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The changing tides of Kigali’s fashion scene

Rwandan designer, Matthew Rugamba, long had dreams of designing for Hollywood’s biggest stars.

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The changing tides of Kigali’s fashion scene
Photo credit: Junior Nyongo - Instagram

Rwandan designer, Matthew Rugamba, long had dreams of designing for Hollywood’s biggest stars. Since 2011, he has built a loyal following for his House of Tayo brand, fusing African heritage with contemporary designs to create brightly coloured, mixed-print items like bow ties and infinity scarves. But he had struggled to break out from the local fashion scene.

In 2018, he got his break. Lupita Nyong’o agreed to wear a three-piece design of his sketches. After Lupita posted a photo of her brother wearing the suit to her 7.8 million Instagram followers, tagging House of Tayo and using the hashtag #FromRwandatoWakanda, thousands flocked to the brand’s social media accounts. “It was huge,” Rugamba remembers. “It was great for credibility.”

Rwanda is a nation of 12 million people, but has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with aspirations of becoming a middle-income nation by 2035. And Rugamba is the beneficiary of one of a series of homegrown initiatives aimed at sustaining high and inclusive growth in different industries, including the country’s nascent fashion scene.

‘Made in Rwanda’

One of those initiatives is “Made in Rwanda,” launched in 2015, which aims to recapture parts of the Rwandan market from imports while improving the competitiveness of Rwandan exports globally. How? By boosting private businesses and the manufacturing sector, augmenting garment and leather production, reducing operation costs, and helping small businesses, like Rugamba’s, get finance from the government or commercial banks.

As part of this strategy, Rwanda this year will totally ban imports of Western hand-me-downs after years of raising tariffs on such goods in a bid to boost its own domestic textiles industry. Second-hand clothing is a multimillion-dollar industry in Rwanda that employed up to 22,000 people as of 2016, according to a study by USAID.

Despite the enthusiasm, manifold challenges hinder Rwanda’s fashion industry from floating away on a nimbus of success just yet. Designers are particularly concerned with the prohibitive requirements set for them to obtain financing. Rugamba, for instance, says he initially couldn’t get a bank to issue him a point of sale gadget because they didn’t think his business would make money.

In the first two years since the launch of “Made in Rwanda,” the government said total export receipts increased from $559 million in 2015 to $944 million in 2017. To build momentum, Rwanda could learn from challenges facing countries like Ethiopia. Its “Made in Ethiopia” shoe and garment-making sector has been beset with complaints of low wages, inhospitable working environments, and inadequate training at factories.

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East Africa News & Stories

Court in Kenya convicts 3 over involvement in Garissa massacre

The Garissa massacre was the second-bloodiest terror attack in Kenya’s history

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Court in Kenya convicts 3 over Garissa massacre | News Central TV
Suspects Hassan Aden Hassan, Mohamed Ali Abdikar, Rashid Charles Mberesero and Sahal Diriye sit in the dock as they wait for the verdict where they were charged with helping those who carried out the attack on Garissa University in 2015; at the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi, Kenya June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

A Nairobi court on Wednesday found three men guilty of abetting Somali jihadists who carried out a 2015 attack on Garissa University in northeast Kenya in which 148 people were killed.

A fourth individual was acquitted, Judge Francis Andayi said, adding that sentencing will be handed down on July 3.

The April 2, 2015 attack was carried out by four gunmen from Al-Shabaab, a Somali jihadist group linked to Al-Qaeda.

Firing their weapons, they stormed the students’ hall of residence at dawn.  

They first separated the victims according to their religion, letting Muslims go but keeping and then killing the others, most of whom were Christians.

It was the second-bloodiest terror attack in Kenya’s history, surpassed only by al-Qaeda’s bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998 that killed 213 people.

Andayi said the three — Kenyans Mohamed Ali Abikar, Hassan Aden Hassan and Rashid Charles Mberesero, a Tanzanian — “were members of the Al-Shabaab terrorist group whose members carried out the attack”.

Prosecutors had proven “beyond reasonable doubt” that they were involved in a conspiracy for “committing a terrorist act,” he said.

A fourth person, Sahal Diriye Hussein, was acquitted. In January, the court also acquitted a university guard who was accused of taking pictures during the assault — an allegation for which no evidence had been produced, the judge found.

During the trial, prosecutors placed 22 witnesses on the stand, most of them student survivors.

