Africa/Middle East - Issue 38 - Magazine | Monocle

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Delta force


Modern Nigerian presidents know how to use clothes to explain their style of governing. Olusegun Obasanjo’s rule was as colourful and as lurid as his flowing outfits. His successor, the meek and mild Umaru Yar’adua, dressed all in white. When Yar’adua fell critically ill last year, he was replaced by his vice-president, Goodluck Jonathan, a man whose political views were known to few. Jonathan dresses all in black.

While the colour may be dull, the accessories – wide-brimmed hat, fancy gold chain – reflect the colonial history of the Niger Delta, the often violent region on the southern coast where Nigeria’s huge oil deposits are found.

“The British brought these exotic gifts to impress the natives,” says Dele Olojede, editor of newspaper Next. “The local notables began to imitate the British manner of dressing and attached the shiny objects on their clothes. They saw them as a sign of importance and success.”

Since taking power officially in May, after Yar’adua died, Jonathan has said he plans to stand for a full term when Nigeria goes to the polls next year. An incumbent would normally be favourite but Jonathan’s background may count against him. Traditionally, Nigeria has alternated its presidents between north and south, Muslim and Christian. Northern political figures argue it is still their turn as Yar’adua died after just two years in power.

Bling and black tunic:

  1. Hat:
    “There is certainly nothing African in that hat,” says Olojede. “It was never part of our sartorial tradition.” The wide-brimmed headwear, worn by many prominent figures in the Delta, is based on the hats worn by British colonialists who first came to Nigeria in the early 1800s. Jonathan has worn it throughout his political career.

  2. Tunic:
    The long tunic is popular among eastern Nigerians, particularly the Igbos, the dominant group in the south-east. Many top it off with a red fez, sometimes with a feather too. The smaller groups in the south, including Jonathan’s in the Delta, have begun to adopt it. The tunic is thought to be based on the long-tailed coats worn by 19th century British traders.

  3. Gold chain:
    The flash of gold, seen in Jonathan’s trademark chain that adorns the top of his tunic, has its roots in the gold trinkets and glass beads that British traders gave as gifts to the Delta’s leaders when they first arrived. It is seen as a sign of importance and success.

Veto the vote


The significance of Jordan’s upcoming parliamentary elections may lie not in who wins, but who doesn’t stand. Jordan’s Islamic Action Front – a relatively moderate local political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood – is boycotting the poll. The IAF, which has six members in the 110-seat House of Deputies, sulkily accuses Jordan’s government of rigging constituency boundaries in order to disenfranchise its largely urban vote – and it is trying to persuade other parties to join it in its refusal to participate. King Abdullah II dissolved parliament in 2009, halfway through its four-year term.

Cab to Cairo


Amid the sleek BMWs and the donkey carts hauling cattle feed to market, a new vehicle has joined the fray on Cairo’s roads: the iconic London taxi. Targeting well-heeled tourists, Abou Ghaly Motors has put 25 on the streets and hopes to have 100 by next year. But with up to 100,000 local cabs already in operation in Cairo, it’ll be a tough market to crack.

A fine state


Dubai has come up with a novel way of trimming its national debt – parking fines. In the past year the number of $165-a-time fines handed out by traffic police has risen by almost 50 per cent.

The Dubai government’s revenues fell by 13 per cent in 2009 and its refusal to introduce income tax has left the city state’s coffers with a substantial shortfall. Last year it suffered the embarrassment of having to ask next door neighbour Abu Dhabi for a bailout but the economy is still weak. A $1bn (€733m) bond issue is more likely to plug the hole, but until that happens, Dubai’s errant drivers will continue to feel the heat.

Familiar names


Kenyan politics is dominated by rival dynasties. The finance minister, Uhuru Kenyatta, is the son of the country’s first president, Jomo, while prime minister Raila Odinga is the first-born of the first-ever vice-president, Oginga. The Odinga dynasty is likely to continue in 2012 when Raila’s son, Fidel Castro Odinga, stands for election.

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