Investigative Articles

African apparel…Personal Taste or Symbol of Silent Resistance?

By: Louay Goor

In late 2014, the University of Bahri in Khartoum banned its students from wearing African clothing along with a set of guidelines for student clothing on campus. Some other universities followed suit.

During one of the court sessions in the famous trial of Mohammed Bugari, attendees wearing African apparel were asked to leave the courtroom under with the argument that such clothing diminished the prestige of the court. At the time, this was viewed as an indication of the distress of the authorities about the symbolism of resistance and the silent rebellion against the Arabized monoculturalism imposed on the country suppression of the African component of Sudanese identity echoed by celebrating and wearing the African clothing.

Renewed Fashion

In the past, the African style of dress was associated with some figures in the Sudanese art scene including poets, singers and artists who incorporated it as the distinctive feature of their attire; including the poet Salah Ahmed Ibrahim, singer Khalil Ismail, as well as poet and then President of the Sudanese Writers Union, Alim Abbas, who was known for his “proud” connection with the African culture. Despite this, their choice of African attire was not offensive or controversial. That has changed recently, however, especially after the secession of South Sudan. Statements made by Sudanese officials that after the secession of South Sudan there is no room for talking about a Sudanese identity other than the Islamic Arabized one imply that what linked Sudan to African identity was cut off after the independence of South Sudan from its northern counterpart.

At present, the phenomenon of wearing African apparel is widespread among Sudanese youth, intellectuals and artists. It has become, according to observers, a silent symbol of resistance and denunciation of enforced policies of monoculturalism. The youth in their colorful African attire appear to have honed their sense of belonging and their inner Sudanese identity which has been guarded against decisions of high officials calling for them to not be who they are. Young people from different age groups and parts of Sudan, various walks of life and diverse religious and political affiliations participate; perhaps because they are creative, fashion-oriented or simply admire African dress.

Ideology of Antagonism

Mr. Kamal Karrar, member of the of the Central Committee of the Sudanese Communist Party told Al-Taghyeer electronic newspaper that hostility to all that is not Arab is the ideology of the regime. This hostility is apparent in the attempts to impose the Arab identity on the people of Sudan whilst attacking African identity, which is a clear violation of human rights and contrary to the current Sudanese Constitution, whereas it is common knowledge that choice of dress falls within the scope of personal freedoms.

Mr. Karrar pointed out that some of the laws applied by the state divide citizens, some into first class and others into lower grades. He said that the independence of South Sudan and the current situation in both Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile fall within this framework, which also carries racist connotations. African apparel suits the climate and the African mood and perhaps is cheaper than fashion imported from Asia and Europe. It is as suitable as it is appropriate; but “they” presume that Sudan must be Arab and Islamic, Mr. Karrar adds. African apparel has been around for a while; people such as artist Kamal Keyla and his band and artist Ibrahim al-Sulhi and others have flaunted it on the television screen. Even the current Public Order Law does not specify the colors or the shapes of dress, which is subject to fashion trends and people’s personal taste and choices.

Mr. Karrar went on to say that the issue is that regime has failed to convince the Sudanese people to adopt its Arabized monocultural ideology voluntarily, especially the youth and students and thus resorted to such practices, however the people’s reactions to these practices is the fuel to the coming revolution in Sudan. In the past, female students have suffered from these abusive laws regulating their choice of dress, such as the prohibition of wearing short-sleeved shirts and trousers, but there have been no restrictions on what male students chose to wear. All of which are “failed” attempts to domesticate and indoctrinate/ alienate the people of Sudan.

African Disposition

South Sudanese poet and writer, Atim Simon Mabyor, told Al-Taghyeer that the African disposition that is apparent among young people in Sudan manifests in wearing African print attire as a conscious attempt to reaffirm that Sudan did not lose its African identity when the secession of South Sudan occurred as portrayed some. This disposition also comes as rejection and resistance to the official and ideological orientations of the ruling authorities who attempt to impose Arab identity and culture. Mabyor pointed out that the African trend is not linked to specific cultural or ethnic groups, but organized an entire generation of aware young people. He reinforces that the by adopting African attire this young generation is creating a wide socio-cultural movement proud of its African identity in opposition to the imposed Islam Arabized identity of the state and could be considered as a form of “fashion resistance.”

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