• Kenya's used clothing imports come mainly from the US, the UK and China.
• The government has been keen to discourage importation of second-hand clothes in favour of the local textile industry.
The government has placed a temporary ban on the importation of second-hand clothes, commonly known as mitumba, the Star has established.
The move is aimed at protecting Kenyans in the wake of the spread of Covid-19 while supporting the growth of local industries, a source within the government said yesterday.
"The government has suspended importation of second-hand clothes with immediate effect to safeguard the health of Kenyans and promote local textiles in the wake of coronavirus," the source said.
It is, however, not clear if it is a permanent ban or a temporary measure.
Speaking to the Star yesterday, Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development CS Betty Maina said the government will remain strict on standards required to import used textile. This includes fumigation of the merchandise by importers of second-hand clothes and shoes.
Mitumba imports are required to be accompanied by a health certificate issued by a public health authority in the country of origin. Consignments must also be packaged in clear transparent materials at a maximum weight of 50kg for clothes and 25kg for shoes.
“All mitumbas have to be imported according to the standards. They (importers) have to comply,” CS Maina said on the phone.
The government has been keen to discourage importation of second-hand clothes in favour of the local textile industry. High quality and relatively lower prices of mitumba, however, continue to drive the demand for the merchandise, preferred mainly by the lower- and middle-class citizens.
The country imported 177,160 tonnes of mitumba in 2018 valued at about Sh17 billion, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, up from 135,868 tonnes in 2017 and 106,974 tonnes in 2014.
In the first six months of 2019, Kenyans spent Sh11.96 billion to import second-hand clothes and footwear according to the KNBS.
Imports have however dropped as global supply chains remain affected, amid a trade downtime in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.
“We don't have stock, we are not sure if we will be in business in the next two months,” said Sylvia Mwende, a dealer in Roysambu, Nairobi.
Kenya's used clothing imports come mainly from the US, the UK and China. Those from the UK average about $42 million (about Sh4.4 billion) annually. It is the world’s second-largest exporter of used garments after the US.
The government has been keen to revive the local textile industry which goes all the way to cotton production. According to the state, activating operations at Rivatex in Eldoret, Kicomi in Kisumu and the Nanyuki-based Mount Kenya Textiles (Mountex) would bring on board at least 1.3 million Kenyans engaged in direct cotton cultivation as well as value addition.
Dormant textile mills are being revived in a Sh1 billion plan, targeted to generate over 7,000 direct jobs. Kenya has the capacity to produce over 260,000 bales of cotton annually, but currently produces only 28,000 bales, industry data shows.