Path to genuine African development
In her book, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa, Zambian writer Dambisa Moyo made a strong case for a re-evaluation of the extant development models governing relations between Africa and the ‘First World.’
The recent controversy over used clothes in East Africa underscores this point as the continued flourishing of the trade in used clothes is being blamed as a major factor responsible for hampering the development of a textile industry in the region
Even the names which locals have given them points to this fact. In Kenya for example, they are called the “clothes of dead white people.” In Mozambique, they are the “clothing of calamity.”
Fed up with this burden and looking for new ways to assert their basic right to economic self-determination, the nations of East Africa no longer want the foreign hand-me-downs dumped on them and are presently insisting on manufacturing their own clothes.
Sadly however, rather than being encouraged along this path, hurdles are being mounted on their way by a neo-imperial alliance that is being led by Donald Trump’s America.
Indeed, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Burundi had moved some distance on this path, first by raising tariffs on them, then by an outright ban on the imports of secondhand clothing and shoes in a bid to boost efforts to build domestic textile industries. To cap it, had been a proposed outright ban by 2019.
To be sure, the ‘hand-me-down’ burden is not restricted to shoes and clothes. It is also the situation with cars, planes, hospital equipment, computers and wait for it, drugs! (that is, expired drugs).
A recent study observed that in parts of the continent, ‘buses with Japanese lettering are ubiquitous. Planes in Congo have signs in Italian. Aspirin from Europe past its sell-by-date floods markets in Cameroon. Old medical equipment from the Netherlands lies idle in hospitals in South Africa. Ghana has become a dumping ground for huge amounts of electronic waste.’
It’s surely time to rework the economics of trade and development in Africa.
For President Paul Kagame and the government in Rwanda, there is an added burden: ‘wearing hand-me-downs compromises the dignity of its people.’
But how has the developed world responded to this outburst of nationalistic and patriotic fervour that ordinarilly should be commended? ‘In March, the Office of the United States Trade Representative threatened to remove four of the six East African countries included in the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, a preferential trade deal intended to lift trade and economic growth across sub-Saharan Africa.’
For an enraged Kagame, the region should rather than give in to blackmail, simply go ahead with the ban even if it means sacrificing some economic growth in the short term.
“We have to grow and establish our industries. This is the choice we find that we have to make. We might suffer consequences. Even when confronted with difficult choices, there is always a way.”
And the facts speak. East Africa imported $151 million worth of used clothes and shoes in 2015, mostly from Europe and America. At the other end of the spectrum, East Africa could export garments worth up to $3 billion annually within a decade, according to McKinsey.
“Politically and morally it is wrong,” Mukhisa Kituyi, the secretary general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and Kenya’s former trade minister, said of the American threat to remove countries from the trade deal. “The leadership of Rwanda and East Africa is right and should not lose sight of the bigger picture they have in mind.”
Beyond sheer nationalism, there is a lot of politics and self-interest that is also involved in the face-off. In America for example, the Trump administration is being egged on by a group of 40 used clothing exporters – the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association – which is making the point that as much as 40,000 American jobs may be lost if the East African market drops out of the loop. Also, with no foreign exit markets, these American used clothes would end up in landfills in the country to the hurt of the American environment!
“It’s hard to argue that the U.S. should continue to give preferential access to its market if the country is taking steps that harms U.S. companies,” says Grant Harris, principal adviser to then President Barack Obama on Africa.
But not everyone is as resolved as Kagame. Kenya for example has tactically opted out of the used-clothing ban because it risked losing its lucrative textiles exports to the United States; globally, Kenya exported about $380 million of clothing globally in 2015, much of it made for American companies. And to reward it for capitulating, the United States Trade Representative now says it will not review Kenya’s eligibility.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda