• TABLE OF CONTENTS
HIDE
 Front Cover
 Front Matter
 Copyright
 Table of Contents
 Between Exit and Voice: Informality...
 Changing Youth Dynamics in Lusaka’s...
 Between Neglect and Control: Questioning...
 Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions...
 Informality and Casualization as...
 Informalization From Above, Informalization...
 Employment Relationships and Organizing...
 Adekeye Adebajo and Abdul Raufu...
 Kenji Yoshida and John Mack (eds)....
 Mwenda Ntarangwi. East African...
 Charles M. Good Jr. The Steamer...
 Julia C. Strauss and Donal B. Cruise...
 Emizet François Kisangani and Bobb...
 Evan Maina Mwangi. Africa Writes...
 Terence Ranger. Evangelical Christianity...
 Trevor Hugh James Marchand. The...
 Henrik Vigh. Navigating Terrains...
 Henrik Vigh. Navigating Terrains...
 Kjetil Tronvoll. War and the Politics...
 William Storey. Guns Race and Power...
 Irene Assiba D’Almeida (ed.). A...
 Thomas A. Hale. Griots and griottes....
 Edith Bruder. The Black Jews of...
 Wangari Maathai. The Challenge...
 David Maxwell. African Gifts of...
 Mary- Alice Waters and Martin Koppel....
 Fred Morton, Jeff Ramsay, and Part...
 Brigid Sackey. New Directions in...
 Timothy Longman. Christianity and...
 Diana Wylie. Art and Revolution:...
 Lisa Ann Richey. Population Politics...
 Sylviane A. Diouf. Dreams of Africa:...
 Salah M. Hassan and Carina E. Ray...
 Allula Pankhurst and Francois Piguet...
 Jamie Monson. Africa’s Freedom...
 Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi and Tuzyline...
 Chris Coulter. Bush Wives and Girl...
 Steven Nelson. From Cameroon to...
 Frank M. Chipasula (ed.). Bending...
 Richard Reid. War in Pre-Colonial...
 Lewis R. Gordon. An Introduction...
 Katherine Homewood. Ecology of...






