Accepted paper:

Towards a post-neoliberal development agenda? The East African Community and the second-hand clothing trade


Peter O'Reilly (University of York)
Tony Heron (University of York)

Paper short abstract:

This paper sets out to assess claims that we are entering a post-neoliberal development phase in Africa. It does so through a focus on the East African Community's decision, in March 2016, to phase-out and eventually ban outright the importation of second-hand clothing.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper, we set out to assess claims that we are witnessing a turn in Africa to a new post-neoliberal development phase characterised by state-activism and strategic trade and industrial policy. We focus on the specific case of the East African Community (EAC) and its decision, in March 2016, to phase-out and eventually ban outright the importation of second-hand clothing (SHC). While the EAC partner-states have recently come to partially scale back the SHC ban, we argue that intentions behind this policy are significant. Notably, the SHC ban is reminiscent of African trade policies of the early postwar period rather than the more recent neoliberal practices with which the continent has become synonymous. In the paper, we ask what factors led the EAC partner-states to instigate a ban on second-hand clothing and what is its wider political significance. Specifically, we argue that SHC ban has been driven by a sense of vulnerability, as other parts of the global south have shown inclinations towards industrialisation and structural transformation, and a sense of grievance that the region has become a dumping ground for textiles and clothing produced elsewhere. However, while suggesting that the broader reappraisal of industrial policy is not unwelcome, we highlight the challenges of developing a regional apparel industry, through import-substitution, in the context of an internationalised textiles and clothing trade. Furthermore, using the SHC ban as a case study, we also highlight the tensions within the EAC between the endeavour for regional market-integration and more recent efforts of promoting structural transformation.

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