Fifty years after Britain left, many African judges still wear wigs

A half a century after the British gave up their last colonies in Africa, one of the most glaring symbols of colonialism remains: the traditional wig. The long, white, horsehair locks are still worn by African judges and lawyers today, a tradition that the British themselves have partly given up.


Now, a new generation of African jurists is asking: Why are relics of the colonial courtroom still prominent today?


The wigs date back to the 1600s, during the reign of Charles II, when they became a symbol of the British judicial system.


An investigation found that a wig could cost up to $6,500 today. Increasingly, opponents of the attire aren’t just arguing against costs and inconvenience — one editor wrote that wigs weren’t made for the sweltering heat — but against a tradition that African judiciaries appear to be embracing.


Defenders of the attire argue that they represent more than a British tradition, but something that distinguishes the country’s judges. In Kenya, many see the wigs and robes as their uniforms, items that elevate a courtroom, despite — or because of — their colonial links.


While many leaders, like former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, have denounced the West for what he calls a “neo-colonial attitude,” many continue to cling to this dress code while political pressure across the continent to end this tradition continues to grow.


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(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)


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