The second-hand clothes business employs thousands of people in the country and supports millions by extension. Just take a walk around a market like Gikomba or any other market in the country to get a glimpse of the amount of money that circulates there, and the number of people who benefit directly and indirectly. People who are not necessarily selling clothes but are ironing, doing repairs, and some fashioning new items out of seemingly useless bits of clothing and selling them. Then you’ll see just how many families usually rely on mitumba to pay their rents and to feed their families.
But when COVID-19 came calling, mitumba was one of the many industries to take a hit as a ban on importation of these clothes was announced. One may argue that it was understandable at that time to enforce the ban because when the pandemic hit town, it was so new that nobody knew just what policies to enact to curb community spread. Other than the obvious ones of course. Not to say that it is no longer still new and not that it is fully understood yet. But at least the world is not where it was in the earlier months of the year.
Other than reporting numbers and sometimes making a mess of their own efforts to fight the pandemic Government may just have been coming from a somewhat good place when it announced the ban. Maybe. Except for the matter of Gikomba fires and other shenanigans which we shall not discuss as at now. Today we’re talking about the effects of job losses occasioned by the delay by relevant authorities to lay the framework for the reinstatement of mitumba importation. And these job losses are not starting and stopping at the market. They also include other professions like players in the transport industry, clerks and even accountants.
In hard facts, the annual expenditure among Kenyans on clothing and foot-ware is 197.5 Billion for both new and second-hand clothes. And considering the wealth distribution in the country, it is not difficult to deduce which of these between new and mitumba take the bulk of that money and empower more families.
With more knowledge of the pandemic, Government has since reconsidered and no less than the president himself directed the concerned departments to come up with protocols to reinstate this trade that is all too important to individuals, families, and Government itself. And not just important to traders by the way. Millions of Kenyans also rely on these clothes for use for themselves and their families. Not everyone can be able to walk into a shop or designer and order brand new clothing. And we all know what happened to our textiles industries so let us not even go there. In short, there is nothing to fill the gap for users of mitumba. There is also the fact that evidently, the ban has not reduced demand for these clothes.
One of the initial fears about importation of second-hand clothes was that it would ferry the virus to Kenya. But that has since been looked at and debunked. Before any clothes or shoes are shipped in, there have always hygiene procedures even before Covid. Repeated fumigation during packaging for example to protect the items from bacterial and viral contamination. Other than that, shipping bales into the country takes a minimum of 12 to 60 days depending on the country of origin. And yet one of the things that was communicated about Corona Virus is that it cannot survive on clothing for more than 12 hours. So yes, scientifically, mitumba do not bring in the virus.
With all this in mind, what are the relevant authorities doing about the presidential directive to hasten the importation of second hand clothing? There are a lot of jobs that need to be salvaged and a lot of families that need their livelihoods back.