If you have ever walked down the street behind our home, or any home in Lusaka, Nairobi, Dar Es Salaam, Accra or Blantyre, you must have seen the different shirts, shoes, belts and other second hand clothing. But have you ever been a young person in any of these cities? Many people have never had the chance to go into a freshly opened bale of clothes to get a steal of an item, often a pair of jeans with the tags still on it, or a slew of tshirts, sold ten for a dollar. Young people, who are the majority of new urban residents are selling, buying and otherwise participating in the sale of these cast-offs in Africa.
I just watched T-Shirt Travels, a Zambia documentary on the abundance of second hand clothing in Africa.The documentary could really have been shot at Toi market in Nairobi(among the first to be razed in the recent violence), where many afternoons were spent scouring for bargains. And what was a bargain? A $2 sweater which you could only really get for $50 in a regular store or some belts which were three for a dollar. In Nairobi, where people last bought locally manufactured clothes in the early 90s, the documentary seemed to have a natural twin setting.
You ought to try and catch films on Africa after structural adjustment programs, like this documentary on the life of a second-hand clothes dealer in Zambia. I watched feeling an acute sense of bittersweet emotion. Bitter, because what this meant was that there was no opportunity for many Africans to get clothes apart from these ‘dead mans attire’ and the potential insult of accepting something that someone else has already chewed on. My sweet sensation of novelty in these clothes, was in that by donning these Titanic commemorative tees and our third hand Keds, we were partaking in global consumer culture at its best. we were part of Mickey Mouse and Club Med and never even realized that the tees that were made in our own export processing zones would only ever return to us long after their initial use in the free world.It is hard to imagine me living here and seeing people diving for second hand clothes. Will there ever be a time when people in the United States do that for their daily gear.
If there were one thing that the new shiny globalized world is telling its developing countries, it is that the new world market needs players who can compete on a global scale. This strained family relationship could not get any more aggravated than it is right now. If the earth off the coast of West Africa could speak right now, it would groan for the millionth time, wondering why Africa allos itself to be pillaged over and over for the sake of a faceless global force. “Children of my beloved seed,” the earth says, “why are you still allowing the idea that you are beneath on the world totem pole to dominate you?” It might also ask the person wearing that flannel gown as a day shirt whether he was aware of his faux pas, even of he was warmer for it.
Today, my prof said something that haunted me through the lesson, that the west was slowly becoming like the third world countries that it traded so freely with. More people than ever have no access to affordable health care the United States, the education system is not uplifting the society as a whole, and there is a greater push than ever that is displacing many people into poverty together with their families. The middle class is the most devastated from the current sub-prime mortgage crisis, many families of which took on increased debt burden without the safety nets to weather a bad market. And forget selling your home, the market rejects it.
So as the more forceful of the Bretton Woods institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund analyze the results from the last 25 years of change around the world, in the form of structural adjustment programs, what can they prescribe for the future. Many of the countries that they worked in remain as needy as when the first prescriptions were made. More specifically, the sweeping policies that liberalized the market and closed down jobs in industry remain the lead on dealing with the growing urbanization that brings people to the city to look for those bright lights and to move away from all the poverty in the village.
Will there ever be a bend down boutique downtown here? ‘Many moons’ may be the only reply I ever see in my life time since this double standard of treatment dominates the second hand market. You decide your take on this.
NB: I have been on break due to local commitments, and I appreciate the emails and messages that I ought to share once again