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Covid-19: Second-hand importers struggle to get along

Covid-19: Second-hand importers struggle to get along

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By Awa Macalo

Once considered one of the most thriving and successful ventures in the country, second-hand goods business is experiencing one of its worst growths, leaving stakeholders in the sector hopeless, and counting the costs.

The venture, which grew into an important economic sector, has been the source of livelihood for thousands of Gambians. Because of its relatively affordable buying and selling prices, the industry grew exponentially for years, bringing rapid socio-economic changes in the lives of precarious futures.

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However, the fate of this once-thriving venture and its stakeholders in The Gambia now hangs in the balance largely due to the surge in Covid-19 pandemic cases across the globe.

In March 2020, the Ministry of Health confirmed the first Covid-19 case. Since then, Governments across the globe including The Gambia took stringent measures to curb the spread of the virus, including numerous lockdowns, flight cancellations, closure of seaports and even the borders to contain the spread of the deadly virus.

In The Gambia, these moves have frustrated many businesses, and forced others into closure.

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Chedo Sinera is a Gambian who ventured into second-hand goods dealing some 16 years ago. Since then, he has been able to sustain himself and his family. But that was before the Covid-19 pandemic started.

“Before Covid-19, I was able to solve so many personal issues. My family lacked nothing, as I was able to provide for all their needs, but when the virus was detected in The Gambia, that was the end of it,” Chedo lamented at his shop in Coastal Road.

Giving a detailed picture of what the Covid-19 pandemic brought about for him, he said: “Life has become completely different. During the lockdowns, I was at home for several months. My mother who is my main supplier of second-hand goods could not send them. She was even scared of leaving her home in the US to do transaction of documents for the goods to reach The Gambia.”

Chedo said he is one of the top dealers in second-hand goods but complained: “I have lost all my customers during the pandemic because I was not receiving goods as expected. Eventually, I had to leave the shop due to its price level and the tax I was paying. The revenue authority was coming for me constantly.”

Chedo is not the only second-hand goods dealer reeling the possible demise of his venture.

Sait Njie has been in the business for 18 years now. He said at least 82 percent of the dealers have experienced “negative impacts,” and that about 70 percent believe it will take at least a year to recover demand levels before Covid-19.

“The pandemic has sped up the pace of digitisation across sectors of our second-hand goods businesses and have reaped advantages like cost reduction and increased productivity globally due to the Covid crisis. It was the hardest hit across countries but most especially my business. It has led to the wide closure of several stores in my area and business worldwide. I am still struggling to stand on my feet,” Sait said.

A mother of four, Fatu Bayo, lamented how the Covid-19 pandemic frustrated her business.

“I do not have a proper store to keep all my goods. So, I had no other choice but to sell at a lower price. It was so much loss.”

In his research paper, The Second-Hand Goods Market: Trends and Challenges, Ghanaian Assist. Prof. Yulia Hristovaa reported: “The total global trade in textiles and clothing is worth more than $200 billion each year. The SHG [second-hand goods] trade has grown ten-fold since 1990 but, at roughly $1 billion per year, still represents less than 0.5 per cent of this total in value terms.”

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