“Augment the Argument” By Cosmas Steven Mvula
The tough call by local textile manufactures that government should ban importation of kaunjika (second-hand clothes) indicates a deficiency in policy making as a developing country. Much as there is a need to appreciate that our textile industry deserves our attention to realize its potential we need not to forget that we have not started enjoying economies of scale in the industry to necessitate the production of clothes at fair prices for the citizens.
We need not to be reminded that Malawi is a small economy rated as amongst the poorest countries in the world. We have too many things to work on as a country from a dream for safe portable water for some people to a dream for food self-sufficiency.
Over 15 million people in Malawi live in abject poverty but we expect them to start buying new clothes from Malawian manufactures though we know that the prices for the clothes will not match the buying power of the citizens. Will that be a fair deal?
Many school children in the villages are go to school bare footed and with torn clothes every day. Isn’t it a sign that we have other better things to attend to before we get to improving the local textile industry? The economy of ordinary Malawians needs to be taken into consideration before we make the final decision as a country. Yes the local industry needs to grow but how best can we make it grow?
On the other side, why a call for a ban on kaunjika clothes and not on new clothes from other countries? Isn’t it certainly because we know it ourselves that the quality of our clothes is wanting and we can’t match genuine clothes manufactured abroad? Why not call for a ban on Chinese clothes which have a short life span and remains a big ploy to steal the poor’s money by the foreign country? Can’t the ban for these clothes create more market for the local manufacturers whilst allowing poor Malawians enjoy the cheap kaunjika clothes? That, in itself, is a sign that we accept the infancy of our textile industry and calling for the ban of kaunjika is a decimal call for the industry captains.
Even if the ban may be effected can we supply the current demand for cheap clothes at the prices the citizens are willing and able to pay? Can we absorb the needed labor force for the sudden growth to meet the demand on the market?
All these questions are meant to drive us into settling for decisions aimed at growing our textile industry overtime.
Therefore, we have a number of options to pursue instead of completely banning kaunjika.
There is a need for huge investments in the textile industry and a need to give ourselves ample time until we define ourselves fully grown to clothe ourselves. There is a need to invite foreign companies to invest in Malawi and use locally available materials which implicitly improve lives of cotton farmers.
There is a need to ban low class Chinese clothes. This will create room for growth of the local industry because the gap created will make Malawians divert to the locally manufactured clothes.
There is a need to introduce a monthly quota for kaunjika which may make a very good transition to a fully grown industry. This would be a fair deal for both consumers and local manufacturers whilst we allow our economy to grow slowly before we get to a level of completely banning kaunjika. This will mean that Malawi imports a number of kaunjika bales per month which will create room for local manufacturers to serve the gap deliberately created for their growth.
Additionally, hiking the import taxes on some kaunjika clothes say men trousers, for example, will mean that the quantity of importation on such clothes will be controlled and eventually creating room for local industry growth.
For words are meaningless without intent and follow through, there is a need for policy change to allow the proposed changes to be effected and become operational. The policy makers need to understand the difference the proposed options may can bring in the lives of both the citizens and the local manufacturers. In that way sanity will prevail and both sides will feel treated fairly
***Views Expressed are those of the Author***