood.

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