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Title: African studies quarterly
Series Title: Gale Group
Uniform Title: African studies quarterly (Online)
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Creator: University of Florida -- Center for African Studies
Publisher: University of Florida, Center for African Studies,
University of Florida, Center for African Studies
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla
Publication Date: Spring 2010
Frequency: quarterly
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Subject: Electronic journals
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African studies -- Periodicals
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Abstract: Presents "African Studies Quarterly," an electronic journal published quarterly by the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Posts contact information for the editorial office via street address, telephone number, and e-mail. Lists advisory board and staff members. Offers access to the current issue, as well as to previous issues. Contains articles and related book reviews. Provides information on submissions and links to "African Anthropology."
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Dates or Sequential Designation: Vol. 1, issue 1 (May 1997)-
General Note: Title from title screen (viewed Aug. 6, 1999).
General Note: An online journal of African studies.
General Note: Latest issue consulted: Vol. 7, issue 4 (spring 2004) (viewed at publisher's Web site, Aug. 19, 2004).
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Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Page i
    Front Matter
        Page ii
    Copyright
        Page iii
    Table of Contents
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page vii
    Between Exit and Voice: Informality and the Spaces of Popular Agency – Introduction by Ilda Lindell (1-11)
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
    Changing Youth Dynamics in Lusaka’s Informal Economy in the Context of Economic Liberalization by Karen Tranberg Hansen (13-27)
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
    Between Neglect and Control: Questioning Partnerships and the Integration of Informal Actors in Public Solid Waste Management in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by Baudouin Axel, Bjerkli Camilla, Yirgalem Habtemariam, and Zelalem Fenta Chekole (29-42)
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
    Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions Involving “Traditional” Asante Market Women by Gracia Clark (43-66)
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
        Page 64
        Page 65
        Page 66
    Informality and Casualization as Challenges to South Africa’s Industrial Unionism: Manufacturing Workers in the East Rand/Ekurhuleni Region in the 1990s by Franco Barchiesi (67-85)
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Page 75
        Page 76
        Page 77
        Page 78
        Page 79
        Page 80
        Page 81
        Page 82
        Page 83
        Page 84
        Page 85
        Page 86
    Informalization From Above, Informalization From Below: The Options for Organization by Jan Theron (87-105)
        Page 87
        Page 88
        Page 89
        Page 90
        Page 91
        Page 92
        Page 93
        Page 94
        Page 95
        Page 96
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
        Page 101
        Page 102
        Page 103
        Page 104
        Page 105
        Page 106
    Employment Relationships and Organizing Strategies in the Informal Construction Sector by Jill Wells and Arthur Jason (107-124)
        Page 107
        Page 108
        Page 109
        Page 110
        Page 111
        Page 112
        Page 113
        Page 114
        Page 115
        Page 116
        Page 117
        Page 118
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
        Page 124
    Adekeye Adebajo and Abdul Raufu Mustapha (eds). Gulliver’s Troubles: Nigeria’s Foreign Policy after the Cold War. Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2008. Review by Akanmu G. Adebayo (125-127)
        Page 125
        Page 126
    Kenji Yoshida and John Mack (eds). Preserving the Cultural Heritage of Africa: Crisis or Renaissance? Suffolk, UK: James Currey/Unisa Press. 2008. Review by Uchendu Eugene Chigbu (127-128)
        Page 127
    Mwenda Ntarangwi. East African Hip Hop: Youth Culture and Globalization. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009. Review by Matthew J. Forss (128-130)
        Page 128
        Page 129
    Charles M. Good Jr. The Steamer Parish. The Rise and Fall of Missionary Medicine on an African Frontier. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2004. Review by Sjaak van der Geest (130-131)
        Page 130
        Page 131
    Julia C. Strauss and Donal B. Cruise O’Brien (eds). Stage Politics: Power and Performance in Asia and Africa. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2007. Review by Joseph Tse-Hei Lee (132-134)
        Page 132
        Page 133
    Emizet François Kisangani and Bobb F. Scott. Historical Dictionary of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 3rd edition. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2010. Review by Ashley Leinweber (134-135)
        Page 134
        Page 135
    Evan Maina Mwangi. Africa Writes Back to Self: Metafiction, Gender, Sexuality. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2009. Review by Simon Lewis (136-137)
        Page 136
    Terence Ranger. Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008. Review by Steve Litchty (137-139)
        Page 137
        Page 138
    Trevor Hugh James Marchand. The Masons of Djenné. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009. Review by Kathleen Louw (139-141)
        Page 139
        Page 140
    Henrik Vigh. Navigating Terrains of War: Youth and Soldiering in Guinea-Bissau. NY: Berghahn Books, 2006. Review by Brandon D. Lundy (141-143)
        Page 141
        Page 142
    Henrik Vigh. Navigating Terrains of War: Youth and Soldiering in Guinea-Bissau. NY: Berghahn Books, 2006. Review by Brandon D. Lundy (141-143)
        Page 143
        Page 144
    Kjetil Tronvoll. War and the Politics of Identity in Ethiopia: the Making of Enemies and Allies in the Horn of Africa. Rochester, NY: James Currey, 2009. Review by Ioannis Mantzikos (145-146)
        Page 145
    William Storey. Guns Race and Power in Colonial South Africa. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Review by Aran MacKinnon (146-148)
        Page 146
        Page 147
        Page 148
    Irene Assiba D’Almeida (ed.). A Rain of Words. A Bilingual Anthology of Women's Poetry in Francophone Africa. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2009
        Page 149
    Thomas A. Hale. Griots and griottes. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007. Review by Karen Ferreira-Meyers (150-152)
        Page 150
        Page 151
        Page 152
    Edith Bruder. The Black Jews of Africa: History, Religion, Identity. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008. Richard Hull. Jews and Judaism in African History. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Press, 2009. Review by William F.S. Miles (153-155)
        Page 153
        Page 154
    Wangari Maathai. The Challenge for Africa. New York, NY: Pantheon Books. 2009. Review by Eric M. Moody (155-156)
        Page 155
    David Maxwell. African Gifts of the Spirit: Pentecostalism and the Rise of a Zimbabwean Transnational Religious Movement. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2006. Review by Andrew Novak (156-159)
        Page 156
        Page 157
        Page 158
    Mary- Alice Waters and Martin Koppel. Capitalism and the Transformation of Africa: Reports from Equatorial Guinea. New York: Pathfinder Press, 2009. Review by Okechukwu Edward Okeke (159-160)
        Page 159
    Fred Morton, Jeff Ramsay, and Part Themba Mgadla. Historical Dictionary of Botswana. 4th edition. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. 2008. Review by Jack Parson (160-161)
        Page 160
    Brigid Sackey. New Directions in Gender and Religion: The Changing Status of Women in African Independent Churches. Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2006. Review by Jeremy Rich (161-162)
        Page 161
        Page 162
    Timothy Longman. Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Review by Jeremy Rich (163-164)
        Page 163
        Page 164
    Diana Wylie. Art and Revolution: The Life and Death of Thami Mnyele South African Artist. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008. Review by Bala S.K. Saho (165-166)
        Page 165
    Lisa Ann Richey. Population Politics and Development: From the Policies to the Clinics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Review by Goleen Samari (166-168)
        Page 166
        Page 167
    Sylviane A. Diouf. Dreams of Africa: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Review by Eric A. Schuster (168-170)
        Page 168
        Page 169
    Salah M. Hassan and Carina E. Ray (eds). Darfur and the Crisis of Governance in Sudan: A Critical Reader. Ithaca. NY: Cornell University Press, 2009. Review by Sonja R Darlington (170-172)
        Page 170
        Page 171
    Allula Pankhurst and Francois Piguet (eds). Moving People in Ethiopia: Development, Displacement, and the State. Rochester, NY: James Currey, 2009. Review by Sonja R Darlington (172-174)
        Page 172
        Page 173
    Jamie Monson. Africa’s Freedom Railway: How a Chinese Development Project Changed Lives and Livelihoods in Tanzania. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009. Review by Nicholas T. Smith (174-176)
        Page 174
        Page 175
        Page 176
    Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi and Tuzyline Jita Allan ( eds). Twelve Best Books by African Women: Critical Readings. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2009. Review by Shanique S. Streete (177-178)
        Page 177
        Page 178
    Chris Coulter. Bush Wives and Girl Soldiers: Women’s Lives Through War and Peace in Sierra Leone. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009. Review by Laine Strutton (179-180)
        Page 179
    Steven Nelson. From Cameroon to Paris: Mousgoum Architecture In and Out of Africa. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago University Press, 2007. Review by Bridget A. Teboh (180-182)
        Page 180
        Page 181
    Frank M. Chipasula (ed.). Bending the Bow: an Anthology of African love poetry. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009. Review by Ken Walibora Waliaula (182-184)
        Page 182
        Page 183
    Richard Reid. War in Pre-Colonial Eastern Africa: The Patterns and Meanings of State-Level Conflict in the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: James Currey Publishers. 2007. Review by Tony Waters (184-185)
        Page 184
    Lewis R. Gordon. An Introduction to Africana Philosophy. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Review by Casey Woodling (185-187)
        Page 185
        Page 186
    Katherine Homewood. Ecology of African Pastoralist Societies. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2008. Review by Alyson G. Young (187-189)
        Page 187
        Page 188
        Page 189
Full Text














African Studies Quarterly



Volume 11, Issues 2 & 3
Spring 2010



Special Issue
Between Exit and Voice:
Informality and the Spaces of Popular Agency



