Life

Here’s Why African People Don’t Want Your Stinky Old Clothes

The negative consequences of the charity industry, African media stereotypes, and your worn-out T-shirts.

It’s a bit insulting, right? You’re having a clear-out. You rummage through your closet and (among some decent items) you pull out a ton of odd socks, some old greying underwear, several worn T-shirts, a stained jersey, some ripped pants, a pair of scratched sunglasses. Waste not want not, you think. Instead of all this junk going to landfill, I’ll give it to a local charity store. Someone more needy than me might make use of it.

But while your heart is in the right place, this is absolutely the wrong attitude, says Eliza Anyangwe. The idea that Africa cannot manage without your dirty old cast-offs is patronizing and offensive. This is the world’s second largest continent, covering 20.4% of Earth’s total landmass. It is incredibly diverse, being made up of 54 distinctive countries (in addition to 11 various independent states and territories). Africa is home to over 2000 different ethnic groups speaking a multitude of languages, and has a combined population of 1.1 billion people- that’s 15% of the world’s total population. It is also young and dynamic: half of all Africans are aged 19 or under.

Africa doesn’t need saving,” Anyangwe says passionately in the video above, arguing that what the continent really needs is an end to damaging stereotypes of war, famine, child soldiers, poverty, political corruption, ebola…you know the rest. “Do they know it’s Christmas time? YES, they do,” she tells us angrily, showing a photograph of Santa visiting some children.

Of course some parts of this vast land are going through turmoil and horror, and nobody would deny that. But apart from the fact there are tons of positive stories we rarely hear about, here’s the thing: your donated clothes are contributing to the death of African textile industries. As writer Meri Nana-Ama Danquah (and many others) have argued:

“A whole industry has cropped up around apparel that’s been donated to charities located oceans away, imported throughout the African continent and then sold cheaply in African marketplaces. These low prices undercut local retailers and undermine the entire textile and garment business in Africa. The importing is sometimes done by enterprising individuals, but, more often than not, this huge, multimillion-dollar industry is orchestrated by charitable multinational organizations. These aid agencies’ primary mission  is, ostensibly, to provide various forms of relief to residents (but) the psychological—and, as a result, financial—blows of the used-clothing industry have been crippling.

“What seems to be carried over, along with the previously worn clothing, is that old-colonial mentality of “ours is better than yours,” the often unspoken belief heralding all that is Western as superior, and all that is African as inferior. Especially telling are the various names, phrases and labels attached to the industry. In Togo, the garments are referred to as “dead yovo” clothing. Translation: “dead white person clothing.” Across the border, in Ghana, my native country, the used clothing is called “broni wa wo.” Literally translated, this expression means: “a white man has died.”

She goes on: “The used-clothing industry is Kenya’s seventh largest import, raking in well over 60 million euros ($67.7m) per year. Hundreds of thousands of African workers have lost their jobs as a result of these imports. In Malawi, the largest textile company had to close its doors. Other such companies in Mozambique and Uganda are headed toward bankruptcy. Zambian textile workers have staged several strikes in an effort to promote national and international awareness of their plight.”

What do you think? Is Africa represented in a negative light by the media because charity is a business like any other? Are there better ways of helping those who need it? Would you agree with the idea of dropping the debt African countries owe to richer ones? Let us know in the comments!


Image Credit kivafellows.wordpress.com / Katrina Shakarian

This article (Here’s Why African People Don’t Want Your Stinky Old Clothes) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to the author and TrueActivist.com.

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