A common observation across many East African nations is the massive second hand clothes markets which employ thousands of people and offer cheap clothes to customers.
According to the UN, up to 80% of Africans wear second-hand clothes also known as ‘hand-me-downs’.
These clothes are blamed for killing local textile industries in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Rwanda forcing the East African Community to call for a ban on their importation by 2019.
Speaking to CNN Market Place Africa, Mayambala Wafrika Chairperson Worldwide African Congress expressed his support for the ban saying: “after 50 years of independence our country Uganda and other African countries should have the ability to produce and manufacture certain things like clothes locally.”
Others feel that the move will lead to massive job losses which are not guaranteed in the local textile industries struggling to remain afloat.
“It is not yet time. It is a good idea. It is part of governments’ planning, but not all plans can be effected at once,” Kabuka Adams, General Secretary Owino Market Traders Association in Uganda observed. An argument also supported by some business analysts that suggest that instead of phasing out importation at once, the region should import used clothes as it develops its own textile industry.
UN estimates that South Korea and Canada combined have at one time exported $59m worth of used clothes to Tanzania while Kenya imported used clothes worth $42 from the UK alone.
If such money is used in developing local textile industries, it would boost the economy of the concerned countries and the region as a whole.
“Once we get to a point where we do production locally, then the economy grows and can actually benefit everybody,” Nunu Mugyenyi co-founder Bold in Africa said in the CNN interview.
Introducing high tax is one sure way to ensure that second hand clothes competes fairly with those produced locally.
Moreover, it will help EAC avoid unnecessary frictions with Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) whose leaders were not pleased with the regional hub proposal to end a multimillion-dollar business through the ban.
A vendor sells secondhand clothes at Gikomba market, Nairobi
Image: NOOR KHAMIS / REUTERS