Why is used clothing popular across Africa?  

23Aug 2021
Editor
The Guardian
Why is used clothing popular across Africa?  

Many people in Africa buy second-hand clothes sent from Europe and the US. But East African countries could ban imports of used clothes and second-hand cars,  putting an end to a lucrative trade in the region.

Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda could all ban second-hand clothes and leather, among the countries which make up the East Africa Community (EAC).

The EAC directed member countries to buy their textiles and shoes from within the region with a view to phasing out imports.  In 2019 the EAC also proposed a reduction in imports of used cars. The EAC suggested phasing out imports. However, that it depends on the heads of state  all agreeing to a common industrialisation policy. The proposal suggests a ban would only come in after an increase in local textile production. The idea is to give a boost to local manufacturing, and help the economy.

One argument is that the imported clothes are so cheap that the local textiles factories and self-employed tailors can't compete, so they either close down or don't do as well as they could. A release from a previous EAC manufacturing and business summit says the leather and textile industries are "crucial for employment creation, poverty reduction and advancement in technological capability" in the region.

Across the African continent second-hand clothes from developed countries are a mainstay of many informal traders, dominating local market stalls. East African Community (EAC)  proposed ban  aims is to encourage local production and development within member countries: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda alone imported $151m of second-hand clothing in 2018, most of which was collected by charities and recyclers in Europe and North America. In the 1970s, East Africa’s clothing manufacturing sector employed hundreds of thousands of people, but when the debt crisis hit local economies in the 1980s and 1990s, local manufacturing struggled to compete with international competition and factories were forced to close. Today, the small sector remaining is geared towards production for exports.

People in countries like the UK donate used clothes to charity. A research conducted recently  in Britain explains that demand for the clothes sold in charity shops is low compared to supply. More than 70 per cent of all UK reused clothing goes overseas, where they are sold. People believe that their clothes will be given to those in need or sold in high street charity shops to raise funds and don't realise that their donations will be traded abroad for profit.

Second-hand underwear has been called unhygienic. The EAC urged governments to make sure that used-clothes imports complied with sanitary standards  urging East African governments to make sure that used-clothes imports complied with sanitary standards. Used knickers were banned in Ghana in 2011 and a Ugandan bill also proposed a ban in the country last year. Second-hand cars have also been blamed for causing accidents. In Uganda, second-hand garments account for 81 per cent of all clothing purchases. According to UN figures from 2013, South Korea and Canada combined exported $59m worth of used clothes to Tanzania while the UK alone exported $42m worth of used clothes to Kenya.

In 2013 Tanzania   banned import and sale of second-hand inner wear (under pants), called ‘mitumba’ locally, citing concern about people’s health and the necessity to protect the environment. In a statement, the Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) said it has noted with concern that innerwear is sold in various parts of the country contrary to TZS 758:2003 requirements on compulsory standards for inspection and acceptance criteria for used textile products.There are 48 major importers of second-hand garments in Tanzania, who then distribute the same to retailers, according to the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

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