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Recycling clothing for profit in Senegal

Senegal is just part of a global industry in recycled clothes, whose biggest exporter is the United States

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Workers of a recycling centre of second-hand textile of the French social enterprise "Le Relais" sort through bales of clothes in Diamniadio, Senegal. - (Photo by Mariama DARAME / AFP)

The market around Colobane Square in central Dakar has been a hive of activity since dawn as hundreds of buyers and sellers haggle over the latest imports from Europe.

Piles of designer stone-washed jeans and jackets and shirts vie with skirts and T-shirts – all of them pre-worn.

Second-hand clothing, “feugue-diaye” in the Wolof language, is a vibrant business in Senegal.

Each year, thousands of tonnes of garments find a new home in West Africa, helping people to look good and businesses to make money.

“If you want cheap brand-name clothes, this is the place to come to,” says Mamadou Sarr, a 23-year-old wholesaler, pointing to the bales of jeans on his stall.

“All these have come from England.”

A picture taken on June 25, 2019 shows bales of second-hand clothes ready to be sent to wholesalers, at the textile recycling centre of the French social enterprise “Le Relais” in Diamniadio, Senegal. (Photo by Mariama DARAME / AFP)

Binta, a 29-year-old habituee, says the bargains can be extraordinary.

“You can buy dresses, jeans, T-shirts for a low price, designer gear,” she says.

She contends that second-hand clothes sent from Europe are “harder-wearing” than new garments exported to Senegal from China.

Retailers rummaging through the garments always have an eye out for a particular jewel: a football (soccer) jersey, which is much prized by young Senegalese.

Sarr and his older brother buy the clothing consignments for between 35,000 and 70,000 CFA francs, which they then sell off in 45-kilogramme batches to retailers.

After paying intermediaries, customs duties and transport costs, the brothers can clear as much as 450,000 CFA francs in a good month – roughly eight times the minimum salary in Senegal.

Golden threads

Senegal is just part of a global industry in recycled clothes, whose biggest exporter is the United States, with 756,000 tonnes.

Many wholesalers in Senegal get their clothes from Le Relais, a French cooperative that collects used clothing in France, the former colonial power.

Le Relais sends Dakar around 500 tonnes of pre-sorted clothing per year and has a warehouse in Diamniadio, about 30 kilometres from Dakar, where its 51 employees sort another 200-250 tonnes.

The garments are sifted according to category – dresses, shirts, etc. – then sorted again, graded according to their quality and state of wear.

Workers of a recycling centre of second-hand textile of the French social enterprise “Le Relais” sort through bales of clothes in Diamniadio, Senegal. (Photo by Mariama DARAME / AFP)

“There are some goods which aren’t worth anything, but the main thing which we have been trying to do is create jobs,” says Virginie Vyvermans, Le Relais’ deputy chief in Senegal.

Profits from sale of the clothes go into local development projects and into paying the salaries of the employees, most of whom are women. All are on permanent contracts – not temporary or daily work.

One of them, Marie-Helene Marome, spoke highly of her job: “I’ve been able to enrol my children in a private school and buy some land for a home,” she says.

One of Le Relais’ customers, Aliou Diallo, 34, explained how he decided to quit his job as a grocer after the warehouse opened up.

“I saw a chance,” says Diallo. He has seven shops and warehouses around Senegal that employ 30 people.

According to Sarr, retailers often double the markup on clothing they buy from wholesalers.

“A trader who buys a T-shirt from me for 300 CFA francs can sell it in his shop up the road for 500, 700, 800,” he says.

Downsides

If wholesalers, retailers and customers are delighted with the second-hand business, specialists say there is also a disadvantage.

As developing countries elsewhere have come to experience, the dumping of cheap or free clothing can cripple the local textile industry.

Mamadou Sarr (L), 23, a wholesaler of second hand clothes prepares his stall at the Colobane Market, the biggest market of second-hand clothes in the senegalese capital Dakar. (Photo by Mariama DARAME / AFP)

In the 1980s, “customs duties (in Senegal) were slashed and import quotas were abolished, and this opened the door to massive imports of second-hand clothes,” says Ahmadou Aly Mbaye, a professor of economics at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar.

Textile companies “disappeared from Senegal and the neighbouring region,” he notes.

Any attempt to revive the country’s garment industry would encounter “the huge obstacle” posed by cheap imports, he says.

And if the workers at Le Relais enjoy job security and other conditions, such rights are rare in the clothing recycling business, adds Mbaye.

Many people have job insecurity, suffer more accidents and are lower paid than counterparts in other areas of the economy, he says.

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Ex-health minister arrested for embezzling Ebola funds in DR Congo

Ilunga, who resigned as health minister in July, was detained while hiding in an apartment in Kinshasa

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DR Congo's health minister resigns after removal from key Ebola response role
Former DR Congo health minister Oly Ilunga. (AFP)

Former DR Congo health minister Oly Ilunga has been arrested over allegations he embezzled public funds to tackle the Ebola epidemic, police said on Saturday.

Ilunga, who resigned as health minister in July after being removed as head of the country’s Ebola response team, was detained while hiding in an apartment in the capital Kinshasa ahead of a bid to flee the country, officers said.

He is in custody due to “misdemeanors of the mismanagement of funds allocated to the Ebola response,” police spokesman Colonel Pierrot-Rombaut Mwanamputu told AFP.

Ilunga will be referred to prosecutors on Monday, he added.

It comes after Ilunga was questioned in August as part of an inquiry into the management of funds to fight the outbreak, which has claimed more than 2,000 lives since August 2018.

Ilunga, 59, had already been banned from leaving the country.

