April 21, 2011

products of dubious quality may be a metaphor for something

Sub-saharan Africa is a lot of things and one of those things happens to be the dumping ground of the consumer world. The t-shirts you donate to the Salvation Army eventually end up here (and oddly enough Japan) where they are sold in unsorted bundles to market vendors for about $100 a bundle. This phenomenon can be followed to its conclusion where local textile manufacturing has been steam rolled by the impossible task of competing with second hand goods and those firms have mostly run for the hills. The textile industry has historically been one of the first "rungs on the development ladder" for developing countries and it has been argued that the knee capping of this industry by the second hand clothing market has contributed to the rather lowsy state of economic affairs in Uganda specifically and Africa generally. But that's an argument for another day and another post.

For a variety of reasons (poor regulation and lack of domestic competition are my bets) the quality of new things is generally terrible. It's better to buy just about everything here second hand. Of course the vendors know this, because it's their business to know this, so second hand goods actually cost more than most new goods. A good example is soccer cleats. Ugandans love soccer and know the equipment very well. You can purchase crappy Chinese cleats brand new for about $10 that fall apart in a month or second hand cleats for about $20 that will last you a couple years.
It's hard to get a good bargain on anything related to soccer because it's a product that is much better understood by the market vendors than it is by me. Outdoor gear is the opposite case because the vendors don't know the brands. I picked up this North Face Windstopper fleece for $3, they're going for about $125 on ebay. Though now that I'm doing a web search it is possible that mine's a fake and that's why it ended up going to the Salvation Army in the first place.
I bought this Camelback backpack for about $15 and they usually go for about $75. There's something off about the bag though. The guy seems to have a supply of them as he sold identical seemingly new bags to me and my buddy on separate occasions for the same price. Originally I imagined that he hijacked a Camelback truck and was selling them off one by one. Though after a couple months of ownership we both noticed that the bags have the relatively minor defect of a crappy label. My current guess is that these bags were rejected by quality control and dumped here at a fraction of the price.

You never really know what you're getting new or second hand although you can generally be sure that whatever it is you buy is defective in one way or the other. The people here know that too and sometimes I wonder if that idea is internalized.


Lukas Fried said...
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Lukas Fried said...

Ah, that's a clever, clever title. I hear the especially "dubious" products are obtainable outside Owino, rather than inside the market itself.

Most of the locally made shirts are crap. But I did see one in Arua that was pretty sweet. It was a yellow t-shirt with the following written down the back:

Africa to


The word "Originary" is a dead giveaway, though I suppose the Japanese could make a similar typo.