Guest Editor: Ilda Lindell




Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida


ISSN: 2152-2448










African Studies Quarterly

Executive Staff

Hunt R. Davis, Jr. Editor-in-Chief
Todd H. Leedy Associate Editor
Shylock Muyengwa Managing Editor
Corinna Greene Production Editor

Editorial Committee


David Anastas
Robin Brooks
Leif J. Bullock
Erin Bunting
Nicole C. D'Errico
Cerian Gibbes
John Hames
Cara Hauck
Claudia Hoffmann
Alison M. Ketter
Ashley Leinweber
Aaron Majuta
Meredith Marten
Genia Martinez
Vincent D. Medjibe


Asmeret G. Mehari
Jessica Morey
Patricia Chilufya Mupeta
Jessica Musengezi
Timothy Nevin
George Njoroge
Levy Odera
Levi C. Ofoe
Gregory Parent
Noah I. Sims
Olekae Thakadu
Erik Timmons
Jonathan Walz
Amanda Weibel
Andrea C. Wolf
Advisory Board


Adelekh Ad66ko
Ohio State University
Timothy Ajani
Fayetteville State University
Abubakar Alhassan
University of Idaho
John W. Arthur
University of South Florida, St.
Petersburg
Nanette Barkey
University of Iowa
Susan Cooksey
University of Florida
Mark Davidheiser
Nova Southeastern University
Kristin Davis
International Food Policy Research
Institute
Parakh Hoon
Virginia Tech


Andrew Lepp
Kent State University
Richard Marcus
California State hUni, i -,si, Long Beach
Kelli Moore
James Madison University
James T. Murphy
Clark University
Lilian Temu Osaki
University of Dar es Salaam
Dianne White Oyler
Fayetteville State University
Alex R6dlach
Creighton University
Jan Shetler
Goshen College
Roos Willems
Catholic University of Leuven
Peter VonDoepp
University of Vermont


African Studies Quarterly I Volume 11, Issues 2 & 3 I Spring 2010
http://www.africa.ufl.edu/asq













































University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for
individuals to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.









Table of Contents


Between Exit and Voice: Informality and the Spaces of Popular AgcIicy- Introduction
Ilda Lindell (1-11)

Changing Youth Dynamics in Lusaka's Informal Economy in the Context of Economic Liberalization
Karen Tranberg Hansen (13-27)

Between Neglect and Control: Questioning Partnerships and the Integration of Informal Actors in
Public Solid Waste Management in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Baudouin Axel, Bjerkli Camilla, Yirgalem Habtemariam, and Zelalem Fenta Chekole (29-42)

Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions Involving "Ti itiiiclii1" Asante Market Women
Gracia Clark (43-66)

Informality and Casualization as Challenges to South Africa's Industrial Unionism: Manufacturing
Workers in the East Rand/Ekurhuleni Region in the 1990s
Franco Barchiesi (67-85)

Informalization From Above, Informalization From Below: The Options for Organization
Jan Theron (87-105)

Employment Relationships and Organizing Strategies in the Informal Construction Sector
Jill Wells and Arthur Jason (107-124)


Book Reviews

Adekeye Adebajo and Abdul Raufu Mustapha (eds). Gulliver's Troubles: Nigeria's Foreign
Policy after the Cold War. Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2008.
Review by Akanmu G. Adebayo (125-127)

Kenji Yoshida and John Mack (eds). Preserving the Cultural Heritage of Africa: Crisis or
Renaissance? Suffolk, UK: James Currey/Unisa Press. 2008.
Review by Uchendu Eugene Chigbu (127-128)

Mwenda Ntarangwi. East African Hip Hop: Youth Culture and Globalization. Chicago:
University of Illinois Press, 2009.
Review by Matthew J. Forss (128-130)

Charles M. Good Jr. The Steamer Parish. The Rise and Fall of Missionary Medicine on an African
Frontier. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Review by Sjaak van der Geest (130-131)

Julia C. Strauss and Donal B. Cruise O'Brien (eds). Stage Politics: Power and Performance in Asia
and Africa. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2007.
Review by Joseph Tse-Hei Lee (132-134)




African Studies Quarterly I Volume 11, Issues 2 & 3 I Spring 2010
http://www.africa.ufl.edu/asq









Emizet Francois Kisangani and Bobb F. Scott. Historical Dictionary of the Democratic Republic of
the Congo. 3rd edition. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2010.
Review by Ashley Leinweber (134-135)

Evan Maina Mwangi. Africa Writes Back to Self: Metafiction, Gender, Sexuality. Albany, NY:
State University of New York Press, 2009.
Review by Simon Lewis (136-137)

Terence Ranger. Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Africa. Oxford: Oxford University
Press. 2008.
Review by Steve Litchty (137-139)

Trevor Hugh James Marchand. The Masons of Djennd. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University
Press, 2009.
Review by Kathleen Louw (139-141)

Henrik Vigh. Navigating Terrains of War: Youth and Soldiering in Guinea-Bissau. NY: Berghahn
Books, 2006.
Review by Brandon D. Lundy (141-143)

Thomas Benjamin. The Atlantic World: Europeans, Africans, Indians and Their Shared History,
1400-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Review by Adel Manai (143-144)

Kjetil Tronvoll. War and the Politics of Identity in Ethiopia: the Making of Enemies and Allies in the
Horn of Africa. Rochester, NY: James Currey, 2009.
Review by loannis Mantzikos (145-146)

William Storey. Guns Race and Power in Colonial South Africa. New York, NY: Cambridge
University Press, 2008.
Review by Aran MacKinnon (146-148)

Irene Assiba D'Almeida (ed.). A Rain of Words. A Bilingual Anthology of Women's Poetry in
Francophone Africa. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2009

Kathy Perkins (ed.). African Women Pli'a' iihts. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois
Press, 2009.
Review by Karen Ferreira-Meyers (149-150)

Thomas A. Hale. Griots and griottes. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.
Review by Karen Ferreira-Meyers (150-152)

Edith Bruder. The Black Jews of Africa: History, Religion, Identity. Oxford, UK: Oxford
University Press, 2008.

