Have you ever wondered how to dress like a senator in Cameroon? If you have, you are not alone. Many people are curious about the fashion choices of the country’s political elite and the senate is not left out.
The Senate is the upper house of the Parliament of Cameroon, composed of 100 members, 70 of whom are elected and 30 appointed by the President. It was created in 1996, but only held its first elections in 2013.
To many, the institution is a house for the old and fragile political elite who show up mostly in expensive suits (mostly black). They are known to often look serious and formal, often in formal wear. But all this appears to have changed overnight changed and the lawmakers are now dancing to a new rhythm.
Prior to the election, Senator Mbella Moki was pictured on a motorcade, celebrating his uncontested run to office. After his appointment as senator, business magnate, Emmanuel Chatue took over the trend, vibing to the viral hit ‘Le car qui part’. He has since been caught on camera in similar instances, and is fast becoming a dancing senator. But these are just the tip of the iceberg of the new wave the senators are bringing in, effortlessly staying en vogue.
Prior to this, the senate was to many, a place where the old go to retire. Its members were known for strictly conventional behavior and of course, fashion styles.
88-year-old Speaker, Senator Marcel Niat Njifenji for instance, is known for his impeccable suits and ties. He often wears black or grey colors that contrast or match with his white hair and beard. He also likes to add a touch of color with his pocket squares and lapel pins. He is the President of the Senate and in the line of constitutionally designated successors to the President of the Republic, so his dressing style reflects his authority and professionalism.
Other fashion trends common to the Senate, are traditional outfits such as the Gandura, the Toghu and the Sanja popular wears from different cultural zones of the country.
And then there is the Senator itself. It consists of a thigh-level long-sleeved shirt, a pair of matching trousers, and a cap. The apparel is named senator, owing to how Nigerian senators dress, portrayed by the media and the movies. While it is not a very common apparel among Cameroon’s senators, one or two can be spotted donning the outfit occasionally.
Female lawmakers too often stand out with their attention-demanding Kabas and noticeable headgears. The Kaba is a long free-flowing dress often designed from cotton-based fabric. They come in many designs, with that of the ruling party’s emblem and colors making a regular appearance in most political sittings. The Kaba’s comfort defeats weather and societal impediments and makes it an ideal wear for all occasions; funerals, weddings, rallies, parades, or, you guessed right, Senatorial duties. Paired with a matching headgear, a handbag and other accessories, its owner is ready to go.
The game changer
In Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’, Okonkwo is consumed by his resistance to change, and his fear of being a failure like his father. These obstruct his views to the inevitable change approaching from all angles and the many amazing things the new ways of life could have to offer. But this is the Cameroon senate and not Umuofia.
Here, what was once class and a fashion norm especially among female senators for ages, is today threatened and the imminent change is here already. A new player is in the game, in the person of Senator Françoise Puene. Nicknamed Mami Nyanga, she is a successful entrepreneur and renowned women’s rights advocate. As much as she is known for these, she is also known for her out-of-the-line fashion sense. Despite her busy schedule, she still finds time to beat every occasion with elegant dresses and a unique dressing style.
Mami Nyanga had for ages built her style and is today, bringing it with her through the corridors of power at one of the most prominent institutions of the land. She likes to mix and match colors and patterns as well as make do with accessories like scarves, belts, and necklaces to add flair to her outfits. Armed with these and a warm smile, she makes wherever she finds herself a stage with high heels, a succinct touch to her already elongated structure.
But one of the loudest aspects of her fashion, is the suits she wears. Often cut to size, they come in bright colors; blue, red, yellow, and sometimes, a mix of many or flowery designs. These and her ever high heels and exquisite finger rings make her hard to notice.
Unlike most women in this part of the world, she keeps a low cut, a display of her confidence and self-awareness. On a sunny day, she soothes it up with a pair of sunglasses. Like pretty much anything politicians do, the senator’s ways have often been the focus of public discourse. This has only gotten more intense ever since she made her way to the senate.
Vocal as the dresses she wears, the Senator who too is CEO of Franko Hotel never shies away from asserting her position. Never failing to narrate her grass to grace story, she remarks that hard work matters more, and maintains she is self-made. Her fashion sense, she adds, is just a tiny aspect of her worth.
“I don’t need a scarf to be seen. I’m so popular. I’m at over 240 million views online. I am beautiful and I have the money (…) In Cameroon it is believed that a woman can never do anything by herself. Prof. Kontchou never gave me 5 franc. Some tongues that want to hide my fortune say it’s since I met the Professor,” she narrated on Canal 2’s l’Arène TV show.
It is this hard work the electorate expects from Mami Nyanga and her peers at the senate.
Their mandate is already underway and Cameroonians would prefer more action past donning fancy clothes and imposing headgears. True, dressing like a senator in Cameroon is not just a matter of fashion, but also of power, prestige, and identity. It is a way of signaling one’s status, allegiance, and aspirations in a complex and competitive political arena. It is also a way of expressing one’s cultural heritage, values, and vision for the future.
However, it comes with a responsibility and a challenge: to use one’s influence and resources for the benefit of the people, not for personal gain or corruption. To dress like a senator is to dress like a leader, but also like a servant. It is to dress like a Cameroonian, but be a patriot in speech and in deed.