Thursday, March 10, 2005


Mitumba, or second-hand clothes, may not seem specifically a squatter issue. But all across Africa, the poor survive wearing western cast-offs. Most of my friends in Kibera bought second-hand stuff because the price was right. And some had businesses retailing the cast-offs in local markets. They would buy bales of used clothing downtown at the massive Gikomba market and, with a tiny mark-up, make a profit re-selling in Kibera. This article from the East African Standard shows that the government has raised the per-kilo tax on mitumba -- a move that is causing some wholesale prices to spike upwards 50 percent.

While it may be true, as a merchant tells the Standard, that the government's policy is counterproductive, and is "rendering millions of self-employed people jobless," the issue is complex. Kenya had a reasonably thriving needle trade until deeply discounted mitumba blanketed the country and priced most of the local manufacturers out of business. It would be hard to argue with the tariffs if the government was seriously attempting to rebuild this shattered industry instead of simply siphoning off money from a lousy economy. But that's a big if.

And there's another issue here: It's likely that the bulk of mitumba items being sold around Africa were donated by Americans and Europeans who thought they were making charitable contributions to the poor rather than stoking a profitable industry. Which means that there are most likely brokers in the U.S. and Europe making money on this trade too. That's a real scandal.


rn said...

Not off topic at all. I actually posted about this sad situation on Feb. 25th. I'll try to do some more research and see if I can give you a n update sometime soon. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

see the documentary on this topic "mitumba".you can find it in docvideo

Anonymous said...

it's not but WWW.DOCVIDEO.IT

Rahim said...


I go to the University of Texas at Austin. As an international business student, I a writing a paper on the secondhand clothing market in Africa. Can you tell me more about what countries actively import secondhand clothing, and what distributor markets there are for secondhand clothing.

If I get enough information about the distributor centers for secondhand clothing, my professor will pay for a trip for me to go to Africa with a student in Documentary Filming so that I can tape a documentary about this.

Any contacts you have of sellers of mitumba would be appreciated as well.

Let's work together to inform people about this market. We need to help others. Mitumba market employs thousands of people, provides discounted and affordable clothing, but impacts the linen and textile manufacturing companies of Africa.

please email me at