Richard Hull. Jews and Judaism in African History. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Press, 2009.
Review by William F.S. Miles (153-155)




African Studies Quarterly I Volume 11, Issues 2 & 3 I Spring 2010
http://www.africa.ufl.edu/asq









Wangari Maathai. The Challenge for Africa. New York, NY: Pantheon Books. 2009.
Review by Eric M. Moody (155-156)

David Maxwell. African Gifts of the Spirit: Pentecostalism and the Rise of a Zimbabwean
Transnational Religious Movement. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2006.
Review by Andrew Novak (156-159)

Mary- Alice Waters and Martin Koppel. Capitalism and the Transformation of Africa: Reports
from Equatorial Guinea. New York: Pathfinder Press, 2009.
Review by Okechukwu Edward Okeke (159-160)

Fred Morton, Jeff Ramsay, and Part Themba Mgadla. Historical Dictionary of Botswana. 4th
edition. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. 2008.
Review by Jack Parson (160-161)

Brigid Sackey. New Directions in Gender and Religion: The Changing Status of Women in African
Independent Churches. Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2006.
Review by Jeremy Rich (161-162)

Timothy Longman. Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2009.
Review by Jeremy Rich (163-164)

Diana Wylie. Art and Revolution: The Life and Death of Thami Mnyele South African Artist.
Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008.
Review by Bala S.K. Saho (165-166)

Lisa Ann Richey. Population Politics and Development: From the Policies to the Clinics. New York:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
Review by Goleen Samari (166-168)

Sylviane A. Diouf. Dreams of Africa: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans
Brought to America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Review by Eric A. Schuster (168-170)

Salah M. Hassan and Carina E. Ray (eds). Darfur and the Crisis of Governance in Sudan: A
Critical Reader. Ithaca. NY: Cornell University Press, 2009.
Review by Sonja R Darlington (170-172)

Allula Pankhurst and Francois Piguet (eds). Moving People in Ethiopia: Development,
Displacement, and the State. Rochester, NY: James Currey, 2009.
Review by Sonja R Darlington (172-174)

Jamie Monson. Africa's Freedom Railway: How a Chinese Development Project Changed Lives and
Livelihoods in Tanzania. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.
Review by Nicholas T. Smith (174-176)





African Studies Quarterly I Volume 11, Issues 2 & 3 I Spring 2010
http://www.africa.ufl.edu/asq









Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi and Tuzyline Jita Allan (eds). Twelve Best Books by African
Women: Critical Readings. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2009.
Review by Shanique S. Street (177-178)

Chris Coulter. Bush Wives and Girl Soldiers: Women's Lives Through War and Peace in Sierra
Leone. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009.
Review by Laine Strutton (179-180)

Steven Nelson. From Cameroon to Paris: Mousgoum Architecture In and Out of Africa. Chicago,
Illinois: Chicago University Press, 2007.
Review by Bridget A. Teboh (180-182)

Frank M. Chipasula (ed.). Bending the Bow: an Anthology of African love poetry. Carbondale, IL:
Southern Illinois University Press, 2009.
Review by Ken Walibora Waliaula (182-184)

Richard Reid. War in Pre-Colonial Eastern Africa: The Patterns and Meanings of State-Level
Conflict in the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: James Currey Publishers. 2007.
Review by Tony Waters (184-185)

Lewis R. Gordon. An Introduction to Africana Philosophy. New York, NY: Cambridge
University Press, 2008.
Review by Casey Woodling (185-187)

Katherine Homewood. Ecology of African Pastoralist Societies. Athens, OH: Ohio University
Press, 2008.
Review by Alyson G. Young (187-189)



























African Studies Quarterly I Volume 11, Issues 2 & 3 I Spring 2010
http://www.africa.ufl.edu/asq






African Studies Quarterly I Volume 11, Issues 2 & 3 I Spring 2010


Between Exit and Voice: Informality and the Spaces of

Popular Agency1


ILDA LINDELL


Abstract: Recent decades have witnessed deepening processes of informalization
and casualization as growing numbers of Africans rely on economic activities
outside state regulation, something widely evident in urban areas. Converging
multiple dynamics have resulted in new floods of entrants into the informal
economy, including a great expansion in self-employment. Juxtaposed to this are
the more long-standing informal activities through which popular groups have
coped with the lack of formal work opportunities and basic services. Paralleling
these trends is, in some contexts, a resurgence of attempts to bring segments of the
informal economy under some form of state regulation. This may be interpreted as
selective drives towards some kind of formalization, a development that has also
gained impetus in international development discourse. These developments
confirm that the boundary between what is and is not to be regulated by the state
(or between what is and is not considered legitimate economic activity) is a shifting
one and constitutes a contested process that involves social struggles and a variety
of actors, encompassing both powerful interests and popular forces, including
informal and casual workers themselves. This special issue's contributors address
the politics involved in and ensuing from processes of
informalization/formalization in particular contexts and discuss some of the
resulting contradictions, tensions, and conflicts. The authors deviate from the
common victimizing views of informal actors by examining varied spaces and
forms of popular agency in relation to those processes. The introduction first
highlights these issues through a selective discussion of the topics addressed by
the papers and then reflects upon the varied forms that agency among informal
actors can take along a spectrum that encompasses both strategies of invisibility
and visibility, of exit and voice.

Introduction

The last decades have witnessed deepening processes of informalization and casualization
in Africa and beyond. Growing numbers of people rely on economic activities occurring
beyond state regulation, something that is widely evident in urban areas. Multiple dynamics
are converging to drive these trends. The emergence of global production networks and the
deregulation of labor conditions are conducive to the casualization and precarization of
work in many contexts.2 Large firms increasingly make use of casual labor and externalize
employment as part of corporate strategies of flexible production. Neoliberal policies of
economic liberalization being promoted by international financial institutions across many


Ilda Lindell is a researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute and an Associate Professor of human geography at
Stockholm University, Sweden. Her current research focuses on collective organizing in urban informal
economies in Africa, including links to international movements and relations with other organized actors. She is
the editor of Africa's Informal Workers: Collective Agency, Alliances and Transnational Organizing in Urban Africa
(2010).

http://www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/vll/vlli2-3al.pdf
University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for
individuals to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448






2 I Lindell


countries in the South have often led to large-scale retrenchments and to a decline in formal
employment opportunities. This has resulted in new floods of entrants into the informal
economy, including a great expansion in self-employment.3 These dynamics have often been
juxtaposed to the more long-standing informal activities through which popular groups in
many places have coped with the lack of formal work opportunities and basic services.
Parallel to the widespread trends of informalization and causalization, one can discern
in some contexts a resurgence of attempts to bring segments of the informal economy under
some form of state regulation, which may be interpreted as selective drives towards some
kind of formalization. For example, governments devise new ways of taxing supposedly
"untaxed" workers in the informal economy; in some places, they also establish partnerships
with informal service providers.4 The drive for formalization has also gained impetus in
international development discourse. For example, Hernando de Soto's influential book The
Mystery of Capital argues for the legalization of the assets of the poor and informal workers
as the key to prosperity. These developments confirm that the boundary between what is
and is not to be regulated by the state (or between what is and is not considered legitimate
economic activity) is a shifting one.5 The drawing and re-drawing of this boundary is a
contested process that involves social struggles and a variety of actors, encompassing both
powerful interests and popular forces, including informal and casual workers themselves.6
The contributions in this special issue of the African Studies Quarterly address the
politics involved in and ensuing from processes of informalization/formalization in
particular contexts. They discuss some of the contradictions, tensions and conflicts that have
emerged in the context of such processes. The papers deviate from the common victimizing
views of informal actors by examining varied spaces and forms of popular agency in relation
to those processes. The reminder of this short introduction comprises two parts. The first
provides some highlights on these issues on the basis of the contributions-this is a selective
discussion of the topics addressed by the papers, whose discussions and arguments are
much richer and more diverse than what is presented here. The second part reflects upon
the varied forms that agency among informal actors can take. It argues that these range
between the individual and the collective, along a spectrum that encompasses both
strategies of invisibility and visibility, of exit and voice.

The politics of informalization/formalization and popular agency

The growing number of people making a living in the city streets has intensified tensions
between these workers and regulatory agents of the state in many places.7 Raids and
evictions, while far from new, appear to be increasingly frequent in the context of neoliberal
urbanization. Cities are further exposed to the pressures and imperatives of international
competition while at the same time poverty deepens among large segments of urban
populations. In this context, city governments often have become more diligent in their
efforts to uphold a modern city image, often through interventions that have a direct impact
on the livelihoods of the poor. City beautification measures and clearance exercises multiply
across cities in Africa and beyond.8 The hosting of an international event may trigger such
interventions, as is currently happening in South African cities in preparation for the 2010
World Football Cup. In some cases, such events provide the discursive justification for the
implementation of forceful measures, masking other underlying motives.9 The large crowds
of urban informal workers are often perceived as a source of political instability, and state
actors may use various means in an attempt to circumscribe and contain this "threat," for


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Between Exit and Voice: Informality and the Space for Popular Agency I 3


example by relocating the self-employed to locations far away from the city center or into
restricted areas more amenable to control.
Karen Tranberg Hansen's article well illustrates these mounting tensions and
contradictions through her analysis of self-employed youth in Lusaka. She describes how
the intersection "between externally driven agendas and local political dynamics" has
resulted in "new regimes of spatial regulation and new strategies of urban management"
that have exacerbated antagonism between urban authorities and vendors. She shows how
access to and control over public space is often at the heart of recurrent conflicts. Local
authorities resort to evictions and relocations of vendors into designated markets. But
vendors gradually and discretely reoccupy the streets and adapt their sale strategies to the
harsher regulatory environment. They also use narratives that serve to "subvert the state's
lackluster control efforts." Parallel processes of privatization of the management of city
markets, driven by both state and donors, have also triggered violent clashes and riots
among marketers. Such privatization processes are not unique to Lusaka and have also
caused unrest in some other cities, as has happened in Kampala in recent years.10 They
appear to be part of a strategy to increase local government revenues and to more effectively
tax the self-employed.
Relations with regulatory powers are not always or simply antagonistic." In the process
of implementing some version of New Public Management principles by devolving
responsibilities to a range of non-state actors, local governments have in some places come
to develop close relations with informal service providers. Local government outsources
some of its functions by establishing relationships with such providers.12 The article by Axel
Baudouin and his colleagues discusses such dynamics at work in the waste sector of Addis
Ababa. After a long period of having neglected informal waste collectors and regarded them
as clandestine, the city authorities decided to establish a "partnership" with a share of the
small-scale providers. While the stated aim was to improve the severe waste problem in the
city, the authors suggest that more was at stake. Set up in a top-down and authoritarian
manner, the "partnership" would also serve to facilitate "political dominance and
surveillance" of the activities of formerly independent waste collectors. In the process, non-
incorporated informal actors were evicted from their areas of operation and in many cases
effectively dispossessed. They adjusted their activities and used informal networks to
strategize about how to respond to the government's intervention. Unfair competition from
state sponsored actors would give rise to clashes between sponsored and non-sponsored
groups. Persistent mistrust would lead many to avoid, rather than collaborate with, the
authorities.
A lengthier time perspective further exposes the complex and shifting nature of the
relations between informal actors and regulatory powers. In her article, Gracia Clark
discusses how the relations between rulers and women marketers have evolved in a West
African context, from a remote past to the present. She argues that these relations have
shifted through time "between alliance and repression," reflecting economic and political
shifts. The attitudes of political elites have oscillated between protecting traders and treating
them as scapegoats for national economic problems, where the latter have sometimes
justified market demolitions and other hostile measures. Women traders and their market
organizations, in turn, have either played the role of political supporters or fiercely resisted
rulers' attempts at regulating trade and at intervening in their activities, at different points in
history. Such shifts in attitudes and relations have been noticed elsewhere.13 They remind us
that relations between informal actors and the state are complex, varied, and temporal. The


