African chic

Adventurers and in-the-know travelers have been beguiled by exotic Africa for centuries, but what is for sure is that Obama’s prominence and African origins will surely accelerate interest in African tourism, culture and style, and putting the continent firmly back on the chic list. It’s debatable whether the “O factor” will revive Hawaiian tourism the way Jimmy Carter did to Plains, Georgia or Bush to Crawford, Texas.

That’s welcome news to parts of Africa, which have seen a decline in recent years – in particular the violence that followed the presidential elections in Kenya in 2007 affected the country’s $1 billion a year tourism industry. Parts of Africa that are relatively peaceful could see a rise in the number of foreign visitors. There is optimism that tourism confidence is slowly being restored and the industry will bounce back by the end of 2009. The “O factor” is already starting to attract tourists particularly Americans, eager to explore the heritage of their new president. This is a niche being explored by some tour operators in America who are offering tours that cover the village of Kogelo in Western Kenya where Barack Obama’s father was buried. Moreover, the timing couldn’t be better for South Africa, which will be hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Although South Africa is already well known as a holiday hotspot and for its wine and culinary tourism, the event is expected to spark a tourism boom, with private business already gearing up in anticipation of hordes of soccer fans.

Fashion purveyors are also riding this African revival. From New York to Paris, fashion shows are flaunting Africa-inspired fashions on the runways. Going beyond the generic “safari style,” Louis Vuitton’s S/S 2009 runway collection added tribal vibes to its fashions, mixing couture jungle pieces, with oversized accessorizes like bangles, oversized necklaces and earpieces. Junya Watanabe’s African inspired collection was topped off by giant gingham turbans stuffed with dried flowers, said to be an interpretation of the native dress worn by women in the fruit and vegetable markets of Ghana, Nigeria or Jamaica. And EDUN’s (the socially conscious label started by Ali Hewson and husband Bono back in 2005) S/S 2009 collection was a sultry mix of tribal-inspired pieces, no doubt an homage to the company’s “grow-to-sow” mantra and mission to bring ethical trade from richer parts of the world to third world Africa.

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