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Thursday, 17 August, 2000, 19:11 GMT 20:11 UK
Zambia's stylish president
The sharp suited President Chiluba
Did sharp suits help President Chiluba get elected?
Anthony Kunda in Lusaka investigates what lies behind a leading opposition figure's criticism of President Frederick Chiluba's taste for expensive suits.

Although Shakespeare's Apollonius in Hamlet speaks about a man's apparel proclaiming who he is and where he comes from, for Zambia's President Frederick Chiluba you would have no idea.

His suits speak of affluence, yet he presides over a country with millions barely scraping a living.

former President Kenneth Kaunda
And did safari suits lose it for former President Kenneth Kaunda?
Even the salaried in Zambia rarely buy new locally tailored clothes, and have to make do with second-hand stuff called Salaula.

But President Chiluba's suits are understood to be tailored by top class designers in France and Italy.

A former presidential aide who requested anonymity, said: "He never buys suits from shops here."

FTJ

His shirts, socks and ties with matching breast-pocket handkerchief are understood to be imprinted with the initials of his first names FTJ - Frederick Titus Jacob.

How much is spent on these clothes and shoes is a closely guarded secret.


Chiluba: Always wears matching handkerchiefs and tie
But many ordinary Zambians speculate that the figure has to be a mind-blowing one.

Mr Chiluba took to wearing western-style suits shortly before he ascended to power.

His wealthy uncle, former environment minister Ben Mwila, saw that his diminutive nephew was on the way to presidential heights, and he decided on a new look.

Mr Mwila reportedly had his nephew flown to Europe to stock up on designer suits, watches and built-up shoes to give him a few more inches in public.

Mr Chiluba has, since, never looked back to his original man-of-the-people look of open shirts, polo-necked sweaters and blue jeans.

It is not clear how many suits he has. But few people, even his closest aides, can remember seeing Mr Chiluba in the same suit, or shirt twice.

It is probably much the same for his ties, shoes and socks.

No issue

But strangely many ordinary Zambians don't take issue with this sartorial extravagance that could have top business executives green with envy.

Women cadres of the governing party during ceremonial state functions, sometimes sing a refrain: "Iyi ni boma yama suti; ma safari suit yanaenda na Kaunda" ("This is a government of western suits; Safari suits went with Kaunda").

When I asked one his aides whether it isn't obscene for a leader of a poor country to dress in this manner, he fumed: "But who doesn't? You want the president to wear sackcloth?"

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