I won’t ban mitumba clothes, says Raila Odinga

Azimio la Umoja Coalition candidate Raila Odinga at the Kenya National Chambers of Commerce and Industry national governing meeting held at the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi.

Photo credit: Emmanuel Wanson | Nation Media Group

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party presidential candidate Raila Odinga has denied claims that he will ban the importation of second-hand clothes, popularly known as mitumba, if elected on August 9.

Seeking to fight back criticism from opponents who accused him of insensitivity over remarks he made on Monday night dismissing mitumba as “clothes from dead people”, Mr Odinga said he will protect the traders by ensuring that they get the first opportunity to market locally made clothes.

His statement followed a sustained backlash from his opponents in Deputy President William Ruto’s camp over the comments he made during the launch of his manifesto, which champions revival of the local textile industry.

“Our people are only wearing clothes coming from outside the country which have been worn by people who are dead. We are going to go to primary production so that our people who are importing mitumba can have good products to sell here,” Mr Odinga said during the launch at the Nyanyo National Stadium.

No job losses

Mr Odinga had, however, indicated that his proposal would not affect mitumba traders through any job losses.

Reiterating his plans to promote Kenya’s textile industry yesterday, Mr Odinga said he appreciated that the mitumba trade is popular globally and supports the livelihoods of many small-scale traders.

“We are going to go into primary production as we also promote other products. We are going to grow cotton, we do the ginning, the spinning, the weaving until we end up with fabrics.Then we can embark on secondary manufacturing of dresses, suits and so on,” he told members of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) at the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi.

Mr Odinga explained that, through promotion of local textile manufacturing, traders would access a local version of mitumba — factory rejects.

“Trade in factory rejects is big business in Europe. This is done everywhere; factory rejects are not useless,” he said.

“So when I was talking about mitumba yesterday, I did not say that I’m going to kill the mitumba business. No. We’ll promote it because that’s where production starts,” he added.

Defend mitumba traders

Mr Odinga said he would defend mitumba traders, while dismissing as propaganda statements from his political opponents that he will kill the popular business if elected.

“Mitumba trade is not a dead-end business. It’s actually creating employment for so many of our people. We don’t want to kill it. I’m the one who will be defending them so [it is wrong for some] people ... to create propaganda [that I will ban the trade]. No,” he said.

“We are not kicking anybody out of business. We’ll ensure that those who are importing mitumba get to be first in the line to get textile goods, which are going to be manufactured here in the country,” he said on Monday.

“Our textile industry was killed through liberalisation when they brought mitumba and it killed all our textile industries … We are going to go into primary production so that our people who are importing mitumba can have good products to sell here,” he said when he launched his manifesto.

Kenya’s mitumba business is often highly politicised due to its sheer magnitude, supporting thousands of traders and millions of consumers who prefer second-hand clothes for their relative affordability.

Sensitive about price

A study by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) on the state of second-hand clothes and footwear trade in Kenya showed the magnitude of the business in the country, observing that due to people’s low incomes, Kenya’s tend to be sensitive about the price of what they wear.

“Analysis at the household level shows the majority of households buy new clothes when required such as school or workplace uniforms ... 91.5 per cent of households buy second-hand clothes worth Sh1,000 and below, and 8.5 per cent buy second-hand clothes worth Sh1,000 and above,” it stated, showing that even while buying new clothes, three-quarters of Kenyans go for those priced below Sh1,000. Kenya last year imported Sh18.9 billion worth of second-hand clothes, Sh12.2 billion worth in 2020 and Sh17.7 billion worth in 2019.

“Kenya imported 185,000 tonnes of second-hand clothing in 2019, equivalent to an approximate 8,000 containers. The taxes paid amounted to Sh12 billion. The sector contributes to at least Sh1 billion in revenue per month. Apart from revenue for the government, they offer livelihoods to almost two million people,” the IEA study said.