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political subjectivities of informal workers are not fixed, nor are the attitudes of state actors
towards them.14
The remaining articles further widen the view of how informal and casual workers deal
with changes in livelihood opportunities and conditions by bringing to light yet other
dimensions of their agency. Franco Barchiesi discusses informalization, casualization, and
outsourcing in the industries of the East Rand, South Africa. On the basis of the rising
unemployment and growing job precariousness, he challenges mainstream understandings
of wage labor as the vehicle through which social citizenship and emancipation are to be
attained. The common binary opposition between "formal" and "informal" sectors that
associate the former with social inclusion and the latter with social exclusion is questioned.
Barchiesi advocates the consideration of "forms of social emancipation that transcend an
exclusive focus on wage employment." He argues that "The disarticulation of the working
class, in fact, is not merely weakening work-based identities, but also creates new spaces for
social agency and contestation." His focus is on workers' strategies and discourses and the
meanings they attribute to formal and informal kinds of work. He describes the way they
aspire to self-employment as a means for emancipation from deplorable work conditions in
the industrial sector. In this way, he resonates with existing critiques of "capitalocentric"
academic discourses, advanced for example in the work of Gibson-Graham, who also stress
the importance of "re-subjectivation", i.e. transformations in people's subjectivities of an
empowering kind.15
Jan Theron and Jill Wells and Arthur Jason explicitly address the scope for and forms of
collective agency in relation to the casualization and informalization of work. Theron
discusses the emergence of a variety of organizations among groups of the self-employed in
South Africa. He discusses the prospects and limitations of these organizations through the
presentation of a number of empirical cases. He is particularly hopeful about the current
upsurge of cooperatives. While not necessarily exercising "political voice," they are seen as
holding potential for the economic empowerment of the self-employed and for instantiating
a social economy based on principles of "self-reliance and community solidarity." Theron's
interpretation stands close to an emerging strand of work that advocates a politics centred
on "community economies," i.e. "economic spaces or networks in which relations of
interdependence are democratically negotiated."16 The focus in this work is to make visible a
variety of alternative economic practices that are not necessarily subservient to the logics of
capitalism.
Wells and Jason discuss the increasing informalization and casualization in the
construction sector across several cities in Africa and beyond and the implications for
collective organizing in the sector. They show how these trends have resulted in a growing
complexity of employment relations, which includes the increasing incidence of recruitment
through labor agencies. In spite of the work precariousness that these developments involve,
the authors see new possibilities for alliance and collaboration between the workers and the
labor agencies in pressing large contractors for more advantageous deals and government
agencies for public sector contracts. Wells and Jason also document how groups of informal
construction workers have come together in Tanzania to form an umbrella organization that
lobbies state actors for the interests of these workers. This development can be situated in a
wider contemporary trend whereby organizations of informal workers increasingly
represent the concerns of their constituencies in the public sphere.17 A scaling up of
organizing, as manifested in the formation of the umbrella organization in Tanzania, is also


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Between Exit and Voice: Informality and the Space for Popular Agency I 5


occurring elsewhere, with the emergence of federated bodies at the national as well as at the
international level.18
The latter three articles thus identify new spaces for agency as well as emerging
possibilities for collaboration, in the context of processes of informalization and
casualization namely, changes in workers' subjectivities, the resurgence of cooperatives
and the social economy, and possibilities for new kinds of alliances. The three articles also
discuss the prospects for traditional trade unions to organize workers in the informal
economy.19 A number of activists and researchers advocate for the role of trade unions' role
in this respect. They speak for a "social movement unionism," whereby trade unions should
organize beyond formal wage labor and reach out to informal workers. The articles here
express reservations about such a role for trade unions. Wells and Jason suggest that labor
recruitment through intermediary agencies makes it difficult for trade unions to reach out to
workers in the sub-contracting system. Theron argues that trade unions in South Africa have
been slack in responding to casualization and that the self-employed should organize on
their own. Barchiesi is very sceptical of a prominent role for trade unions, given the marked
weakening of workplace-based identities. In other contexts however, organizing across
formal and informal work spheres is already occurring, a situation which thus warrants
continued debate on this issue.

The multiple spaces and forms of popular agency

The agency of people in the informal economy has been interpreted in contrasting ways.
One long-standing set of interpretations has emphasized individual agency and conceived
of the politics of informality in terms of "exit," invisibility, and avoidance of the state. In the
1980s, a group of political scientists saw the growth of economic informality in Africa as
representing a broad societal disengagement from the state.20 In this view, in response to
declining state performance in a context of statist economic models, individual economic
actors avoided the state and circumvented official channels and state regulations. This "exit
option," Azarya and Chazan stated, supersedes the "voice option" in contexts where the
latter is ineffective or impossible.21 The consequences of this disengagement, it was argued,
were far-reaching in terms of the reach of the state. Across the Atlantic, a similar line of
argument was being advanced by de Soto, who celebrated the individual informal
entrepreneur for his ability to undermine state regulations.22 Through their informal
practices, he argued, people were resisting legal exclusion and instantiating an "invisible
revolution."
Albeit on a different ideological terrain, other scholars have also emphasized individual
and "quiet" forms of resistance. James Scott argued that, in the absence of open protest and
direct confrontation, political struggle takes the form of a myriad daily practices of
resistance, characterized by small-scale individual actions.23 Such practices constitute
disguised and deliberately concealed resistance, rather than public claims and overt
resistance. Asef Bayat's similar approach to "the politics of informal people" in the South
stresses how they, through their individual everyday actions, not only resist but also
gradually conquer new space from dominant groups and undermine the capacity of the
state to exercise surveillance.24 He calls it a "quiet encroachment of the ordinary," to refer to
"the silent, protracted, but pervasive advancement of ordinary people in relation to the
propertied and the powerful."25 This is "not a politics of protest", he claims, "but of redress,"
that is, one that avoids overt collective demands and large-scale mobilization.26 Informal