They also showed evidence that the three had been in contact with the gunmen, especially by telephone.

Mberesero, the Tanzanian, had been also been seen on the university campus three days before the attack, and on the day of the attack itself had been found under a bed in the hall of residence and was unable to explain why he was there, prosecutors said.

The three convictions are the first to result from a long-running investigation and prosecution.

All four gunmen were killed by security forces. The operation’s suspected ringleader, Mohamed Mohamud, also named “Kuno,” a former professor at a Koranic school in Garissa, was killed in southwestern Somalia in 2016.

The Shabaab said he had been killed by “US crusaders”.

Ruthless jihadists –

The Shabaab were chased out of Mogadishu in 2011 by the 22,000-strong African Union peace-enforcement mission, AMISOM.

They nevertheless control vast rural areas and remain the key threat to peace in Somalia. 

The group is fighting to overthrow the internationally backed government in Mogadishu but also regularly carries out attacks in neighbouring Kenya, which has troops in Somalia as part of AMISOM.

In September 2013, the Shabaab claimed responsibility for a dramatic raid on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi that killed 67 people over a four-day siege.

In June-July 2014 around 100 people were killed in raids in the coastal Lamu region in Kenya’s northeast, home of a once-popular tourist island.

In January 2016, the Shabaab overran a Kenyan army outpost at El-Adde in southern Somalia. Some estimates say that as many as 180 soldiers died.

And on January 15 this year, 21 people were killed and 28 injured when five Shabaab gunmen attacked the DusitD2 hotel and office complex in Nairobi.

The security response to Garissa was strongly criticised by many Kenyans. 

It took 16 hours for a special anti-terror unit to bring the attack to an end, their deployment slowed by a senior police officer who had commandeered the force’s plane for a family excursion.

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East Africa News & Stories

United States to ban corrupt Kenyans from entering country

“You cannot allow somebody to steal Sh20 billion and fine them Sh10 billion.” -McCarter

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United States to ban corrupt Kenyans from entering country
(File photo)

Kenyans who have been implicated in corruption will not be granted entry into the United States, Ambassador Kyle McCarter has announced.

Speaking in Nairobi on Saturday, McCarter also said that their children and kin will not be allowed to travel or study in the US.

While speaking during the Junior Achievement Organization 100 year’s celebration, McCarter said that it is quite unfortunate that top government officials went unpunished after embezzling billions of shillings, while ordinary Kenyans are jailed over petty offenses.

“You cannot allow somebody to steal Sh20 billion and fine them Sh10 billion. We deal with thieves in a very brutal way, not even according to the law,” said McCarter.

“Somehow, we tolerate the theft of billions in Kenya. If we stop tolerating thievery, Kenya will be a shining star for democracy and prosperity in Africa.”

The ambassador further said that corruption prevents the country from achieving its development goals, including President Uhuru’s big four agenda.

“The cost of this is the same cost ironically as the Big Four. It could become a reality if we got rid of thievery.”

McCarter assured that Kenyan authorities had the full support of the US government in the fight against graft.

He also decried the high level of unemployment in the country and the slow growth of Kenya’s economy.

“We have a group of young people that are bitter and if we do not do anything, other people will employ them to harm,” McCarter added. 

US ambassador Kyle McCarter has been outspoken in his condemnation of what he has called “thievery”.

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East Africa News & Stories

Internet blackout hits cities in Ethiopia

An investigation found that with the exception of the capital Addis Ababa, most of the country’s cities had no internet.

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Internet blackout hits cities in Ethiopia

Most of Ethiopia was without internet access on Tuesday on the eighth consecutive day of an unexplained break.

An investigation found that with the exception of the capital Addis Ababa, most of the country’s cities had no internet.

Cherer Aklilu, executive director of the state monopoly Ethio Telecom, declined to give any details to explain the break.

“We expect to release an official statement on the internet blackout before the end of this week and we urge our users to be patient until that time,” she told AFP.

Internet access was cut on June 11, briefly restored and then severed again. It was restored for the Addis area on Friday.

The cut is the longest since reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to office in April last year in the Horn of Africa country.

The current break coincides with annual school-leaving exams, which end on Friday. In 2017, the authorities defended a similar blackout by saying they wanted to limit cheating for the important tests.

However, the internet was also repeatedly cut between 2015 and 2017 when the government at the time faced waves of protests.

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