For the longest time, mitumba which is basically second-hand clothing has been the go to market for all clothing needs of a good number of Kenyans. This is because many Kenyans simply cannot afford to buy new clothes as they are too expensive and also because at times mtush has better quality.
At some point, mtush was so popular that it was the go to place for all things trendy for our ladies that even the Toi Market had gotten a nickname “La Toi Boutique”.
In as much as new clothing has become cheaper, mtumba is still the preference for a good number of people which can be seen in the fact that about 6.2 million households bought second-hand clothing every quarter in 2019.
This meant that over the years there has been a good market for this type of clothing and as such acted as a good source of livelihood for many. This is portrayed by the fact that the Mitumba Association of Kenya represents nearly 2 million players in the industry.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit our country, one of the measures that were taken to prevent it spread was the ban on the importation of mitumba. The thinking behind this is that, since these were imported used clothes, they could bring in the germs from the U.S and other European countries where the clothes were sourced. Given the fact that there was scant knowledge about how long the virus could stay on surfaces, it seemed like a good decision at the time.
However, scientists have since discovered that the virus cannot survive on an inanimate for more than 9 hours. In my estimation, mitumba take over a month from the time it is collected, shipped and lands in Kenya. This time is long enough to ensure that if there were any traces of the virus in the clothing, it would have since been died off since it requires a living host to survive. This means that the importation of second hand clothing into the country poses no health risk to the public.
It was with this knowledge that the President Uhuru Kenyatta during his 9th State address on the Covid-19 pandemic, on July 6th spoke on this issue. The President directed that the Cabinet Secretary, Ms. Betty Maina in consultation with the Ministry of Health and representatives of the Mitumba trade to establish acceptable protocols geared towards lifting the ban on the importation of second hand clothes and footwear.
However, since the President issued the directive, nothing has changed as importation of mitumba is still banned. This portends job loses to the 2 Million Kenyans who make their livelihood from selling mitumba not to mention the fundis who make repairs on these clothes or those employed to wash them. Essentially, this business puts food in a lot of people mouths and banning the importation without offering an alternative means that a lot of people are going to go hungry at a time when the economy is not doing well courtesy of the pandemic.
It is my hope that the Cabinet Secretary for Tarde will do the right thing and remove the ban to ensure that the many Kenyans who have been rendered jobless can get back to work and be able to fend for their families.