One of the many reasons many parts of Africa are still underdeveloped today is because we are not able to manufacture our needs by ourselves but relying on imports from other countries. One of such needs is clothes. It’s sad to know that for decades majority of Africans stuffed their wardrobes with mostly second-hand clothes.

Our local industries will never see the light of day if we don’t take actions to start processing our own materials someday.

Africa makes designer clothes for export markets and they are worn out there in Western countries, but once these clothes get stale, they get shipped back for us to wear.

That’s exactly the situation of the textile industry in Africa; a clash between Rwanda and the United States after the Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame took a decision to press on with the ban of imported second-hand clothes from the US, has revealed the Western world’s determination to keep Africa forever dependent on the foreign nations for survival.

This latest decision by President Kagame to completely phase-out the importation of used clothes into Rwanda has received strict warning from the US with a potential for Rwanda to lose duty-free access to the American market; exactly what the United States has used over the last decades to penetrate the country with its second-hand clothes. However, things may be changing pretty soon for both countries.

Prior to this ban, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and South Sudan decided to fully ban imported second-hand clothes and shoes by 2019, arguing that it would help member countries of the East African Community (EAC) to boost their individual domestic clothes manufacturing.

President Paul Kagame continues to phase-out second-hand clothes in Rwanda
President Kagame levies high taxes on imported second-hand clothes

Last year in an effort to cut down massively on cheap imports of used-clothing and footwear, the Rwandan government adopted a high tariff plan to impose on the importation of these second-hand clothes.

The Pseudo Effect

Remarkably, the US stands to suffer more from this ban, the reason why they have sent out threats to Rwanda on the possibility of losing its eligibility to duty-free markets in America. But it seems President Kagame was beforehand aware of the consequences of his decision.

The EAC countries are one of the most cherished markets for America’s used clothing industry with direct American exports to EAC member countries totaling about $24 million in 2016 while imports totaled $43 million in 2016, up from $33 million in 2015. The US, therefore, seems useless without these countries as a result of the recent ban.

Members of a US association of textile companies, SMART (Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association), argue that the decision by the EAC nations to ban imports of used clothing and footwear will bring about significant economic destitution on the USA’s used clothing industry.

As other member countries of the East African Community have joined to go through with this ban on second-hand clothing, the United States threat of losing duty-free access to American markets may just have applied to them as well.

Definitely, this means EAC countries will have to start paying custom duties in order to gain access to American markets but most importantly is the fact that these tariffs won’t just be normal as it has to be; they will have to pay even higher duties.

Rwanda has been on a move to autonomy and as a result, the government eased taxes on inputs under the “Made-in-Rwanda” initiative aimed at facilitating the country’s local textile industry’s growth.

President Kagame is one of several African leaders who have advocated for Africa being less dependent on external financing and as well, being an equal partner in the continent’s socio-economic progress.

Who’s in and who’s out?

Tanzania’s business community has argued that the country stands the chance of losing its eligibility to AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) which is an act that offers trade preferences for African countries to build free markets, providing incentives for duty-free entry into the US for certain goods.

However, the executive director of Tanzania’s Private Sector Foundation, Godfrey Simbeye states that the decision will have little effect on the country’s economy given that there are only a few industries in this market.

Tanzania’s decision to put through with the ban is, therefore, a move to initiate the country’s own industrialization drive and has started training local tailors since 2016 in a bid to realize this dream.

Kenya, on the other hand, has withdrawn its decision to proceed with the ban arguing that it will only help to bring about more policy measures that are trade-restrictive to protecting human health.

The country in effect reversed tariff increases that took effect on July 1, 2017. According to Kenya, the country will suffer immensely if they move on with this ban.

Used-clothes may be a good way for Africans to acquire clothing at cheaper prices, but certainly, the continent can’t continue begging for fish forever; we have to learn how to fish for ourselves and start manufacturing our own clothing.

With countries like Tanzania and Rwanda taking the lead in the move to phase-out used clothing in Africa, the continent stands a chance of being recognized as an independent entity as opposed to contrary Western views and are more than ready to face the impacts that come with this ban head-on.


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