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Terms and conditions apply

Have you tried to sign up to anything lately, especially online? The first thing that comes up is “terms and conditions”.  I remember a time where these terms and conditions listed where short enough for me to read and really know what I was signing up for. But as the internet grew so did the list of terms and conditions. At the moment if you try and sign up to anything online, you will be asked to “sign and agree” to a list of terms of conditions that are so long, that if you really tried reading them, will most likely take longer than a week to fully understand what they mean. You will most likely need to consult a lawyer because some of the words in there will be very “legalese” and tough to understand for a lay person.

I came across an article about how a Wi-Fi provider sneaked in a clause on the terms and conditions stating that all users agree “to provide 1000 hours of free community service and clean toilets, hug stray cats and dogs, clean blocked sewerage by hand and scrap chewing gum off streets” among other things. Out of the 22 thousand users that signed up to these terms and conditions within a week, only one person noticed this clause and complained. This is clearly an excellent lesson on how almost none of us read the terms and conditions we are entering into. We could be signing our lives away and do not even know it!

 But then, I thought to myself, everything we do in real life (“IRL”, as the cool kids call it on the internet) also comes with terms and conditions. Sometimes they are clearly stated and on paper, such as a leasing contract when you rent a place. Other times they are “implied”, and often these ones are the most dangerous ones. An on-going political situation reminded me of the “implied” terms and conditions our countries sign up to on a regular basis. I am referring to the East African Community’s contemplation on banning the import of second hand clothes from the United States by 2019. This has caused uproar in the United States where a lobbying group has now petitioned the US government to review the benefits these countries get from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, an act allowing certain African countries the possibility of exporting certain goods and receive duty free treatment.

Rwanda, one of the EAC countries, has stuck to its guns and decided to go forward with the ban despite the threat of getting its AGOA benefits decreased or even taken away. Kenya has withdrawn its plan to go forward with the ban citing that the lobbying groups had some very strong arguments, while some of the other EAC countries are looking into the matter. In 2016, US imports from Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda totaled USD 43 million while exports were USD 281 million.

The argument presented by Rwanda and the rest of the EAC bloc is that in order to develop their internal textile industries, they would have to limit the import of second hand clothing as it floods the local market at a reduced fee making it hard for local manufacturers to sell their products. In trade, I believe they call this “excessive” import of second hand clothing “dumping”, but don’t quote me on that. I am not sure that part of the written terms and conditions stated that countries cannot “develop their own local markets by limiting access in certain sectors”, but it certainly a factor now. The question then becomes, now that these countries have discovered it, it is their turn to see whether the benefit outweighs the cost and decide accordingly. In my opinion, the numbers speak clearly and developing ones local industry should be an important goal, but what do I know?

The point is everything comes with terms and conditions, be it online or offline, but the question remains do you know which ones you have agreed to? It is always the right time to re-evaluate relationships, political, business or even personal.