Salva Kiir Mayardit, the president of South Sudan, who recently signed a historic oil deal with his northern neighbor (and erstwhile enemy) Sudan, has at least one peculiar habit, sartorially speaking.
Although Juba, the capital of South Sudan (which became the world's newest country just last year), is about 7,000 miles away from the plains of Texas -- Kiir is fond of wearing a black cowboy hat (the kind that Texans love to wear).
Kiir wears the 10-gallon Stetson so often in public that it has become his trademark -- whether he is speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, meeting with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton or visiting China, he and the black hat are inseparable.
According to reports, the hat was a gift to Kiir for then-U.S. President George W. Bush when the former leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement visited the White House in July 2006. Kiir liked the hat so much, he reportedly bought several more and now has a closet full of them.
Kiir apparently is grateful to Bush for playing an instrumental role in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the second Sudanese civil war and paved the way for a referendum on South Sudan’ independence -- a measure that became a reality in July 2011, two years after Bush’ term ended.
Kiir was clearly thinking of Bush when he signed South Sudan’s new constitution and also when he was inaugurated as the country's first president -- he wore the very same black Stetson that the Texan presented him with five years before.
Right-wing media in the U.S. hailed Bush for pushing for the secession of South Sudan, which has a significant Christian population, in contrast to the mostly Muslim (North) Sudan.
Jim Hoff of Gateway Pundit wrote: “Today the people of South Sudan were liberated thanks to his efforts.”
Similarly, when South Sudan gained independence, a local resident held up a sign which proclaimed “Thank You, George Bush”
Another jubilant South Sudanese, a writer and literature professor named Taban lo Liyong, told the Los Angeles Times: "It was George Bush and the Christian fundamentalists who heard the cry of South Sudan.”
Many educated Sudanese, especially political leaders, tend to wear standard Western (as in Western culture, not cowboy Western) suits -- as indeed Kiir himself does, in addition to the cowboy hat.
Despite their distance Sudan and Texas actually have some things in common -- a violent history, an arid landscape, and, most importantly, an abundance of oil. So, perhaps the sight of Kiir looking like a Texas Ranger is not all that absurd.
Moreover, as a symbol of the American pioneer spirit, democracy, and rugged individualism, almost nothing surpasses the cowboy hat. (President Ronald Reagan frequently was seen wearing a cowboy hat while relaxing at his ranch in California).
Some foreign leaders have also put on a Stetson, at least when visiting Texas, including Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping when he appeared at a rodeo in Simonton, Texas, in February 1979. The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, wore a cowboy hat while attending a reception in Calgary, Alberta.
However, Kiir appears to be the only foreign leader who has made the Texas hat part of his permanent wardrobe.