The Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) has issued a notice temporarily banning the importation of second hand clothes, popularly known as Mitumba, and shoes in Kenya. According to the notice the importation of mitumba is suspended with immediate effect starting today.

According to the standards body, the ban was instituted as a measure to limit the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The notice further states that no second hand clothes and shoes will be accepted from a country experiencing the Coronavirus pandemic.

Kenya largely imports second hand clothing from the United States of America (USA) which has been hit with a lot of Coronavirus infections. USA currently has 164,266 infections with 3,170 deaths with New York being the State that is badly hit.

Kenya, together with other East African Community (EAC) countries had planned to stop the importation of Mitumba by 2019. The Presidents of Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda said taking the move would protect their textile and leather industries. The plan hit a snag after the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART) argued that the ban would amount to a trade barrier, violating the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (Agoa). The US Government then issued warnings to EAC countries that if any ban was imposed, the countries would lose the privilege of selling goods to America. Only Rwanda went ahead with the ban which led to them being kicked out of AGOA.

Kenya imported USD 600 million (Ksh. 6B) in Mitumba in 2018, making it the biggest market for the products in East Africa. The second hand clothing business in Kenya employs thousands on Kenyans and it is sold in markets such as Gikomba in Nairobi, the biggest secondhand clothing market in East Africa.

It is unclear how the US will react to the Kenyan ban on importation judging by their previous stand on the issue. It is also not clear how long this ban will remain in effect.