What you need to know:
- The disruption of business has had a significant negative impact on their livelihoods.
- Reduced money supply, job losses and a crumbling economy have also crippled the businesses as non-basic items are no longer a priority.
- The plight of those in the mitumba business mirrors the challenges of all informal traders.
On March 31, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) suspended importation of second-hand clothes and footwear (mitumba) in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19. This saw many traders depleting their stock and risking closing their businesses. A few weeks ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the Trade and Health ministries to establish protocols to lift the suspension.
The lifting of the suspension on August 16 was, nonetheless, accompanied by requirements like ensuring protection and additional hygiene measures for sellers and buyers, registration of importers with Kebs and disclosing the origin. Also introduced was a single-point clearance of cargo, a fumigation certificate and daily proper fumigation of stores. Bales were reduced to 30kg.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) “2010 Kenya National Manpower Survey” shows the mitumba industry employs 10 per cent of the labour force — two million — including importers, transporters, brokers and retailers. Three in every five urban street traders are women, a Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing (Wiego) survey shows.
These traders contribute significantly to the economy but are among the most marginalised and vulnerable workers. With most of them dependent on their daily hawking of wares, the disruption of business has had a significant negative impact on their livelihoods. Besides, the curfew and ‘work-from-home’ policies have hugely disrupted the market dynamics and the traders are often harassed by county officials.
Reduced money supply, job losses and a crumbling economy have also crippled the businesses as non-basic items are no longer a priority.
The plight of those in the mitumba business mirrors the challenges of all informal traders, who feel sidelined by state initiatives and stimulus packages for recovery from the pandemic.
Ms Mwangi is a programme officer at the Aga Khan University’s East Africa Institute. Mercy.email@example.com.