He stepped down after criticising plans by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) to introduce a new, unlicensed vaccine to fight the epidemic.

His lawyer told AFP in September that some payments had been made to local chiefs after the killing of a WHO doctor in April.

More than 200,000 people have been vaccinated during DR Congo’s tenth and most serious Ebola epidemic.

It is the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014 and 2016.

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Telemedicine revolution saving lives in Ivory Coast

The fledgling technology has long been championed by health advocates for rural economies.

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Telemedicine revolution in saving lives in Ivory Coast

Every time Catherine Coulibaly’s 19-year-old son had to make a routine appointment with the cardiologist for his heart condition, she gritted her teeth as she silently counted the financial cost.

It wasn’t just the hospital fee — there was the transport, food and accommodation, too, all of it amounting to a hefty burden for an Ivorian family on a modest income.

But thanks to telemedicine – consultations that doctors conduct through the internet or by phone – this cost is now a fading memory. 

Her son can book an appointment at a telemedicine facility in a nearby town in northern Ivory Coast.

There, he is attached to monitoring machines which send the data sent to Bouake University Hospital in the centre of the country, where it is scrutinised by a heart doctor.

The fledgling technology has long been championed by health advocates for rural economies.

Ivory Coast has become an African testbed for it, thanks to a project linking the Bouake hospital’s cardiac department with health centres in several northern towns, some of which are a four-hour drive away. 

Telemedicine “caused a sigh of relief for the population of Bouake, Boundiali, Korhogo, everyone,” says Auguste Dosso, president of the “Little Heart” association, which helps families with cardiac health issues.

Some 45 percent of the Ivorian population live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank’s latest estimate in 2017. And the minimum monthly wage — not always respected — is only around $100, or 90 euros. 

Heart disease surging

The pioneer behind the scheme is cardiologist Florent Diby, who set up an association called Wake Up Africa.

In Ivory Coast, heart disease, diabetes and other “lifestyle” ailments are surging, Diby explained. 

“Urbanisation is making people more sedentary, and there’s the rise in tobacco consumption, changes in diet, stress,” Diby said.

Three decades ago, only around one in eight of the Ivorian population had high blood pressure — now the figure is one in four, on a par with parts of Western Europe.

But in Ivory Coast — and across Africa — well-equipped cardiology units are rare.

“Ninety percent of heart attacks can be diagnosed by telemedicine, so for us cardiologists it’s a revolutionary technology,” said Diby.

The beauty of the telemedicine scheme is that neither the doctor nor the patient has to travel far. 

The cardiac patient is hooked up to the electrocardiogram (ECG) and other diagnostic machines with the help of a technician in a local health centre, which is connected to a computer in Bouake’s University Hospital. 

The cardiologist there can then see the results in real time, provide a diagnosis and prescribe treatment. 

The five-year-old project has already linked 10 health centres to the seven cardiologists at Bouake, enabling 4,800 patients in other towns to receive consultations by telemedicine each year. The goal is to expand this to 20 sites, doubling the intake.

Expertise France, the French public agency for international technical assistance, subsidises up to 185,000 euros of the network, which pays for equipment such as computers, artificial intelligence software and internet connections. 

Diby is now calling for telemedicine to be expanded in other medical fields such as neurology and psychiatry, not just in the Ivory Coast, but across West Africa too. 

That opinion is shared by other experts. Sixty per cent of Africans live in rural areas, where shortages of doctors are usually acute.

But numerous hurdles need to be overcome, especially investment in computers and access to the internet, according to a 2013 analysis published by the US National Library of Medicine. 

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Moroccan journalist arrested over “Illegal abortion”

Rights groups urged Moroccan authorities to release her, as her lawyers have firmly denied the “illegal abortion” charge.

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hajar raissouni
Hajar Raissouni. Photo credit - Amnesty.org

Hajar Raissouni writes for the Arabic-language daily Akhbar Al-Yaoum, which has a history of run-ins with the authorities.

She was arrested as she left a clinic in Rabat where her lawyer Saad Sahli said she had been undergoing treatment for internal bleeding. 

But the 28-year-old was examined by a medic and the prosecution said she showed signs of pregnancy and of having undergone a “late voluntary abortion”.

In a statement, it insisted her detention had “nothing to do with her profession as a journalist”.

On Friday, Rights groups urged Moroccan authorities to immediately release her, as her lawyers have firmly denied the “illegal abortion” charge.

Raissouni, who is religiously but not yet legally married, is also accused of having “sexual relations outside marriage” and faces a court hearing on Monday.

Her lawyers are lodging a complaint against police for forcing her to have a medical examination, her uncle Souleymane Raissouni told AFP.  

Also arrested were her fiancee, a doctor, a nurse and a secretary. 

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on Friday joined social media users in calling for her release.

“Instead of intimidating Hajar Raissouni by prosecuting her on unjust charges, the authorities should immediately and unconditionally release her,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s regional director.

Ahmed Benchemsi, regional communications director at HRW, echoed Morayef’s call for all charges to be dropped.

The case had “a whiff of political manipulation since the defendant is a reporter from one of Morocco’s last newspapers,” he said.

Touafik Bouachrine, the owner of Raissouni’s newspaper, was sentenced in November to 12 years in prison on charges of rape and other offences.

He also denies all charges and his lawyers say his trial was politically motivated.

Raissouni’s arrest sparked heated debate online, and some 150 journalists signed a petition against “campaigns of defamation” against her.

Moroccan law punishes abortions with up to five years in prison, except in cases where the life of the mother is in danger.

However, NGOs say up to 800 women have clandestine abortions every day in the North African country.

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