March 3, 2018
By Anne Kiruku
East African News Agency, Arusha
A threat by the US to impose sanctions on goods from East African countries, which will not remove restrictions on imports of used clothes and leather products, is nothing but malicious.
The East African Community (EAC) should indeed call their bluff and stick to the agreement made among the partner states two years ago to gradually phase out the importation of second-hand clothing and leather products over a three-year period beginning 2019.
It is unfortunate that some EAC partner states, such as Kenya, have since bowed to pressure from the West, rescinded the decision on the affected imports and reversed tariff increases that had been imposed.
This followed threats by the US to end the eligibility of East African countries for duty-free clothing exports to the US market under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
It is cowardly of Kenya to retreat on an agreement with other EAC partner states in order to please the US.
Although Kenya exports goods worth $552 million a year to the US, eclipsing the rest of the EAC partner states at a combined $230 million, buckling to the threat was unwise considering what the country stands to lose.
Protecting local textile manufacturers would go a long way in creating jobs and improving the livelihoods of millions of people.
The US is now pushing Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda to remove the restrictions. If they do not bow to the pressure, the US has threatened to impose trade penalties in retaliation for what it sees as a blockage of free trade.
Rwanda has, however, vowed not to bow to the pressure from the US to reduce taxes and lift the ban. President Paul Kagame has said that Rwanda prefers to grow its domestic industries, an attitude that should be adopted by other regional leaders.
It is unfortunate that the trade in second-hand clothes has denied Africans an opportunity to stimulate the growth of their textile and leather industries.
Both of these industries have virtually collapsed since the entry of second-hand clothes and leather products into the market.
This led to the loss of thousands of jobs, in addition to the impoverishment of farmers.
This is because these industries were providing employment to thousands of people, either directly or indirectly, greatly boosting local economies.
It is hypocritical of the US government to insinuate that a ban on imports of used clothes will not build the domestic textile sector and is uncalled for.
In real sense, the ban on mitumba – as these second-hand items are referred to in the region – is also a battle between African dignity and American jobs.
It is unfortunate that poverty has led to a lack of dignity, where Africans do not have a sense of pride and can wear clothes disposed of by other people.
Mitumba are not only unhygienic, but also capable of transmitting diseases.
While the west preserves and highly values the dignity of their people, they have pushed their dirty linen down the throats of Africans.
There is a need to stand by the ban on second-hand paraphernalia in the region so that the dignity and self-confidence of Africans can be restored.
Moreover, the importation of second-hand items greatly hampers the realisation of economic blueprints in our respective countries and the region as a whole.
The little that is left of the local manufacturing sector will collapse under the weight of cheap imports.
Due to the low costs of second-hand clothes, local textile manufacturers and self-employed tailors cannot compete, so they end up closing shop.
By bowing to pressure from the West, the region will deny itself a great opportunity for embarking on massive job creation, poverty reduction and technological advancement.
This revitalisation of the textile and leather industries holds great potential for making a significant impact on local economies and generally improving the quality of life of local citizens.
It is common knowledge that developed countries benefit immensely from the export of used goods to African countries, not only financially, but also in terms of waste management.
This is, sadly, to the detriment of Africa. The many negative effects that the mitumba trade has on health and the economy of poor developing countries need not be gainsaid.
It is now the duty of the regional partner states to make a choice between breaking AGOA ties with the US and developing their own local industries; this may necessitate a significant setback in the short-term, but will offer lasting economic benefits to the region.
Bravo Rwanda for standing firm. Uganda and Tanzania, too, should stick to their guns, decisively. The pressure must be on Kenya to stand firm so we can all protect local manufacturing industries in the region.