Mitumba, mtumba second hand goods


Mitumba (singular : mtumba) -- second-hand goods

***** Location: Kenya
***** Season: Topic
***** Category: Humanity


As in many other African countries, second-hand goods are very popular in Kenya. They enable the wananchi (citizens) to wear high-quality and fashionable clothes and shoes at an affordable price, to drive decent cars and to obtain hifi or computers.

Most of the time, when we talk about mitumba, we mean clothes or shoes. These are sold in huge markets, such as Gikomba, where smaller traders can buy them wholesale in bulk as they arrive, split the contents of the sacks and sell them either in Gikomba itself, in the city centre or in the various residential areas around the city. Huge loads are also carried up-country to the rural areas for sale there.

A load of shoes being taken from Gikomba to up-country markets

Almost every Kenyan, whether rich or poor, owns several items of mitumba. Many of the clothes sold as mitumba are almost brand new and in excellent condition. Some could be remnants from large chains in Europe or the USA sold in bulk to wholesalers for resale in African countries. Many are clothes donated to charitable organisations in the West. These sort the clothes according to their general condition. The poorer quality clothes are given free of charge to refugee camps and as emergency aid. The better quality clothes are sorted according to type (men's / women's, skirts / blouses / socks / trousers / T-shirts / underwear, etc.) and packed into sacks further graded according to the quality of the goods. These sacks are then shipped and sold in Kenya (e.g. in Gikomba) without opening them, according to the goods inside and their quality grade. Most buyers are too small to be able to afford an entire sack, so a group of traders would get together to share the cost and split the contents.

There is a whole debate as to whether charitable organisations should be selling mitumba into African countries at all. These imports could destroy the national market for clothing, it is said. And it is true that during my years in Kenya, as imports of mitumba have increased, many of the smaller dressmaking and tailoring businesses have had to close. Others now specialise in alterations of mitumba clothes so that they fit their new owners. The more high-quality businesses have continued without too much trouble, particularly those specialising in African dress styles, as these are not in competition with foreign imports. School and work uniforms too have not been affected. It is my feeling that the import of mitumba is, on the whole, a good thing, as it enables Kenyans to dress smartly at a reasonable cost, provides many jobs in the informal sector -- and it even enables the original owners in other countries to give away their clothes and shoes in the knowledge that others will be able to benefit from them.

Clothes stall under a tree

Text and photos © Isabelle Prondzynski


It is mtumba in the singular and mitumba in the plural.
The word literally means second hand and could be used for clothing, shoes, cars, etc. -- it refers to anything that has been used and is being resold. The Government of Kenya recently zero-rated taxation on importation of mitumba ''to ease the high cost of living on the common man you know!''.

Andrew Otinga

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

Read more here :
source : www.seatimesafrica.com

Gikomba Market

gikomba or gikosh
is a second hand clothes market that started in the 1980’s as a result of space in retail market. the lack ofphysical space forced the more that one hundred traders to move to the area between majengo, karikor and kamukunji

The original settlers were allocated plots but with time as the market became more popular settled illegally…today there are more than 4000 traders
source : www.mwakenya.net


a watchman bargains
for a mtumba jacket --
Muthurwa market

a seller shows
a high-heeled mtumba shoe --
mia mia!

(mia means a hundred in Swahili)

a street child picks at
muddy mtumba trousers --
riverside market

~ Dancan Omoto

a student catwalks
in her mitumba high heels --
beauty contest

a stall with
cheaper mitumba jackets --
I buy three

~ Catherine Njeri Maina

a student tries on
his mtumba shirt --
new smell

~ Andrew Otinga

abrupt rain --
pedestrians scramble for
mitumba raincoats

~ Dennis Wright

Mtumba shoes for sale
Photo © Isabelle Prondzynski

mitumba wholesaler --
he presses the sack down
to remove rain

~ John Maina

mitumba display --
she grabs the blue jeans
and quickly pays

~ Stanley Mutinda

sudden rain --
she shelters mitumba clothes
with a red umbrella

~ Synaidah Kalahi

mitumba stall --
a nursing mother sorts out
a shawl from kangas

~ Brian Mulando


I have worn mitumba clothes and shoes my entire life and one thing I know for sure is that mitumba are not just anything sold as second hand.

Yes mitumba are second hand merchandise resold in the Kenyan Market but there are several attributes that set mitumba apart from new or other second hand goods.

Mitumba mostly come from western countries and are imported in bales which wholesalers buy and then sell to mostly middle-class Kenyans in retail. They include shoes, clothes, bags, curtains, bed sheets.

But even more importantly, mitumba merchandise are of good quality (original) and that, I think, sets them apart from other second hand goods.

Its worth mentioning that there is a myth in Kenya that mitumba are cheap...Well, while most mitumba products are cheap, this is not entirely true. I know a place in Gikomba Market, the biggest mitumba market in Kenya, where a mtumba shoe is far much expensive than a new shoe in the shop. And some people appreciate mitumba so much that they wont wear anything new.

Mitumba goods, unlike other second hand goods, are very unique. What I like about mitumba is that you can get a shirt that very few people have in town. In fact, my friends and I refer to any new merchandise as "Kenya Uniform" because you will find many Kenyans with the same shoe, shirt or jacket.

For instance, early last month I bought a mtumba blazer and I have been to several tailors who've all told me that I cant find a trouser of the same material and colour to match the blazer because its one of its kind.

The word "mtumba" has lately been used loosely to mean anything second hand. Nonetheless, my point is we should not forget what "mtumba" really means.

I am currently an intern with The Daily Nation Newspaper and last week my editor sent me to Kariokor where Gikomba and Ngara mitumba traders had attended a public hearing arranged by Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA).

It emerged that the government of Kenya through KURA plans to demolish almost half of these markets to pave way for construction of roads

Traders openly expressed their anger and distrust on the government plan to compensate them after demolishing their temporary stalls.Please find time to read the whole story on my blog
The Nairobi Digest - http://nairobidigest.wordpress.com

mitumba traders trickle
in the hall

mitumba traders
clap and whistle in unison--
Kariokor hearing

Caleb Mutua

Related words

***** WKD : Reference


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