Uganda’s Museveni bans second-hand clothing.

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Uganda’s Museveni bans second-hand clothing.

The bustling Owino Market in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, is a vibrant hub where people from all walks of life come together to find affordable and quality secondhand clothing. Used Western clothing is highly sought after, suggesting a perception that it is superior to locally made garments.

These used clothes, discarded by Europeans and Americans, find their way to African nations through middlemen, forming a multimillion-dollar industry. According to a 2017 study by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), approximately two-thirds of people in seven East African countries have purchased a portion of their clothing from the secondhand market.

Despite its popularity, the used clothing trade is encountering growing resistance. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has held power since 1986, declared in August that he was banning imports of used clothing, stating that these items come “from dead people.” He remarked, “When a white person dies, they gather their clothes and send them to Africa.”

While trade authorities have yet to enforce the president’s order, other African governments are also attempting to halt these shipments, arguing that the business amounts to dumping and undermines the growth of local textile industries. The East African Community trade bloc, comprising Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda, recommended banning used apparel imports back in 2016. However, member states have not uniformly enforced these recommendations due to pressure from Washington.

For traders in Uganda, the president’s order has raised concerns. They sell used clothes in numerous open-air markets, roadside stands, and even shops in malls. If implemented, the ban would spell disaster for these traders, who cater to a nation of 45 million people.

Used clothing is not only affordable but also drops in price as traders make room for new shipments. A pair of denim jeans can be purchased for as little as 20 cents, and a cashmere scarf for even less. Traders like Glen Kalungi, who resells used clothes, seek these inexpensive items for resale, driving a significant part of the economy.

The debate over a used clothing ban in Uganda has given rise to various perspectives. Some, like the Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA), recommend a phased embargo that allows local clothing producers to enhance their capacity to meet demand, while some Ugandan clothing makers acknowledge the poor quality of locally made fabric and understand why people prefer to buy used clothing for its durability.

The thought of banning used clothing is inconceivable for many in the bustling Owino Market, where traders depend on this trade for their livelihood. Some believe the president’s threat was not serious, but others argue that such a ban would be detrimental, leaving them with limited alternatives.

Abdulrashid Ssuuna, who encourages potential customers to visit his brother’s used clothing business, expressed concerns that a ban would deprive him of a means to support himself. The used clothing market is intensely competitive, with traders vying for shoppers’ attention.

For Tadeo Walusimbi, who has been in the used-clothing trade for six years, the government ban is not a viable option. He believes it would adversely affect him and numerous others in the industry.


Walusimbi asserted that a ban “will not work for me and for so many people,” underscoring the complex challenges faced by those dependent on the trade in used clothing amid evolving government policies in Africa.

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