Rwandan President Leads African On Moves To Ban Second-Hand Clothing

By John Okoh


Rwandan President Paul Kagame is leading a fight against the trade in second clothing in Africa, following his refusal to yield to pressure by the United States of America to rescind the decision.

He pledged to stick with an East African plan to ban the import of second-hand clothes in spite of pressure from the US.

Mr Kagame said: “We are put in a situation where we have to choose – you choose to be a recipient of used clothes… or choose to grow our textile industries.”

Rwanda is planning to ban the import of second-hand clothes by 2019 and has already put up tariffs.

Standing on existing data, which shows that since the East African country imposed its tariffs on second-hand clothing imports, the value of its home-grown textile industry has increased from about $7m to $9m, Kagame is planning to ban the import of used clothing in 2019.

In the face of current debate on the negative impact of the trade on local textile industry, member states of the East Africa Union, which comprises Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, announced they would ban second-hand imports from 2019 to protect their own clothing manufacturers.

In Nigeria, the trade in second hand clothing is as old as the country itself. The argument in support of the trade is that it provides employment for many, though unskilled youths.

But the negative impact it creates on local production and the huge revenue it deprives countries in the continent through backward integration, apart from the multiplier effect its sustainance holds for creativity in related to fabric designs in a global economy that is changing taste, have helped to sustain the call to ban of second-hand clothing

In Nigeria with a huge market and growing youth unemployment, the story of its once buoyant textile industry is a sad tale. Only recently, the former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria and now emir of Kano, Mohammed Sanusi II, shouted himself hoarse over the continued neglect of the textile industry in Nigeria, despite the government inspired campaign that Nigerians should wear clothes made from local fabrics.

Calling on the Federal Government of Nigeria to take proactive steps to protect the textile industry, which has fallen on bad times since the beginning of civil rule in 1999, he listed how continued imports of inferior fabrics from China and some Asian countries were doing irreparable damage to the local  industry that used to provide employment for generations of thousands of Nigerians in the West African country. In Nigeria, the textile industry used to employ over 300,000 workers when all the textile mills in the country were functioning, but the country’s open door policy to unchecked import of cheap, inferior textile from abroad has negatively impacted the sector.

Estimating the negative impact of second-hand clothing on the Continent, the BBC says “By 2005, the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation estimated that more than 250,000 jobs in the sector had been lost in Africa”

“African countries, under pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund over many years, have undertaken structural adjustment programmes that have effectively reduced subsidies designed to protect their home-grown industry and therefore opened up their markets to foreign trade.

“This has made it much easier for European, American and Asian clothes manufacturers to export to the African continent.” And continues to kill initiative, creativity and skill in the sector in Africa.”

Hidden behind these facts is the impression that the trade is global, but countries like the US and some Asian countries where used clothing is also patronised are industrialised, technology based.