E. African bloc seeks to spur demand for local textiles

KIGALI, Rwanda

An East African bloc’s decision to promote the wearing of locally made attire and annual exhibits in the member states will help the garments gain popularity, said experts.

The optimism follows the East Africa Community’s (EAC) recent declarations of Fridays as Afrika Mashariki (East) Fashion Day, during which the people in East Africa will wear attires manufactured in the region.

Afrika Mashariki Fashion Week would also be held annually in the first week of September for trade fair and exhibition of locally designed textiles and garments.

The declarations are expected to get effected in all EAC member states — Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan.

According to Simon Peter Owaka, senior public relations officer at the EAC Secretariat, the declarations are part of strategies adopted by the region to stimulate demand for locally made textiles and garments, and to build brand identity.

“The declarations would enhance local consumption of East Africa-made products and enhance our productive capacity in the textile sector. Imagine a foreigner moving in EAC countries on a particular Friday and finding people donning similar attire — a strong message of an intact community,” Owaka told Anadolu Agency.

He underlined that if a combined population of nearly 190 million people bought an attire for Friday, many jobs will be created, incomes improved and the people of East Africa will no longer have to depend on used clothes.

In 2017, the EAC member states agreed to grant garments and textiles manufacturers a three-year waiver of duties and value added tax (VAT) on inputs, fabrics and accessories not accessible in the region, in an effort to boost local production and to reduce the cost of production.

The bloc also adopted a three-year strategy — from 2017 to 2019 — for the phase-out of importation of used clothes and shoes by imposing increased levies on the products.


Leonard Munyandamutsa, an investment and trade expert, believes the declarations will motivate local and foreign companies to invest in local production.

According to Owaka, the EAC member states are expected to develop national policies and legal framework to foster implementation of the regional policy decisions.

“Through member states, mechanisms or guidelines will be put in place to promote implementation of these policy decisions. Implementation in some countries is already underway. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are already pursuing similar policy agenda. We want the entire region to move together,” he said.

Owaka explained that annual Afrika Mashariki Week will be hosted in all member states on a rotational basis each year.

Desire Maniriho, a resident of Rwanda’s capital Kigali, said wearing of new locally made attires will “restore their East African pride”.

However, Miriam Maombe, a Kenyan woman working in Kigali, argued that prices of locally made products are much higher, which discourage buyers.

“Imported clothes, especially second-hand ones, are still cheaper compared to locally made attires, this is a serious undoing to promotion agenda for local products among low income earners,” she said.

Cotton is an important factor in textile and garment manufacturing.

Revival of textiles

A recent study by the EAC Secretariat on cotton, textile and apparel value chains revealed that the EAC region has potential to become a major player in the regional production and trade in cotton, textiles and apparels products.

The study showed that the regional textile industry will have a potential trade valued at $3 billion by 2025, compared with a total of $340 million in apparel exports from the region in 2013.

It said growth of the imports of used clothes hampered the development potential in the sector.

“EAC is taking steps to revolutionize and revive cotton, textiles and apparels production and consumption. The region is repositioning itself to take advantage of offshoring opportunities, thanks to rising labor cost in China. With the new EAC Cotton, Textiles and Apparels Strategy, the region is heading to become the hub for garments manufacturing in Africa,” Owaka said.

Sylvain Muyoboke, a Kigali-based importer, said locally made attires are yet to pose a serious threat to their businesses — but he is afraid that with robust promotion campaigns, the competition could be tough in the near future.

Overall, the importation of used clothes and shoes was on upward trend in all the EAC member states — before a recent phase-out policy of their importation by increasing levies — with the trade value in 2015 amounting to $151 million, according to the EAC Secretariat study.

The used clothes and shoes were mainly imported from the U.S., U.K. and Canada, partly in the form of donations.

The EAC study showed that imports of used clothes and shoes in Africa in general, accounted for roughly 40% of the decline in local production and 50% of the decline in employment.
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