- A recent report has revealed that the ban on second-hand clothing, also known as mitumba, might not enhance Kenya’s textile industry as previously anticipated.
- The report highlights that Chinese clothing imports, both legal and undeclared, pose a growing danger to the East African textile manufacturing sector.
- The report provides evidence that Kenya’s apparel exports to the United States increased significantly between 2002 and 2014, reaching $332 million, despite the presence of mitumba.
A recent report has revealed that the ban on second-hand clothing, also known as mitumba, might not enhance Kenya’s textile industry as previously anticipated. The report commissioned by the Mitumba Consortium Association of Kenya (MCAS) on the Second-Hand Clothing Industry in the East Africa Community has cautioned against protectionism towards importing second-hand clothing.
According to the report’s author, Professor Patrick Diamond of Queen Mary University of London, the textile industry in the region faces long-term threats due to Chinese and Asian producers increasing dominance in African markets.
Chinese imports to East Africa
China currently serves as the major supplier of textiles to the East Africa Community (EAC), surpassing the United States in imports. The report highlights that Chinese clothing imports, both legal and undeclared, pose a growing danger to the East African textile manufacturing sector.
During the report’s release, Professor Diamond emphasized that imposing restrictions on second-hand clothing imports would unlikely benefit the domestic textile industry or improve the living standards of ordinary workers.
“Protectionism tends to hinder productivity growth and sectoral innovation, rather than fostering development. The report argues that the domestic textile production industry and the second-hand clothing industry can and should work collaboratively for the mutual benefit and growth of both sectors,” said Diamond.
Kenya’s export growth
The report provides evidence that Kenya’s apparel exports to the United States increased significantly between 2002 and 2014, reaching $332 million, despite the presence of mitumba.
However, the Kenyan textile sector heavily relies on imported raw materials, and the country’s 52 textile mills operate at an average capacity of 45 per cent due to skill shortages and inadequate energy supplies. Thus, like other East African countries, Kenya’s textile sector struggles to compete in the global market due to the rise of Asian producers.
Teresiah Wairimu, Chairperson of the Mitumba Consortium Association of Kenya, highlights that the second-hand clothing trade generated significant government tax revenues of $112,460,975 in 2021. Meanwhile, Kenya imported 183,504 tonnes of mitumba during the reviewed period, valued at $172,668,229.
Wairimu suggests that instead of imposing regulatory and legislative barriers on second-hand clothing businesses, the EAC members should develop strategies to ensure that the sector’s gains are shared widely.
East African market
Kenya holds the largest share of the Mitumba market among the EAC countries. Additionally, as per the report, Kenya is the fourth-largest apparel exporter in Africa, despite the absence of a ban on second-hand clothing. The textile sector contributes 7 per cent to the country’s export earnings.
Over the past decade, the second-hand clothing sector in Kenya has experienced significant job growth. Employment numbers increased from 576,870 in 2011 to 1,381,277 in 2021. However, estimates suggest that the sector may sustain even more jobs, potentially reaching as high as two million.
Additionally, new textiles contribute 7 per cent to Kenya’s export earnings. The industry employs approximately 50,000 Kenyans and involves up to 10 per cent of the population throughout the value chain.
This report comes as trade ministers gather in Kenya for the 54th All-Africa Trade Ministers meeting of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), where textile origins are expected to be discussed.