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Traders say mitumba ban misinformed

By Frankline Sunday | April 2nd 2020

Traders and hawkers at Gikomba Market continue with their daily normal business despite depleted number of buyers following a'' stay home '' (isolate self) directive to caution against Covid-19. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Second-hand clothes traders are accusing the government of killing the sector by banning the importation of their merchandise.

They said the policy announced yesterday by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) as part of new measures to fight the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic disregards facts around the spread of coronavirus and will kill the livelihoods of millions of households. 

“Mitumba clothing, as has been the custom over the years, undergo rigorous sorting, packing, and fumigation before being shipped into the country, hence their distinct scent,” said the traders in a statement under the aegis of the Mitumba Association of Kenya.

“It’s a fact that the clothes are inspected, cleared and issued with a certificate of public health from countries of origin, fumigation certificate as well as clearance by our government’s quality agencies to strictly ensure their safety for public use.”  

Kebs yesterday imposed an indefinite ban on all importation of second-hand clothes and shoes, popularly known as mitumba, citing a standard that prohibits imports from a country experiencing an epidemic.

“As a precautionary measure, Kebs wishes to notify the general public and all importers of used garments and used shoes that the importation of used garments and footwear is hereby prohibited with immediate effect until further notice,” said Managing Director Lt Col (Rtd) Bernard Njiraini. 

“This is pursuant to the declaration of Covid-19 as a global pandemic and in line with the requirements of the applicable Kenya standards, the codes of practice for inspection and acceptance of used garments and used footwear, that no consignment of used garments and used footwear shall be accepted from a country experiencing an epidemic.”

Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina last week hinted the government was considering the ban and argued that it would be an opportunity for local textile manufacturers to grow.

“It is going to be difficult finding mitumba going forward and almost 50 per cent of our mitumba comes from China and Pakistan,” she said. “It’s going to be more difficult for any goods being shipped after the date of the virus.”

But according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the transmission of Covid-19 from packages is quite low.

“The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low,” said WHO in the latest guidelines on the disease.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicates that second-hand imports went up by more than 30 per cent to 177,160 tonnes in 2018, raking in Sh17 billion for the economy.

Mitumba traders now want the government to review the ban that could lead to massive job losses and raise the cost of living for many.

“The second-hand clothes market supports two million traders directly and three million other small businesses in related trades, not to mention most Kenyans who prefer the clothing due to prevailing economic conditions,” said the traders in their statement.

“Long-term and premature ban of this trade will inevitably lead to a catastrophic impact on all these Kenyans, denying them a chance to earn a dignified livelihood.”

Treasury last week lifted the moratorium that restricts textile manufacturers in the export processing zones from selling more than 20 per cent of their annual output in the country. This was meant to stimulate demand for manufacturers as exports to the rest of the world dwindle.

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