The Stream

Why are Rwanda and the US arguing over second-hand clothes?

Designers, tailors and manufacturers look to reinvent their businesses as government maintains restrictions on ‘chagua’.

Rwanda is aiming to make imports of secondhand clothing a thing of the past, as part of an effort to boost opportunities for homegrown businesses. In 2019 it plans for a total ban on imports of used clothing, having already progressively raised import tariffs on such goods.

Rwandan government and development leaders say that the move away from importing used clothes – variously called ‘chagua’, ‘mitumba’ or ‘salaula’ in African countries – will restore pride and dignity to Rwandans used to sifting through piles of secondhand garments imported from Western countries, particularly the United States.

The Rwandan government stands alone in implementing import restrictions, despite the US government responding by blocking it from exporting domestically-made clothing to the US tax-free. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania had previously joined Rwanda in pledging to phase out the import of used clothing but later bowed to US trade pressure and withdrew from the tariffs and ban proposed through the East African Community (EAC).

Rwandan domestic opinion on the import restrictions is mixed. Proponents say removing used clothing from domestic markets helps clear the way to start building a vibrant and self-sufficient manufacturing base. But critics are concerned that used clothing traders have seen their businesses crumble and that the import ban has instead cleared the way for a flood of cheap new clothing from places such as China and Turkey.

We’ll take a look at Rwanda’s efforts to kickstart its homegrown businesses and the hopes and concerns of people in trade and industry. Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Dany Rugamba @Rugaamba
Communications coordinator, Moshions

Julie Zerbo @TheFashionLaw
Lawyer & founder, Fashion Law  

Linda Mukangoga @LindaNdungutse  
Founder & creative director, Haute Basoadfa

Jacqueline Shaw @AfricaFashGuide
Founder, Africa Fashion Guide

Read more:
The politics of second-hand clothes: a debate over dignity – Al Jazeera
African nations are fed up with the West’s hand-me-downs. But it’s tough to keep them out – Washington Post

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