President Uhuru Kenyatta has long been known to wear colourful kitenge shirts, so much that it is not odd when one of his vibrant shirts causes a stir each time he holds a press briefing.
Typically loose-fitting and comfortable-looking, the shirts often carry African print designs. The intensely coloured fabric style originated from Indonesia, where a method of wax-resist dyeing called batik was used.
The method was taken up in Western Africa in the 1880s, where the design since spread throughout the continent and became more African-inspired. The print has become distinctive of traditional African clothing, being worn during cultural events and ceremonies, including weddings and funerals.
They are also presented as gifts, used to make other elaborate pieces, including bags and shoes as well as being hang up as decorative pieces. Wearing of the African print shirts by President Kenyatta is however no accident, but a deliberate show of support for locally manufactured clothes, and a call for Kenyans to embrace it.
The president recently met representatives of the Mitumba Association of Kenya, wearing one of the famous shirts. While he addressed the measures the traders would take following planned resumption of the sale of second-hand clothes, the president also drummed up support for locally designed products.
“As you sell mitumba also promote our local clothing manufactures by selling locally made and designed garments,” he said President. The traders were instructed to fumigate all bales of second-hand clothing and shoes imported as well as register with and adhere to the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) rules.
Mitumba traders were further required to order pre-shipment fumigation certificates in addition to complying with the guidelines in fight against Covid-19.
Reviving textile factories
In a statement on State House Kenya’s social media pages, the Government said the revival of leading textile factories, including Rivatex, Thika Cotton Mills and Ken Knit, is a deliberate and sustained government strategy aimed at benefiting cotton farmers, growing local industries and creating jobs for the youth. Kenyans were quick to react to a State House Facebook post, which pulls together many of the president’s printed looks onto one picture. Many on social media were for the cause, and others not convinced by the statement.
“This is a very noble gesture. The cotton mills should be given incentives to open shop in all counties with government protection,” wrote Mwangi Mugo on Facebook. “Leading by example. You are making our nation great, sir,” wrote Christine Njeri.
Another social media user, Sammy Mwangi, urged the Government to revive Mount Kenya Textiles (Mountex) in Nanyuki. “The industry used to employ 3,000 with triple the number benefiting. This will be what the people of Laikipia will remember the president for,” wrote Mwangi.