East Africa where second hand clothes and shoes known as mitumba are commonly available throughout not only allows governments to earn from import revenues and business licence fees but employs thousands in these countries. Mitumba also allows consumers to have access to variety.
One can buy a Calvin Klein dress for about $5, which is definitely better than that $30 Chinese dress which fades after the second wash, or a pair of Grenson shoes for less than $10, certainly better than those shoes imported from Asia that burn your feet.
But not everyone is happy with mitumba. Local producers have been lobbying East African governments to impose a higher levy on second-hand clothes and footwear.
The 17th Ordinary Summit of the East African Community Heads of State held in Arusha, Tanzania on March 2, 2016, directed member states to phase out importation of used textile and footwear within three years.
The clarion call â€˜Buy East Africa, Build East Africaâ€™, is aimed at promoting industrialisation of the region.
Notwithstanding the positive impact of banning used clothes and shoes in local industries and long-term growth of the region, the move may not necessarily be optimal.
Improving the business environment under which domestic producers can be as competitive is optimal through providing reliable and cheap electricity and water; improving access to good roads; reducing corruption that adds onto the cost of doing business; and providing incentives to foreign companies to establish plants in the region.
The move to ban used clothes and shoes will result in socio-economic costs, albeit in the short run.
The reality is thousands of second-hand business operators will be out of a job after three years without a safety net.
East Africans will be forced to buy either first-hand imports or low-quality but dearly priced locally manufactured clothing and shoes for some years to come, which basically makes the move less pro-poor.
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