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Citizen Weekly

Sunday, 21 September 2014

MITUMBA FORCE ASIANS FROM CLOTHES TO HARDWARE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY



A Kitale trader of Asian origin recently closed down his clothing and garments business forcing his clients of many years to seek for alternative market.

When all thought that the businessman would perhaps be relocating to his native country of India, a few days later, the man was in town and had reopened the shop to the public once again.
But to the surprise of his former clients and other interested onlookers, the shelves did not contain the wares the businessman had dealt with for decades.

From clothing items and other social wares, the trader had decided to replace them with hard wares in the construction industry. 
Former workers have also been replaced with those conversant in the construction industry and building skills to up his new market venture. A majority of his former workers, most of who were unskilled had to be put back in the new set-up and new faces brought on board with experience in the building and construction sub-sector.

For the Trans-Nzoia county government, it was all smiles as the businessman had to change his business licence or permit to be in tandem with his new operations. And for the Kenya Revenue Authority, it was a business boom as the Asian trader opened doors for new avenues.

The Asian businessman was not the first one within the community to move from cotton-based small enterprises to seek greener pastures in the fast-growing building and construction industry.
A survey conducted in other urban centres such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Nakuru, Nyeri, Kisii and Nyeri indicated a similar switch of the Asian businessmen community to the hardware industry.

For instance, in Kitale, nearly all the shops that operated either in cotton-based or curio shops have now been laden with construction hardware.
Except for a few traders still dealing in school uniforms and footwear, the rest have converted their buildings into stores for construction materials eyeing money from the county government.
Schools and companies have also avoided dealing with shops and have signed contracts with individuals for their uniform production and supply forcing the Asian businessmen to also change tact.

Upcoming skyscrapers in town are either stores for the hardware materials or outlets for cement factories such as Bamburi, Nguvu and Simba Cement factories.
Cement factories have thus taken advantage of the new launch to diversify business in the North Rift region and have leased most of the new buildings as their stores.

Long trucks loaded with cement have become a common feature offloading cargo to the new buildings located along the Mumia Highway.
But why should the Asian community suddenly engage into the building and construction sub-sector?

According to S Patel, the continued importation of second hand–clothes has killed the cotton-based micro-business industry, adding that lack of control by the national government over the cheap imports has also locked them out of business.
For Patel, it had also become difficult to control mitumba vendors “who even come to the doorsteps of our shops to display their wares”.

He narrates of a story where some of their wares remained on shelves for a long period without attracting any customers, thus becoming out of fashion and losing their original colours.
“Who would you sell such clothes to? Fashions come and go! Who would go for the 1980s or 1990s fashions when everyone is yearning for digital styles?” Patel posed.

“Unlike clothes, construction and building materials do not go out of style. They sell like hot cake,” he said adding that most of the wares are received from the Eastern block of Middle East including China and Japan.

The businessman further narrated of another story where a Kenyan CEO bought a suit in the UK thinking it was of foreign fabric only to realise later that it had been imported from Kenya’s then Rivatex Company.

He said the same trend is currently being demonstrated by Kenyan VIPs especially MPs who prefer foreign suits to the locally tailored ones.
He also attributed the closure of most shops for clothes to the collapses of the cotton-growing sub sector which had raised tariffs for export of the products.

The government has since scrapped the Cotton Link Corporation and placed it under Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Authority.
According to the Trans-Nzoia executive officer of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry Martin Waliaula his office had of late recorded increased figures of members intending to deal with hardware business.

According to Kiminini constituency office manager Alfayo Muganda, the building and construction subsector has attracted great interest especially from the offers received from CDF towards building and construction of schools classrooms and public roads in constituencies.
“And with the coming of devolved system of government, the hardware industry is set to make a kill to most businessmen. Kitale town being a transit point to other counties, the business will increase threefold and thrive abundantly,” he said.

A contractor Johann Wandetto says the search for settlement in Trans-Nzoia county had also played role to the increased sale of the hardware.
A survey indicated that supermarkets are not spared in the slow-down in the clothing business.