In 2016, the East African heads of State agreed to implement a ban on second clothing items in an effort to boost growth in the textile and leather industries within member states.
This would be done by progressively increasing the tax on the second hand apparel imported until they are too expensive to be bought by the average person. This individual would then turn to purchasing the locally made items or the imported brand new items.
Firstly, let me start by confessing that I have been a consumer of second hand clothing items as I am sure many of you are, So this is one of those issues that a number of us are directly affected by and can relate to.
However, reality doesn’t set in until you discover that the price of an item you usually purchase has been increased by 20% or more. To be honest this can be tough on one’s wallet especially in today’s economy.
After one not so pleasing shopping experience I decided I needed to be informed on the matter and so I did some research on the topic of second hand clothing. My findings were rather astonishing and in some instances annoying.
Picture the early 1980s with the recently independent East African countries are finally coming out of their shell. Opportunities are being seized and people, young and old are hard at work, building their countries and making a genuine living.
They have finally decided to make lemonade with the lemons of colonialism and have invested in the textile industry. They are producing everything from clothing items to shoes, have established value chains right from the raw material to the finished products.
They have also managed to build up on production to the level where they can export to neighbouring countries and in turn have created so many jobs.
Then all of a sudden it’s the 1990s and before you notice what is really happening, they are put out of business. The reason? You guessed it! Second hand clothing.
In 2008, Canadian professor of Business economics and Public policy Garth Frazer developed a model that showed the negative impact second hand items have on the recipient country’s production capacity indicating that for every 1% import of these second hand items, there was a 0.61% decrease in apparel production by said country.
What happened in the early 90’s that literally tipped the scale was the introduction of cheap clothing items. Not only that, they provided variety and kept up with the market demand with very few delays.
In essence, what the developed countries viewed as charity and donating to the “poor” resulted in the unraveling an industry that had put food on many tables and back pedaled several economies. The model goes ahead to relate this to “food aid” but that is a story for another day.
In retrospect, what we have been doing for the past couple of decades is cripple our own ability to produce our own garments. Without realising it, we have destroyed jobs and suppressed the creativity of our own people especially when our continent has some of the most talented artists and designers.
In a conversation with one of the people that witnessed the making and unmaking of the textile industry, he shared on how the designers and artists at the time were looked at with awe, amazement and aspiration. Yet today, young people are often discouraged from joining the creative industry.
Therefore taking all the above into context, I commend the leaders that have decided to take on this rather tough stance to revive a sector that was once a source of employment to many and celebrated the creative abilities of our people.
Having said this, I have not forgotten what this means to the average Rwandan who won’t have the means to purchase these clothing items. However, I am also a strong believer in the human being’s ability to adapt to whatever situation, its basic natural selection.
Perhaps this could even be the push some need to go into the apparel making business since it is clear there is an opportunity here.