AS part of the pomp and circumstance at the ongoing India-Africa Forum Summit in Delhi this week, African leaders were invited to kit out in colourful traditional Indian attire for a group photo.
All the visiting African leaders complied, except one.
Sticking out like a sore thumb in his light blue western suit, was Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe.
His unexplained defiance of the dress code, necessarily invited speculation.
Was the veteran contrarian being true to his rebellious nature, or did he just miss the memo, many wondered.
A Zanu PF insider suggested practical and utility considerations.
“You would know that His Excellence never dispenses with his bullet proof vest,” said the party member.
“Again, because of age, he (Mugabe) has, lately, been known to wear a mid-riff brace that helps keep his back ramrod straight.
“That’s why his suits are bespoke – specially tailored for him. So, it may have been a bit of a challenge getting, in time, an Indian garment that accommodates both.”
Commenting on the photo-op oddity, UK-based Zimbabwe observer, Alex Magaisa, remarked on the veteran leader’s rebellious streak saying “Mugabe simply doesn’t do conforming”.
Magaisa also drew attention to a recent state media article by a columnist believed to be the president’s spokesman who revealed that Mugabe – who consciously affects the habit of an English gentleman in his dress – refused to wear the British coat-tails to dinner with the Queen during a visit to the UK.
But while refusing to dress like an English gent for the Queen, Mugabe – a long known crusader of African values and culture – conducts State ceremonies back home to strict colonial British traditions.
Writes Magaisa: “… on the occasion of State events, such as Parliament’s opening, Mugabe’s Government mimics everything British.
“The entire procession, all the traditions and protocols, resemble those of Westminster – including hordes of policemen on horseback, clad in colonial-style breeches, a vintage, open-top Rolls Royce, from the colonial times.
“Judges of the superior courts will be there too, donning odd horse-hair wigs in the sweltering heat. The chiefs proudly wear their uniforms, relics from the colonial era.”
Magaisa adds: “If Mugabe is serious about challenging “psychological vassalage”how is it that 35 years after independence Zimbabwe still apes the British and colonial ceremonial traditions and customs in such blatant fashion.
“Refusing to conform in private dinners but happy to conform in public processions? Sounds like a contradiction.”