Aiming for self sufficiency

Just like Rwanda, sub-Saharan Africa must now develop its own domestic textile industries

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By Alexander Opicho

The US has chosen to punish Rwanda by suspending the AGOA pact for duty-free access to Rwanda’s textile imports on the premise that the tiny nation has refused to lower trade tariffs and barriers for American-made clothing and shoes. This punitive suspension applies to all AGOA-eligible clothing products from Rwanda.

America is doing this under a raft of new policies executed by the USTR (United States Trade Representative). The USTR, under the hegemony of Trump, last year began an out-of-cycle review to determine the submissive eligibility of the East African countries to keep their trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

AGOA was initiated in 2000 by the friendly leadership of Bill Clinton in, aimed at rewarding African nations that undertake economic and governance reforms with duty-free US market access. But the Trump regime has come up with USTR to review the AGOA on the basis of the argument that some East African nations decided to cease importing from the US used clothes and shoes, an act it perceives as unfriendly to the US economy’s growth.

In February, the head of economic and regional affairs at the Africa Bureau of the US State Department issued the three countries an ultimatum to reverse the ban or face trade sanctions. Current statistics show that the US exported $330,000 (Sh33 million) worth of textiles and apparel to Rwanda in 2016 and imported about $460,000 (Sh46 million). However, Coffee and tea shipments were Rwanda’s top US exports, worth $18 million (Sh1.8 billion).

Rwanda has been exemplary in its governance model given its trendy improvement in its overall business environment and rebuilding of the economy since the genocide experience in 1994 that killed as many as 800,000 people. Currently, Rwanda is ranked second in Africa after Mauritius, in the World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business report, which said it has carried out the most business-friendly reforms in the region in the past 15 years. However, the Trump leadership has a flexed policy towards suspension of AGOA benefits for Tanzania and Uganda as well because each has taken steps toward eliminating prohibitive tariff rates on imports of used clothing and footwear.

The six-nation East African Community comprising of 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 boost production and uptake of domestically-made clothe and textile products. The United States was petitioned by the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART) which complained that the ban imposed significant hardship on the US used-clothing industry and violated AGOA rules. Kenya withdrew its decision to ban used clothes imports after threats by the United States to review trade benefits which Kenya was a major beneficiary. The other countries did not budge. Rwandan President Paul Kagame said that his country would proceed with the ban on used clothes imports and choose to grow its local textile industry at the expense of being a member of the AGOA. Uganda and Rwanda raised taxes for used clothes and offered incentives to manufacturers to invest in their local textile industry.

Worth replicating

Cotton growing and textile technology can be done with comparative advantages in Africa. Availability of land, reliable rainfall, youthful population and capital resources gives Africa the right position to make its own textile products and not to rely on the used up second hand clothes from America.

If Trump insists on imposing things as basic as second hand clothes on Africa, then it is clear for all to see what his policy for Africa is –he is deliberately killing the African economy.

The idea is that all African countries ought to unite on this and begin manufacturing clothes and eliminate their importation. Kenya and Uganda had very good textile economy in the last century; Jinja town in Uganda and Kenya’s Nakuru town had thriving textile factories employing over 20,000 people – until the influx of mitumba began. The textile factories in Nakuru and Jinja were closed down. The only way to revamp these factories and create meaningful opportunities is to protect the local apparel market from predators like Trump. (

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