When the governor of Kitui, Charity Ngilu, opened a garment factory run by the county government, she was commissioned to make uniforms for chiefs and deputy chiefs.
While the Textile Center of Kitui County during the Covid-19 19-crisis pandemic also made face masks, a new report says east African countries will be forced to accept used clothing instead of expanding their industries.
Confronting what Greenpeace calls “garbage colonialism” affecting East Africa in form of the Mitumba trade has become tricky – and the reason Azimio la Umoja One, presidential candidate of Kenya’s coalition party Raila Odinga, had to “clarify” what he meant when he appeared to be badmouthing the deal /p>
Greenpeace recently visited Kenya, where researchers found a chilling picture.
“Traders at Nairobi’s Gikomba market tell me they often en are disappointed when they open the bales because almost half of the clothes are unusable. Their quality is poor, or they are broken or dirty and nothing more than textile waste,” says Viola Wohlgemuth, circular economy and toxins activist at Greenpeace Germany.
Before Kenya became one of the dumps of western second-hand -Clothing would have led the debate about Mitumba nationalistically.
Greenpeace, an international lobby, is now raising its voice and arguing that textile waste is often disguised as second-hand clothing from the Global North to the Global South exported to avoid the responsibility and cost of dealing with the disposable clothing problem.
“While these exported used and even brand new overproduced garments are mostly reported and recorded as ‘reused’, almost half of they end up in landfills, rivers or are incinerated in the open air,” says the lobby.
Also read: Cotton, Kenya’s “white gold”. was in shambles
Before the liberalization of markets in the late ’80s, thanks to US pushes for African economies to implement James Baker’s free market plan, the textile industry – although they themselves struggling – still dynamic.
At the time it was thought that developing countries would only achieve growth until 2020 with the introduction of free market policies.
But this opened floodgates as cheap second-hand -Clothing made its way onto the market, killing the entire textile sector.
About 85 percent of Kenya’s textile industry closed by the mid-1990s.
And Kenya is not alone. Some of Africa’s main cotton producers – Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Togo and Uganda – now have thriving second-hand markets and no garment industries.
Kenya’s Mitumba business is seen by western nations as a route to theirs Dumping waste in developing countries – all of which end up in landfills.
Greenpeace, in a report titled Poisoned Gifts, says: “As Mitumba continues to drive demand for used clothing, it has come at the expense of locally made products and local textile industry.”
But the main reason is that most of the second-hand clothes sent to Africa are waste. It’s common to find litter disguised as clothing at the Gikomba market.
Greenpeace says between 30 and 40 percent of mitumba are of such poor quality that they cannot be sold. 55,500 to 74,000 tons of this is textile waste. This equates to 150-200 tonnes of textile waste per day.
But banning second-hand clothing is still difficult, particularly for those nations on the continent that have adopted the African Growth and Opportunities Act (Agoa) in to penetrate the American market.
Agoa, an idea of former US President George W. Bush, was originally marketed as a program that would allow sub-Saharan countries to export textiles to America.< /p>
Attempts to stop the dumping of used American clothing to Africa have been followed by bullying, as part of the Agoa agreement is that countries could export new clothing to the US in exchange for Washington allowing used clothing re-export.
< p>While donations are said to prevent excess clothing from ending up in landfills in western countries, the used clothing business is believed to also fuel the emergence of burgeoning textiles ndustries in developing countries.
When Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania tried to stop imports of US clothing sold from the United States in 2015, the Donald Trump administration suspended February 23, 2018 an ultimatum in which they were bullied into overturning the decision or facing new tariffs.
Initial pressure came from the United States Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles (SMART) Association, a group of 40 exporters of used clothing.
“Attempting to restrict entry of used clothing presents a barrier to US trade that violates certain Agoa requirements,” the group argued.
She added added that the move threatened 40,000 sorting and packing jobs in America.
As a follow-up, the Office of the US Trade Representative threatened to remove four of the six East African countries included under the Agoa Act.
While Kenya, Uganda and d Tanzania, under pressure to cave in – after a meeting in Kampala – Rwanda refused and imposed a $4-per-kilo tariff on imports of used clothing in 2018.
Also read: Who are you wearing? Kitui taps model to sell his outfits
Washington responded by imposing a 30 percent tariff on Rwandan clothing. Rwanda stopped further imports from the US and started to build up its textile sector.
“We are in a situation where we have to make a choice. You choose to be a recipient of used clothing or to expand our textile industry. Making the choice is easy,” said Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
In one of its brochures, SMART justifies the export of used clothing.
“Clothing and household textiles make up 6.3 percent from percent of the waste stream, or the equivalent of 81 pounds per person, thrown away annually in the US. Almost 95 percent of used clothing and textiles can be reused and recycled. You can help reduce the amount of clothing and textile products that end up in landfills by reusing or recycling those materials,” it says.
While it adds that recycling textiles is better for the environment protects against tons of harsh chemicals, Africa has no recycling capacity and they all end up in the continent’s landfills.
SMART also argues that textile industries in developing countries “can make more money by making clothes for export to wealthier countries produce in Europe and North America than sell them locally”. .
While Rwanda refused to be harassed by the US, the world’s largest exporter of used clothing, Mitumba continued to sell to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
The trade will organized by charities and organizations that collect the clothes – mostly for free – and sell them in their shops.
The funds are said to be used to help the poor. But those same donations are later sold in bulk to wholesalers and exporters, killing industries in developing countries.
It has grown into a multi-million dollar business.
Years ago, Prof. Anyang Nyong’o – current governor of Kisumu – warned Kenyans against accepting used clothes.
“If new clothes are expensive because our import substitution industry is expensive and cannot produce clothes cheap enough for our workers , there is a We tend to rationalize the situation and say, ‘Let’s import second-hand clothes cheap enough for wage earners,'” said Prof. Nyong’o.
“That’s a wrong argument. We need to make it very cheap for the textile industries to import the latest cutting-edge technology to manufacture textiles, making production cheaper per unit.”
Greenpeace says some Mitumba sent to Africa have no value and end up as waste.
“Either they’re not appropriate, sizes don’t fit, or they don’t make sense due to the local climate, their quality is bad, or they’re broken or dirty and exporting is just a cheap way to get rid of them,” it says.
There is no data on how many bolts of clothes contain waste, but traders encounter them all the time.
< p>According to the Greenpeace report, an estimated 40% are of such poor quality that upon arrival they are deemed worthless and end up in landfills.
“The Global North undoubtedly has a waste problem and holds onto a legacy of waste colonialism,” says Greenpeace.