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If we wear second-hand clothes, lace up second-hand shoes, drive second-hand cars, and possibly in the near future also eat secondhand food, how do we prevent being called “second-hand citizens” of the world? It is not only production, industrialisation and jobs that are at stake but also, human honour and dignity.

Second-hand clothing has become big business, especially in the Western world, and lobby groups have emerged for it. Whether Africa likes it or not, the attitude of the powerful is that Africa must consume second-hand clothing, and a refusal to do so will attract trade sanctions from their governments.

Second-hand clothing has

A vendor of imported second-hand clothes at work in Nairobi’s Gikomba market become a multi-billion-dollar industry, with major advanced countries as the source of those clothes. It is estimated that in 2015, the imports of second-hand clothes to East Africa had a value of no less than $151m, while two countries from the West in 2013 exported over $1bn of second-hand clothing.

It’s never too difficult to find intellectual and economic justifications for bizarre activities like this. After all, the slave trade was also justified in its day. Those who rationalise it say the sphere employs a lot of people, gives access to cheap clothes, especially for the poor, and argue that governments can make money from it through import duties and taxes.

What these apostles of second-hand clothing refuse to acknowledge is the alternative forgone in creating decent jobs through textile and garment man-

The East African Community took a bold decision to ban second-hand clothing and shoes, seeking to revive the textile industry in the region.

ufacturing, industrial progress, innovation, technology, and the opportunity for Africa to be part of a modern decent world.

Second-hand clothing reinforces global power relations between the weak and the strong, the powerful and the powerless amongst nations. It constructs or reinforces a narrative of those who invent and wear new and original things, and those who are hewers of wood and drawers of water, who wear what others have discarded.

Those who wear new clothes, and those who wait for those new clothes to be used and discarded before they are worn, cannot be one and the same. It smacks more of a master-servant relationship and there is a powerful psychological dimension in the interaction between the two.

Stiff resistance to change In addressing this issue, the East African Community (EAC) in 2016 took the bold decision to ban second-hand clothing and shoes. Countries like Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi are part of the bloc.

Their argument, which is basically economic, is that they want to revive the textile industry in the region. There has been stiff and prompt resistance to it from the exporting nations. If you do it, you will face economic sanctions. Your trade preferences will be taken away, your primary products that in the first instance attract low prices will be curtailed, and your economies will face serious pressures.

Some of those EAC countries are already wavering and backing out. Perhaps it’s only Rwanda that is standing strong, that is prepared to weather the storm.

Those who claim to support Africa in its industrialisation and development processes must do so in good faith. They cannot give with one hand, and take with another. If they give development aid and support on the one hand, but on the other hand undermine Africa’s capacity to grow and industrialise, then the purpose is defeated.

What has become clear in the world today is that the faith and future of all nations are bounded together. For instance, crisis in some countries as witnessed in Libya, Iraq and Syria triggered refugee flows to all parts of the world. Globalisation is creating a seamless world no matter how nations seek to close their borders. The economic crisis in Greece is creating a huge burden and responsibility for the EU; that is the nature of the interconnected world that we live in today.

There are several options we could explore for the use of secondhand clothing. Items could be given charitably across the world, as was done mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, or simply recycled to manufacture other new things. Africa cannot be the home to second-hand clothing; it is inimical to our progress, development, honour and dignity. NA

january 2018 New African 35

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