Kagame Is Smiling At Trump’s Trade Ban

By David Himbara

US President Donald Trump has banned Rwanda’s apparel products from duty-free status. Rwanda’s apparels will henceforth be subjected to duties on entry into the American market due to a trade dispute. The dispute began when Kagame increased tariffs on American used clothing and footwear.

When Trump issued a 60-day notification that Rwanda would be suspended unless it replicated as per the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Kagame refused to back down. He maintained duties on American products.

Kagame out of step with fellow East African leaders

Recall that other East African leaders, namely, Presidents Yoweri Museveni, Uhuru Kenyatta, and John Magufuli, also sought to raise duties on US used apparels. But when the US reminded them of reciprocal arrangements whereby trade is a two-way traffic, the East African leaders abandoned unilateral intentions. The East African heads of state backed down because the United States is a substantial market for their products. Kenyan exports to the US in 2016 totaled US$565 Million. Tanzanian exports to the US in 2016 totaled US$158 Million. Ugandan exports to the US totaled US$51 Million in 2016.

Rwanda’s apparel exports to the US are too tiny to appear in trade data

The value of Rwanda’s exports to the United States is pathetic — the ban hardly makes a difference. Remove the traditional exports of coffee and tea, you are left with less than US$7 Million of Rwandan exports to the US.

According to the Office of the United States representative, Rwandan exports to the US totaled US$26 Million in 2016. The top categories of Rwandan exports were:

  • Coffee and tea — US$18 Million
  • Ores, slag, and tantalum— US$3 Million
  • Vegetable saps and extracts — US$2 Million
  • Leather products — US$1 Million
  • Wicker and basketware — US$860,000

In other words, the apparel products that are targeted by the Trump ban are too tiny to appear on the list of Rwanda’s exports to the United States.

Rampant poverty in Rwanda means most people, especially in the rural areas, can barely afford second-hand clothes let alone new ones.

Kagame, therefore, has nothing to lose from the Trump ban because Rwandan exports of clothing largely remains a fantasy. But Kagame has a lot to gain propaganda-wise. I bet he will boast that he is fighting for the African dignity. Kagame will proclaim that Africans and Rwandans, in particular, don’t deserve to wear second-hand clothes . Never mind that on average Rwandans live on an income of US$748 a year. That lowly per capita income becomes US$62 a month, and US$2 a day.

Despite the fact that most Rwandans earn US$2 a day, Kagame wants them to buy new clothes.