In a bold move to promote the growth of its textile industry and boost local manufacturing, Uganda has taken a firm stand and banned the importation of used clothes into the country.
This decision comes after years of debate and pushback from various stakeholders. It signifies a clear commitment from the Ugandan government to prioritise its own industries and create more job opportunities for its citizens.
The ban on secondhand clothing, commonly known as “Mivumba” in Uganda, is not a new concept in the East African region. In 2016, the East African Community, which includes Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda, agreed to phase out the importation of used clothes by 2019. However, only Rwanda followed through and fully enforced the ban. Kenya and Tanzania have yet to implement similar measures.
Back in 2017, when Uganda first attempted to ban secondhand clothes, it faced significant opposition from the United States government. A leading exporter of secondhand clothes in the US filed a petition challenging the ban. As a result, Uganda was forced to rescind the ban due to pressure from importers. This setback, however, did not deter the Ugandan government from pursuing its goal of promoting local industries.
The importation of used clothes has long been a contentious issue in Uganda. In 2015, the East African region imported a staggering $151 million worth of used clothes and shoes. This influx of secondhand clothing, known as “mitumba” in Kenya and “obroni wawu” (dead white man’s clothes) in Ghana, has had a detrimental impact on Uganda’s textile sector. The local textile industry has been suffocating under the weight of cheap imported clothes, hindering Uganda’s ability to climb the value chain and develop its own textile market.
President Yoweri Museveni, during a factory tour on August 25th, made a resolute statement regarding the importation of used clothes. He stated, “I have declared a war on second-hand clothes to promote African wear. We are going to stop the importation of second-hand clothes to create jobs in textile factories. Anybody who stands in my way, I will crush him. We will not allow second-hand clothes to enter the country anymore.” This declaration clearly illustrates the determination of the Ugandan government to prioritize the growth of its textile industry over the importation of used clothes.
According to reports, the president Museveni stated, “They are for dead people,” referring to Mivumba, or used clothes. He emphasised the need to stop wearing these clothes, as they are gathered from deceased individuals in other countries and sent to Africa.
The ban on Mivumba was officially announced by the president on August 25 and will take effect from Friday, September 1. While there are sceptics who argue that the ban poses environmental hazards and hinders the African fashion industry, proponents believe it will significantly boost the economy.
In addition to clothing items, the ban will also include electricity metres and electric cables. These components can be obtained from local Ugandan firms instead of relying on imports. The president further stressed the importance of embracing their own culture and identity by wearing clothes that are made in Uganda.
In 2022 alone, Uganda imported approximately $120 million worth of secondhand clothes, with a significant portion coming from the United States. This ban on secondhand clothes aligns with Museveni’s vision to elevate Uganda into a middle-income country by 2040.
The ban on the importation of used clothes is expected to have far-reaching implications for Uganda’s economy. By reducing the reliance on imported second hand clothing, the government aims to promote local manufacturing and create employment opportunities. The textile industry has the potential to become a key driver of economic growth, as it can provide jobs for the youth and contribute significantly to the country’s GDP.