Where Is Our Future? Uganda Declares War On Used Clothing From ‘Dead People’
The tumultuous, jam-packed Owino secondhand market in Uganda’s capital has been Hadija Nakimuli’s life’s work for almost thirty years, having assisted the widowed shopkeeper in building a home and raising twelve children.
For Nakimuli and tens of thousands of other merchants, however, this vital lifeline might be severed by a possible government ban on the sale of worn apparel.
As she dug through her closet full of dresses, undergarments, shoes, and purses, the 62-year-old questioned, “Where is our future if they stop selling secondhand clothes?”
The expansive market was founded in 1971 and employs some 80,000 people, of whom 70% are women, according to Kampala municipal officials.
Menswear vendor Joseph Barimugaya remarked, “In addition to students, I get calls from ministers and members of parliament who need me to deliver clothes to their air-conditioned offices.”
There should be no tampering with this deal. The father of four told AFP that “everyone benefits, including the government, which gets taxes.”
Hundreds of shoppers, looking to get a deal, cram themselves into the tiny passageways that divide the improvised wooden stalls every day.
Here, a used Pierre Cardin jacket sells for 40,000 Ugandan shillings ($11), which is a significant discount from the retail price.
“I make less than 500,000 Ugandan shillings a year as a teacher. Robert Twimukye, 27, told AFP that he would spend his whole paycheck on clothes if he were to get a new item. He was shopping at Owino on a Saturday afternoon.
He is not alone.
“Everyone is interested in vintage clothing. Few individuals in Uganda can afford new clothes, according to Allan Zavuga, shop manager of Think Twice, a company with thirty employees spread over three locations.
“It is a disservice to the people and the country as a whole to ban it in Uganda,” he added, citing the environmental consequences of making new clothes rather than reusing existing ones.
A 2017 study conducted by USAID, the US government’s assistance agency, found that East Africa imports almost one-eighth of the world’s used apparel, creating jobs for nearly 355,000 people earning $230 million annually.
Governments in Africa, meanwhile, have long held grudges against the industry, claiming that the cast-offs hurt the continent’s textile sector.
“The deceased in a faraway nation is the source of this clothing. Presidency Yoweri Museveni stated in August of this year that “clothes are sent to Africa when a white person dies.”
“I have declared war on secondhand clothes to promote African wear,” claimed the president.
David Bahati, Uganda’s state minister for commerce, stated in an interview with AFP that it was a matter of “dignity.”.
“We will be able to replace these second-hand clothes” if the planned ban is implemented, he continued.
“It cannot be done in one day, but we can do it gradually,” Bahati stated.
To possibly enact the ban in January, the administration is looking into the matter.
“The government is ready to give investors incentives, such as tax holidays, to ensure we process our cotton into new garments to meet market demands.”
Uganda has been here before.
The Kampala City Traders Association vigorously opposed Museveni’s 2016 attempt to outlaw secondhand apparel as part of an East African push to boost homegrown industry.
There was also the factor of diplomacy.
The regional coalition of the East African Community initially presented a unified face.
But when Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda objected to the idea of losing duty-free access to US markets in retaliation, the coalition broke.
Ultimately, Rwanda decided to go it alone and enacted high levies on used apparel in 2016, which caused a precipitous decline in imports and a spike in the smuggling of used items to satisfy demand.
Two years later, in a tit-for-tat action, the US halted duty-free advantages for clothing made in Rwanda.
Geopolitics is not a concern for either buyers or sellers at Owino.
Reeling with fury, second-generation merchant Harriet Musoke Kyambadde questioned, “Who did the government consult (before deciding) to ban secondhand?”
Throwing her hands in the air, the mother of three told AFP, “Banning this business will be sending me into abject poverty.”
Content courtesy of AFP, Barron & NFH