A COMMON feature in many cities and towns across Africa are the flea markets that serve the populace with second hand items, ranging from clothes to designer Chanel handbags. Everyday traders and customers flock in their thousands to buy haggle and buy goods.
But there is controversy about the sources of the goods and chattel sold in these flea markets in Africa.
Since the early 1990s, textile industries in many countries have collapsed as their economies performed dismally.
African governments were pressured by global financial institutions to liberalise their markets, as a condition for aid and grants. This allowed in allow cheap imports of several items, including clothes, therefore paralysing local industries.
The main sources of second hand clothes are western countries. Initially they were donated to charitable organisations but the majority ended up for sale in Africa, opening up a huge new market.
Why do Africans buy second hand clothes? They are certainly cheaper than locally manufactured clothes, as the textile industries on the continent don’t have capacity to produce enough clothes for one billion people at competitive prices.
The options are therefore to either import cheap “quality’ second hand clothes or new ones from Asian countries. The attitudes of customers in the flea markets can be puzzling for the uninitiated; many say they have confidence in second hand clothes because they have been “tried and tested by their former owners” and are still in good quality.
Also, compared to traditional and cultural wears, second hand clothes appeal to the more fashion conscious Africans because they are able to buy trendy fashionable at affordable prices.
Politics of flea markets
Despite being home to the cheap and cheerful, these markets are also able to turn the heads of the biggest national actors for their important economic role.
Take for example, the largest flea market in east and central Africa, Gikomba market outside the Kenyan capital Nairobi, which was recently razed by a fire. No sooner had the news reports of the fire streamed in than Deputy President William Ruto, accompanied by Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, arrived at the scene, consoling and pledging their support to the traders. Kidero stated that Gikomba, with a daily turnover of Ksh500 million (about $5million) and annual turnover of approximately Ksh180 billion (about $1.8billion), is the heart of Nairobi’s economy.
Gikomba is certainly not the only market which gives a beat to city life in Africa. Here we take a brief look through the continent’s top ten flea markets:
Merkato in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Undoubtedly Merkato is the biggest and oldest open air market in the country – believed to employ an estimated 13,000 people in 7,100 business entities. It hosts thousands of traders from Ethiopia and other African countries who sell an incredible variety of goods including second-hand clothes and new cheap clothes from Asian countries.
Kantamanto Market in Accra, Ghana
Kantamanto market has continued to thrive for more than 30 years. Second hand clothes in Ghana are referred to as “obuni wao” which means the white people died therefore their clothes are on sale. The market has over 30,000 traders where more than 90% of Ghanaians purchase second hand clothes.
Katangowa in Lagos, Nigeria
In Nigeria’s Katangowa market you will find second hand clothes commonly referred as “okrika” or “bend down” – because you have to bend down to select your purchase.
Colobane Market in Dakar, Senegal
It is called Marché Colobane in the French speaking Dakar city. According to Oxfam, Colobane is largely a wholesale point for over 24,000 traders.
El Hafisa in Tunis, Tunisia
The market is popular for its cheap second clothes locally known as fripe. Soco De Moina, Morocco Soco de moina is famous for its antiques and unique artefacts from ancient past.
Owino Market in Kampala, Uganda
Uganda’s opulent Owino market sells second hand clothes and any other second hand items for a bargain able price.
Gikomba Market in Nairobi, Kenya
This is the second hand goods capital of Kenya.
Chiquelene Market in Maputo, Mozambique
Chiquelene Market holds thousands of traders and supplies to neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe.
Lusaka Downtown, Zambia
The sale of salaula (second hand clothes) is a big hit in Zambia.
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