Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital
Clothing donations may be banned in East Africa in the next few years.
Recently, it has become clear that clothing donations sent to Africa from the US or Europe may actually be hurting local manufacturers. The manufacturing industry in East Africa has gained a head of steam in the last few years, recovering from the massive hit factories took during the debt crisis in the 1980s and ’90s. With technological advances and a rapidly growing workforce, a local supply chain could be an important step for the region’s developing economy. Progress, however, has been so remarkable that given the right circumstances and leadership, the East African manufacturing district could compete with Southeast Asia in quantities exported to Europe and the US. This progress is being dampened, however, because clothing donations from the US and Europe are sent to East Africa in massive quantities and sold for very little money in local markets. The prices are so low, in fact, that domestic manufacturers cannot compete.
While clothing donations are obviously given with the best of intentions, they are sent to East Africa in such staggering quantities that the donated garments make up nearly 80% of the clothing sold in markets. Of course, impoverished people from Kenya, Uganda and surrounding countries want to spend as little as possible on clothing, but the region’s economic future depends largely on employment and economic stimulation provided by the manufacturing companies. As a result, donations actually keep the local economy from improving and blocks progress in East African manufacturing development. The effect has been so devastating, in fact, that Kenya alone has gone from a manufacturing workforce of approximately 500,000 people to only about 20,000 workers today.
In response to the continuous stunting of the local manufacturing industry, officials are considering a ban on charitable clothing donations in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.
New clothing will still be imported to supplement locally fabricated goods, but hordes of used clothing will no longer trample the potential of East African manufactured garments, should the ban go forward as planned.
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