When colonial regime banned mtumba clothes in Kenya

Traders selling second hand clothes (mitumba) at Gikomba market in June 1991[File]

Before second-hand clothes became the country's unofficial uniform, local tailors and farmers could be trusted to cover the country’s collective nakedness.

Then, Britain could not allow any substandard fabrics, leave alone used underwear to be imported into the country.

There was a national crisis which required the government to address its citizens through a Kenya Gazette on June 3, 1947 after it emerged that some Japanese manufacturers had conspired with some agents to import low quality clothes.

The outrage was triggered by reports that some agents had been sneaking in low quality fabrics to Britain which then found its way into the country.

“There is some doubt in the minds of certain importers regarding Japanese textiles which are being sent to the United Kingdom for processing. These supplies will be made available from the United Kingdom as and when they are ready and will be licensed in Kenya and Uganda in exactly the same way as textiles ordered from the United Kingdom wholly of British manufacture.”

According to the notice, the issue of import licenses in these circumstances was not only a waste of time and effort on the part of the imports control authorities but prevented genuine traders from placing orders overseas since the quota has been partly taken up with useless indent.

There were concerns too that some importers had allowed orders with types which are not allowed into Kenya and Uganda.

“These textiles have been seized and confiscated by the Customs authorities and merchants are warned to take all possible precautions to ensure that their orders do not contain prohibited types and are covered by proper import licenses.”

Apparently there were importers who had discovered that they could cheat the taxman if they disguised their imports as gifts but the colonial government warned that this was illegal.

“...instances have been brought to light where private individuals have placed orders in South Africa for goods originating in hard currency countries. Arrangements are made by individuals placing these orders to have the goods sent to them and described as gift parcels. This practice is illegal and members of the public are warned that action is being taken to have such consignments seized and confiscated by Customs.”

This was against a backdrop of parched throats because the supplies of whisky had run out.

If only this diligence had persisted after Kenya gained her independence, Kenya will not be relying of the West and China for discarded secondhand clothes its masses.