About 40 hours of travel. Spokane, Seattle, Dubai, Johannesburg, and finally Harare, Zimbabwe. My wife, Nancy, and I arrived here Tuesday evening. Except for its length, the trip went smoothly. Even our bags arrived on our flight. We hit the ground running with meetings and training events. Time feels like it is passing quickly and we are enjoying meeting many wonderful people.
This evening, after a busy day, our host took us to a local bazaar. It was fun to see all the local products and crafts. Nancy enjoyed bartering for a few gifts and I enjoyed chatting with some of the vendors.
I asked a craft vendor about the large bales of clothing in one of the stalls. With a tone of jealously in her voice she told me that the used clothing stall was the most profitable in the market. Even when business is bad in the rest of the market, the used clothing sells. I asked her where the clothing comes from. She says it is imported from Mozambique. She went on to say that the clothing originates in the USA and is brought as aid to Mozambique. (Due to sanctions against Zimbabwe, this country does not qualify for a lot of international aid.)
I wonder if the clothing donors in the US realize that their contributions could travel to Mozambique, get sold to a middle man who brings it to Zimbabwe, and then get resold to a vendor who runs the most popular stall in the bazaar?
Ironically, while I am here I am scheduled to consult with a couple garment industry businesses who are struggling to survive because their markets have dried up. It is nearly impossible for them to sell clothing in this country. There are too many imports that sell for less than their production costs. And, even though traditionally Zimbabwean manufacturers have been garment exporters, that changed when the country came under international sanctions.
In a round about way you could say that clothing donors in the US are harming the Zimbabwean garment industry and adding hardship to the lives of all the people who used to work in that industry. An unintended consequence of good intentions!