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actors proceed discretely and unnoticed to address immediate material needs; they seek
invisibility and autonomy from state discipline and regulations. This quiet and atomized
action is depicted as being the form of politics characteristic of people in the informal
economy, who are said to lack the capacity to sustain their own organizations with a clear
leadership and ideology. This long-standing emphasis on everyday and individual forms of
resistance has inspired empirical work on informality.27 Notions of invisibility and everyday
forms of social agency are also central in more recent work. AbdouMaliq Simone stresses the
importance of "new forms of livelihood and sociality" in urban Africa, whereby people and
resources are "assembled in ways that deflect publicity, scrutiny, and comparison."28 From
this point of view, people handle the deepening uncertainty of urban living through
ephemeral actions and diffuse forms of social collaboration that take place outside of formal
associations. "Africans must operate through forms of the spectral to proffer some counter-
reality," it is argued.29 Everyday social practices and networks are deliberately masked,
dissimulated and made opaque, in ways that render them illegible to and ungovernable by
the state. Thus, people may resist government decisions by collaborating "in 'silent' but
powerful ways."30
A different and emerging body of work has emphasized the presence and significance
of collective forms of struggle among people in the informal economy and disadvantaged
groups. Chen et al. (2007) discuss various kinds of membership-based organizations among
the poor across many different contexts in the South and how such organizations often play
a role both in improving conditions among poor workers and in claiming rights.31
Fernindez-Kelly (2006) and her associates, in a collection with the suggestive title Out of the
Shadows, contest the idea that informal workers strive for keeping a low profile or refrain
from overt complaint and from negotiation with the state.32 Drawing on cases from Latin
America, they examine a range of collective mobilizations and the complex and varied forms
in which informals engage with state actors-rather than disengaging from or avoiding it-
ranging from confrontation, negotiation and alliance. A forthcoming anthology, Africa's
Informal Workers: Collective Agency, Alliances and Transnational Organizing in Urban
Africa, addresses the politics of informality in sub-Saharan Africa from the vantage point of
collective organizing in the informal economy.33 It discusses the growing number of
associations through which informal workers develop collective visions and sometimes
challenge state discourses and become visible as political actors. The book also addresses
how some of these associations relate to other organized actors (particularly trade unions) as
well as participate in international networks of organizations of informal workers. The
contributions reveal both the achievements and the limitations of these initiatives. As Kate
Meagher, one of the contributors, expresses, even if manifestations of "voice" are
multiplying, for many informal workers, "informal political voice has not yet replaced the
politics of exit."34
On the basis of the above discussion, it can be said that interpretations of the politics
and agency of informal people have either tended to focus on individual everyday practices
and invisible or quiet forms of resistance, or conversely, to emphasize collective
mobilization and organizing initiatives among informal workers.35 It is thus worth making
the point that agency among informal and casual workers can assume multiple and varied
forms. "Resistance" more generally has occasionally been conceived in such a broad
manner, as ranging from small acts to larger forms of social organisation such as social
movements; as encompassing both subtle moves and open confrontation.36 In a similar vein,
in Edgar Pieterse's conceptualization of urban politics in the South, "insurgent citizenship"


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Between Exit and Voice: Informality and the Space for Popular Agency I 7


can manifest itself through a varied range of transgressive practices.37 He stresses the
existence of "multiple ... and overlapping spaces of political practices in the city," ranging
from individual everyday practices of circumvention to collectively organized forms.38 This
is a good starting point for a broader approach to the agency of informal workers.
While the contributions in this special issue interpret the agency of informal workers in
diverse and contrasting ways, taken together they provide a broader picture and
illustrations of the diverse forms that such agency can take, in relation to processes of
informalization/formalization. The articles by Hansen and by Baudouin and his associates
illustrate how the urban self-employed have gradually taken over public space or come to
dominate the waste sector, mainly on the basis of their individual daily practices-including
tactics of avoidance of the state in the latter case. In both cases, while the authors see few
signs of stable collective organization, they report how these actors occasionally resort to
vehement collective manifestations in the form of riots and clashes, in response to various
state interventions that threatened their livelihoods. Barchiesi also sees little scope for
collective organization on the basis of work related identities in the context of processes of
casualization. Rather, he focuses his attention on the subjectivities and discourses of
individual workers and the ways in which they perceive self-employment as an opportunity
"exit" the from capitalist production process. The other articles illustrate various kinds of
collective organization in the informal economy. Clark analyzes market women
organizations in a West African setting and the critical role played by their leaders in
recurrent negotiations and interactions with regulatory authorities through history. Both
strategies of engagement and disengagement are part of this history. Theron and Wells and
Jason discuss the possibilities for collective organization-in the first case, the emergence of
worker cooperatives, and in the second, the creation of an umbrella worker organization
who engages with the state and various other actors.
An open and embracing approach to the multiple forms of agency of informal workers
can bring to light the complexity and diversity of their political practices. It moves away
from polarized views that restrict the field of vision to either manifestations of voice or of
exit. Indeed, individual and collective forms of agency need not be seen as opposed or
exclusive of each other. Rather, one can see them in the context of a broader spectrum, a
continuum: at one end, individual circumventing practices dominate; at the other end, one
finds collective interest groups with articulate visions; in between, there is a vast field of
intermediate forms (the diffuse social networks, different forms of collaboration and
cooperative work, etc). In this continuum there are no clear-cut divisions or fixed positions,
as individuals and groups move along it, in no predetermined direction. Their insurgent
practices may evolve from one form into another, from the individual to the collective and
back again. They may seek engagement with regulatory powers only to later withdraw into
the shadows and vice versa. Different modes of agency may dominate at different points in
time, as political practices are temporal and influenced (though not determined) by the
particular societal and political contexts in which they occur. But there is no reason to
assume a linear progression, for example from individual atomized practices towards
collective ones, given the inherent indeterminacy of such practices.
One should consider the possible coexistence of different modes of social agency, as
individual informal workers may engage in both individual and collective forms of action.
In their relations to the regulatory powers of the state, informal workers may ally or engage
with specific state actors while avoiding and disengaging from others.39 This broadened
perspective allows for new kinds of questions to emerge that are of potential political


