A proposal by Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga in his manifesto to phase out trade of second-hand clothes, popularly called mitumba in Kenya, has sparked a debate on the future of the trade, with opinion divided on whether time has come to ban used clothes imports in the region.

The East African Community has since 2016 pushed member states to buy clothes and shoes made in the region to boost local manufacturing, help the economies and shore up the local textile industry.

Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi were to phase out the second-hand clothes trade by 2019 but only Rwanda has implemented the plan, introducing high taxes on mitumba imports to deter trade.

Phased ban

Now the private sector in the region says importation of used clothes should be phased out gradually to allow focus on growth of the local textiles and apparel sector.

“No country has transformed industrially without first protecting its local industry. If you look at the countries that have industrialised such as the Asian tigers (Singapore, South Korea), they had to protect their local industries. So when you allow mitumba, it means that you are killing the local industries,” said John Kalisa, CEO of the East African Business Council.

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