For a very long time, mitumba, which is essentially a second-hand garment, has been the go-to market for all the clothing needs of many Kenyans. This is because many Kenyans just cannot afford to buy new clothes because they are too expensive and also because sometimes mtush is of better quality.
At one point, mtush was so popular that it was the go-to place for everything trendy for our ladies that even Toi Market had received the nickname “La Toi Boutique”.
As new clothes have become cheaper, mtumba remains the preference of many people, as evidenced by the fact that around 6.2 million households bought second-hand clothes each quarter in 2019 .
This means that over the years there has been a good market for this type of clothing and as such has been a good source of income for many. This is illustrated by the fact that the Kenya Mitumba Association represents nearly 2 million industry players.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit our country, one of the measures taken to prevent its spread was the ban on the import of mitumba. The idea behind this is that since these were imported second-hand clothes, they could bring the germs from the United States and other European countries where the clothes originated. Since it was not known 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 more than 9 hours on an inanimate person. In my opinion, the mitumba takes over a month from the time it is collected, shipped and landed in Kenya. This time is long enough to ensure that if there were any traces of the virus in clothing it would have since died as it requires a living host to survive. This means that importing second-hand clothing into the country poses no risk to the health of the public.
It was with this knowledge that President Uhuru Kenyatta during his 9e State speech on the Covid-19 pandemic, July 6e talked about this issue. The President called on Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina, in consultation with the Ministry of Health and Mitumba trade officials, to establish acceptable protocols to lift the import ban on clothing and footwear second hand.
However, since the president issued the directive, nothing has changed as the import of mitumba is still prohibited. This portends job losses for the 2 million Kenyans who make a living from selling mitumba, not to mention the fundis who repair these clothes or those who are employed to wash them. Essentially, this company puts food in the mouths of a lot of people 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 because of the pandemic.
I hope Tarde’s Cabinet Secretary will do the right thing and remove the ban to ensure that the many Kenyans who have lost their jobs can return to work and be able to support their families.