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Uganda head says used clothing imports from 'dead people,' wants ban

Previously worn apparel imports fuel a vibrant resale market in a list of African countries, but textile makers say it stifles their ability to grow.
Uganda head says used clothing imports from 'dead people,' wants ban
Posted at 6:02 PM, Oct 18, 2023

Uganda's president is not happy with his country's lucrative market for upcycled clothing that often comes in as imports from Western countries like the U.S. or those in Europe. 

Wholesalers often sell previously worn clothing bundles from other nations to businessmen in the eastern African nation, and then have the orders shipped in to sell at markets like the Owino Market in Kampala. 

Customers go to these markets to search for well-made attire that will often come at a fair price. 

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has signaled that he opposes this industry because, according to him, the clothing comes "from dead people."

Museveni, the semi-authoritarian leader who has been in power since 1986 said, "When a White person dies, they gather their clothes and send them to Africa."

The practice by middlemen of importing used clothing into various countries in East Africa is quite prevalent. 

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A report from the U.S. Agency for International Development said that around two-thirds of people from seven different countries in Africa said they purchased previously worn clothing from a market that specializes in secondhand attire. 

Studies have found that a significant portion of various wealthy populations in multiple African countries reported preferring used clothing markets — out of the available options — because they provide the best value. 

President Museveni and local manufacturers in Uganda say the influx of secondhand clothing to their country chips away at the country's efforts to grow its cotton and textile industries. 

Other countries have joined in to stifle the import of used attire for similar reasons. Countries within the East African Community trade bloc — which includes Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Congo — have had calls to ban used apparel imports for years. Influence from Washington has found a way to hamper the enforcement of those recommendations. 

A ban also threatens the livelihoods of many people around Uganda who depend on the import of used clothing for their businesses. 

The trade publication Eco Textile reported that the global secondhand market is expected to reach $350 billion by 2027, according to data from U.S.-based reselling brand ThredUp.

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