If you ever travel to the continent of Africa, you are likely to experience a visit to an African fabric market. Africa is one of the world’s largest markets for textiles. The reasons are not surprising—Africa is a land of patterns and symbols, and
these prints bare patterns and symbols that the African people can relate with. African fabrics have become popular among Africa’s socialites. Every weekend in Nigeria, people host parties that have become known as owambes. No
owambe is complete without people donning Ankara and other prints for the occasion.
However, despite this large market that the continent creates for the textile and fabrics industry, the manufacturing of these textiles and fabrics is very low, if not non-existent. Presently, most of the functioning print mills in Africa are owned by foreign manufacturers and the largest part of the fabrics in Africa are imported from China, placing China as the largest manufacturer of textiles and fabrics. Africa, on the other hand, is at an economic disadvantage because of this.
However, despite this large market that the continent creates for the textile and fabrics industry, the manufacturing of these textiles and fabrics is very low, if not non-existent. Presently, most of the functioning print mills in Africa are owned
by foreign manufacturers and the largest part of the fabrics in Africa are imported from China, placing China as the largest manufacturer of textiles and fabrics. Africa, on the other hand, is at an economic disadvantage because of this.
The question that haunts us is, despite the large market potential that Africa has, why does it still rely heavily on importation and multinational manufacturers for its textiles?
The Chinese domination of Africa's textile market has not always been the case. There was a time when Africa had a booming textile industry. Its decline, however, is based on some factors. Let’s take the Nigeria textile industry as a case
study. The Kaduna Textile Mill was the first modern textile industry in Nigeria. It started production in 1956.
The initial reason for setting up the mill was to process the abundant cotton produced in northern Nigeria. It was a success at the
start, the 70s to 90s being the golden period of Nigeria’s textile industry. In 1987, there were 37 textile firms in the country,operating 716,000 spindles and 17,541 looms. Between 1985 and 1991, the industry recorded an annual growth of 67%,
employing about 25% of the Nigerian labour population. Today, though, the industry is living in the shadow of its formerself.
What happened to this once booming industry? One of the things that accounts for Nigeria’s — and by extension, Africa’s — woes in the textile industry, is the WTO’s Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC) of 1995. The ATC came into effect in 2005 after the expiration of the Multifiber Agreement (MFA). Before the expiration of the MFA, the United States adopted the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). This initiative opened up the American market to Africa
products, textiles taking the lion's share. AGOA offered African exporters of textiles to the U.S. market duty-free access which was a great leverage over non-eligible members such as Asian countries, thereby reducing the cost of production
which gave the U.S. market a better option for African textile products. This led to the growth of Africa's textile industry.
With the ATC coming into effect in 2005, it lifted the protection the MFA gave African countries through the quota system, opening up the textile market to other countries like China. Chinese exports both in Africa and America increased rapidly
and eventually became a stronger competition than African companies could handle. This led to the decline of textile industries in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Along with this, the African textile industry also suffers from the hydra-headed
monster of government mismanagement, lack of enabling infrastructures like power supply, limited access to funds and poor production standards which make the few functioning local textile mills under-produce and unable to compete in a
global market. What this means is that China and other multinationals now dominate the African market.
In Nigeria, there have been many talks of government intervention to revive the local textile industry. But despite all the talks and promises, it remains a dream in the wind. As of today, Nigeria and Africa as a whole import about 85% of their
textiles from Asia.
The African fabric market is filled with hundreds of these imported fabrics which are loved by Africans and used to make clothing and other household items. At Quilt Africa, we select and share these beautiful African textiles which express the beauty of our people and distinct pride of the African continent. It is our hope that Africa might reclaim its position of dominance in the textile industry one day in the near future.
A special thank you to Sabi Writers for their contributing research for this articl