Free Expression by Mzili: Secondhand goods- first class art

If I were a wealthy artist, I would buy all the second hand vehicles stocked away in bonded warehouses around Kampala and turn them into a massive mobile art installation. Do not ask me for details of the project for that would most likely lead to plagiarism.

Not only would I save Kampala of all the pollution that these monstrosities visit upon us, but I would have given the auto dealers the deal of their lives; that’s if the Kisekka mechanics and auto spare part dealers don’t kill me for depriving them of their livelihood!

Oh and the government too. There are no taxes collected on art as yet.

By Henry Mzili Mujunga


As it were, recently, I ‘pimped up’ (old school read overhauled) my ride. I love my Toyota Carib Sprinter. It is the first car I owned, you know! Four years down the road, I have been in and out of garages replacing one over-used part with a less-used one. Meanwhile, the government has continued to enjoy enormous returns on my investment; from licensing fees to driving permit renewals.

Given the amount of money I have spent on it, there is no way I am going to relegate my Toyota to the scrap yard of a sigiri (charcoal stove) maker. I have intent to recycle it into a master piece to be admired by all for many years to come!

Recycled cans car art
Recycled cans car art

The act of sending used vehicles to Africa is a form of recycling, and as such a good thing, but I am not sure it’s safe for the environment to drive around in a 20 year old ill-maintained vehicle. My Carib does not emit dark clouds of exhaust fumes like my neighbor’s Mitsubishi Pajero of the same year that runs on diesel.

Man, if I was president, I would put a ban on the importation of diesel powered used vehicles! You need not be an environmental scientist to know that the dark menace belching out of the vehicle’s backside will kill you along with all the plants and the white walls of your home!

Beetles on a small salary

Often I wonder how my old man was able to purchase not one but two Volkswagen beetles in Andy Warhol’s pop 60s. How he managed to pull off such a buy on his meager Medical Assistant’s salary, we will never know. Either German cars were very cheap or the Ugandan government was handing out hefty salaries back then. And mark you; I do not fathom this country receiving any serious donor funds for civil servants to embezzle in the gay 60s.

My older siblings used to tell awesome stories of how my old man would bring home consumer catalogues for them to select what to wear; how they used to get domestic utilities including toiletry sent in from the UK.

Of course, now I do not have to peruse fashion catalogues to choose what to adorn myself with. Clothing is no longer an indulgence to handle from a point of taste. If it were so, I would have preferred wandering about in the nude, what with all this tropical heat! Our tastes and preferences in fashion have already been sorted out by our generous size-mates in Europe and America.

Dilapidated undergarments

When I go downtown (Owino or St. Balikuddembe market) to shop for a new wardrobe, I am overwhelmed by the waves of colour and texture emanating from the stalls. The sheer variety, leave alone creative ideas, that accosts one in this busy market place is amazing. Not only do they display the most dilapidated undergarments but also the trendiest shoes and jeans.

It is not a needle-in-straw search for one to get a pair of Wrangler jeans or Converse All-stars shoes, moreover at a price far below their market value is the US. In Owino, even some of my friends from Europe catch up with the latest fashions they missed back home for reasons that are financial or otherwise!

Ok, even if you were part of Museveni’s middle class, and were mortified by the idea of being seen down-town exchanging sweat with the scam of the city, you would still make contact with used clothes and accessories in the trendier boutiques on Kampala road and Garden City. The sheyas (dealers) down-town intimated to me that some of the fancy boutique owners get to the used-cloth depots before everyone else, and scoop the first cut off the bales.

It is quite strange this confusion that is generated about most issues in the global village.

Playing the green card

We all know that recycling is good and helps to conserve nature’s scarce resources. But we are also told that reusing old fridges and cars is harmful to the environment.

What are we to do?

In Africa we complain of how secondhand clothes have ruined the continent’s textile industry. Numerous African writers recount the numerous psychological and financial blows that trade in secondhand clothes or broni wa wo (white man has died) as they are called in Ghana, has dealt the African textile sector.

One such writer mentioned that this trade has perpetuated the “ours is better than yours” colonial mentality, the often unspoken belief heralding all that is western as superior, and all that is African as inferior.

Statistics also show that second-hand clothes are Kenya’s 7th largest import taking up 60 million Euros of her budget per year. Ghana, which has one of the oldest garment industries on the continent, has taken steps to address this problem by instituting a ‘National Friday wear’ program hoping that when every one is encouraged to wear colourful Kente or other related African fabrics on Fridays, the habit would catch on.

But the younger generation has rejected outdated traditional attire for the trendier American wear readily available at the second-hand market.

Poor Africans! Don’t we know that creating new garments is wastage of resources when you have people throwing away one-year-old shirts, socks and underwear?

One pound of cotton

“The single act of conventionally growing and harvesting the one pound of cotton fiber needed to make a T-shirt takes an enormous and devastating toll on the earth’s air, water and soil that impacts global health.” So writes one concerned blogger from the Organic Consumers Association.

Indeed Michael, that’s his name, asserts that the policies and practices within the cotton industry from crop subsidies to garment sweatshops create poverty and misery that stretches globally.

Tell this to peasants in the cotton growing areas of northern Uganda and see if they agree!

A few years ago I seem to have found a perfect solution to the used clothes problem. This solution was a win-win situation for all parties involved and a score for Africa. I decided to get as many of these clothes as possible and turn them into works of art with the hope that this would not only increase the value of the clothes, but because the art works would be sought after by European museums and galleries, it would enriching the artist as well as the nation.

Sheer genius!

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