We’re fine with second hand, it’s ‘Marehemu George’ we can’t stand

Sunday September 10 2023

A photo illustration. PHOTO | POOL


East Africa’s divorced COW (Coalition Of the Willing) is coming back home. Before it broke up or rather, withered away, the short-lived community within the community comprised Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

The three had formed the informal COW in face of Tanzania’s apparently cold attitude towards fast-tracking matters of regional integration while Burundi was regarded as indecisive but inclined to go with Tanzania. South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo were not yet in the family.

The EAC marriage was on the rocks. So the fired up COW said they were forging ahead and ready to welcome the slow decision makers when they made up their mind.

A lot of water, sometimes bloody water, has flowed under the bridge. The slow and suspicious Tanzania had a change of head and got more enthusiastic about the marriage. The donation of a huge tract of land in Arusha for building the new marital home is tangible evidence.

Read: BUWEMBO: It seems my aunt’s ghost still lives on in African states

By the time Tanzania became the new EAC champion, the COW had collapsed.


Uganda and Rwanda did not talk for two years except through two intermediaries or under mediation in far-away Luanda. Kenya and Uganda continued talking and laughing in public but Ugandan farmers were and still are gasping for breath since Nairobi stamped its heavy boot on their neck and is still holding it there, making sure their products don’t cross the border.

Then as the undertakers started preparing the funeral, Mama COW whose death certificate had already been issued started stirring. She has set one tough condition for her to remain alive and start kicking: No more buying her second-hand dresses. Only new garments will do. No more taking her for granted – which included buying second hand underwear.

All the three old COW partners are now firmly agreed that second-hand gifts are not good for your marriage, so no more hand-me-downs - mitumba to Kenyans or mivumba as the Ugandans call them. The more derogatory name was used by Kenyans — “Marehemu George” — implying garments stripped off some dead mzungu.

Now the cow is waking up and it insists on only wearing new dresses. Rwanda was more romantic and complied earlier by banishing used dresses.

The tightfisted Kenya has taken much longer that laissez-faire Uganda which has by presidential proclamation said enough to dressing its people the “the late George or Georgina’s clothes.”

Read: BUWEMBO: Kenya is to EA what US is to the world

But Kenya being more capitalist, still first wants to squeeze the final tax pennies from the mitumba before finally ditching them.

All this sounds good — what with boosting the incomes of our cotton farmers!

But hey, second-hand clothes killed nobody, unlike second-hand cars that have killed millions of East Africans. Some people may think that “millions of East Africans” is an exaggeration, until you spell it out to them thus: People who die in road crashes because of poor condition of the vehicles are just a tenth or less of those who die quietly with different manifestations but because they inhaled terrible exhausts from old cars.

The combined six or so million vehicles in Kenya and Uganda also add over 100 million litres of poorly disposed used engine oil in the environment every year, assuming each vehicle “bleeds” some four or more dirty litres at every three-monthly service.

So, even as they save the COW the shame of wearing clothes previously worn by dead and living “wazungu,” our policy makers should legislate against importation of used cars. And motorbikes of course.

Europe and other regions have set deadlines beyond which fuel powered cars will not be sold. When is East Africa setting the deadline for stopping dirty engines from coming here? Isn’t it about time we also set deadlines for people to stop selling us poison spewing engines.

Someone needs to tell them our lives also matter. If we have the pride to reject second-hand clothing, we should also have the sense to reject pollutant vehicles. If we don’t, then let us also restore tobacco use and launch campaigns to encourage public cigarette smoking.