EAC presidents to have final word on second-hand clothes ban

Tuesday February 23 2016

Residents of Kisumu town, Kenya, buy second hand clothes at a market. PHOTO | FILE |

Thousands involved in the second hand clothes and shoes trade will know their fate next week as East African leaders meet in Arusha to discuss a ban on used garments.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and leaders of Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda will decide on whether to adopt their ministers’ position calling for a ban on importation of used clothes.

The move is aimed at promoting local textile and leather industry in the East African region that has been severely affected by the presence of cheap second hand clothes and shoes from western countries.  

It would also force East Africans to buy costly locally produced clothes, giving textile manufacturers a chance to reclaim the market they lost to cheap imports.

“On the agenda for discussion during the summit include promotion of the textile and leather industries in the region, and stopping importation of used clothes, shoes and other leather products from outside the region,” said State House in a statement while announcing the agenda of February 29 Summit meeting.

The summit, which is the EAC’s highest organ had last year directed the council of ministers to study ways of promoting the region’s textile and leather industries.


The council of ministers, composed of ministers in charge of East African Affairs, concluded that a ban on import of second hand clothes and shoes is necessary.

Kenya alone imports around 100,000 metric tonnes of second-hand clothes, shoes and accessories a year from Western countries.

The popularity of the used clothes has in large part led to the collapse of Kenya’s once robust textile companies, among them Rift Valley Textiles and Kisumu Cotton Mills.

The decline of Kenya’s textile industry dates back to the early 1980s, when market liberalisation policies spearheaded by the World Bank opened up the local economy to second-hand clothes.

Officials reckon that 500,000 people were employed in the textile industry in the 1980s. Today, that number has fallen by to around 20,000.

Statistics from the African Cotton & Textile Industries Federation show that the local textile industry peaked in 1984 with 52 mills producing more than 70,000 bales and grinders alone employed more than 42,000 people.

Currently, the remaining 15 mills operate at a capacity of between 30 per cent and 45 per cent.

But the ban look set to hurt another group of Kenyans who depend on the second-hand clothes trade to earn a living.

Banning imports of such clothes would, however, be good news for textile firms, which have over the years been asking the government to either ban them or slap high taxes on them to discourage imports.

Industrialisation secretary Adan Mohamed is betting on the vibrant textile and leather sectors to drive Kenya’s industrial revolution. But he reckons that the ban on the used imported clothes would not be immediate if adopted by the Summit.

He says that Kenya is building capacity by ensuring local factories will meet consumer needs, especially quality and originality of the clothes.

“We are looking at two to three years before banning mitumba, many Kenyans rely on it and we first have to build the local capacity in factories before we stop its importation,” said Mr Mohamed yesterday on phone.