In Kenya, the Second-Hand Clothes and Footwear Industry, popularly known as Mitumba, employs an estimated 10 percent of the extended labor force, which is about 2,000,000 Kenyans. These individuals depend on the sale of Mitumba to earn a living, pay taxes, have something to eat, and take their children to school. The industry is crucial in the current economic situation where the cost of living is unbearable for millions of Kenyans, and the unemployment rate is higher than all other countries in East Africa.
Those advocating for the ban of Mitumba are not considering the economic implications of such a move. The industry is essential, and the ban could lead to economic suicide. The average number of people that buy second-hand clothes correlates with the number of people living below the poverty line in Kenya. The poverty line is defined as people who survive on one dollar or less each day, and they literally survive on hope.
In 2019, a survey revealed that 52,209 households of 102,179 households bought second-hand clothes, equivalent to 51 percent of all households on a quarterly basis. This means that an average of 6.2 million households out of 12 million households bought second-hand clothes every quarter in 2019. This translates to 24.2 million people, most of whom live below the poverty line. Without the mitumba industry, they will not be able to buy clothes.
The mitumba industry provides more than half of all households in Kenya with good quality and affordable second-hand clothes. Furthermore, taxes paid by second-hand clothes, such as Import Duties, Railway Development Levy, and Import Declaration Levy, add up to $12,500 per 40 ft container, which is equivalent to 24 tonnes. In 2019, Kenya imported 185,000 tonnes of second-hand clothing, which is approximately 8,000 containers. The taxes paid amounted to 10.2 billion shillings, and the sector contributes at least 1 billion shillings in revenue per month.
The mitumba industry is a goose that lays the golden egg, and the idea of killing it is incomprehensible. Those pushing for the ban of mitumba remind one of the times of the French Revolution, where people protested against the high cost of bread. The Queen of France stood on the balcony and asked, “Must they eat bread, why can’t they buy cake?” We cannot afford to ignore the plight of millions of Kenyans who depend on the mitumba industry for their livelihood.