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relevance. For example, one may inquire into whether different kinds of social
action/political practices can have complementary political effects. Pieterse's relational
perspective on diverse urban political domains is useful here. He calls attention to the
interfaces between different domains of political practice, the ways in which they relate to
each other, and may combine and reinforce each other. In this context, he proposes a politics
that is attentive to "the intersections of the individual and the collective."40 This is a more
fruitful way of looking at the agency of informal workers than assuming that they prefer, or
are consigned to, one particular kind of political practice or another. The challenge is to
inquire into the shifting and situational strategies of invisibility and visibility and into the
dynamics operating between exit and voice, for a fuller understanding of the politics of
informality.

Notes


1. The articles in this special issue were initially presented at a conference on
"Informalizing Economies and New Organizing Strategies in Africa", held in 2007
under the auspices of the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden. Other
contributions to the conference are forthcoming in an anthology: I. Lindell, ed.,
Africa's Informal Workers: Collective Agency, Alliances and Transnational Organizing in
Urban Africa. London and Uppsala: Zed Books and The Nordic Africa Institute, 2010).
2. Cross and Morales, 2007; Bayat, 2004.
3. Bryceson, 2006; Hansen and Vaa, 2004.
4. Jordhus-Lier, 2010; see also article by Baudouin et al. in this issue.
5. This was earlier suggested by Castells and Portes (1989). This understanding of
boundary does not deny the interlinked nature of formal and informal economies.
6. For a thorough discussion and analysis of how the state, capital and popular groups
have been involved in the production of informality in a West African city, see
Lourengo-Lindell (2002).
7. Brown, 2006; Amis, 2004.
8. Potts, 2008; Roy, 2004; Hansen, 2004; Lindell and Kamete, forthcoming. See also
Hansen's article in this issue.
9. Lindell and Kamete, forthcoming.
10. Lindell and Appelblad, 2009.
11. Lindell, 2010a and 2008.
12. Jordhus-Lier, 2010.
13. Potts, 2008; Hansen, 2004; Cross, 1998.
14. For a lengthier discussion on the varied and complex relations between informal
workers and the state, see Lindell (2010a).
15. Gibson-Graham, 2002.
16. Gibson-Graham, 2008, p. 15.
17. Lindell, 2010.
18. Lindell, 2010.
19. See Lindell (2010a) for a discussion as well as several chapters in the same book.
20. See for example, Azarya and Chazan (1987); MacGaffey (1988).
21. Azarya and Chazan (1987), drawing on A. Hirschman (1970), Exit, Voice and Loyalty:
Responses to Decline in Firms and States. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


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Between Exit and Voice: Informality and the Space for Popular Agency I 9


22. de Soto, 1989.
23. Scott, 1985 and 1990.
24. Bayat, 2004.
25. Bayat, 2004, p. 90.
26. Bayat, 2004, p. 93.
27. See for example Tripp (1997).
28. Simone, 2004, p. 14.
29. Simone, 2004, p. 9.
30. Simone, 2004, p. 13.
31. Chen et al., 2007.
32. Fernandez-Kelly, 2006, p. 1.
33. Lindell (2010). The anthology results from the same conference as this issue.
34. Meagher, 2010.
35. A third strand of work that is not discussed here sees the politics of informality
mainly in terms of elite capture or vertical clientelist relations. See for a discussion,
Meagher (2010) and Lindell (2010a).
36. Sharp et al., 2000, p. 3. See also Cross (1998) for a similar position.
37. Pieterse, 2008.
38. Pieterse, 2008, p. 89.
39. See Cross (1998) and Lindell (2010a).
40. Pieterse, 2008, p. 119.

References

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Governance, Voice and Poverty in the Developing World, ed. N. Devas (London: Earthscan,
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Azarya, Viktor, and Naomi Chazan. "Disengagement from the State in Africa: Reflections on
the Experience of Ghana and Guinea." Comparative Studies in Society and History 29 (1987),
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Bayat, Asef. "Globalization and the Politics of the Informals in the Global South." In Urban
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Ananya Roy and Nezar Alsayyad (Lanham, Boulder, New York, Toronto and Oxford:
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Brown, Alison, ed. Contested Space: Street Trading, Public Space, and Livelihoods in Developing
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Bryceson, Deborah. "African Urban Economies: Searching for Sources of Sustainability." In
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Castells, Manuel, and Alejandro Portes, eds. The Informal Economy: Studies in Advanced and
Less Developed Countries. London: The John Hopkins Press, 1989.


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Chen, Martha, et al., eds. Membership-Based Organizations of the Poor. London and New York:
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Cross, John. Informal Politics: Street Vendors and the State in Mexico City. Palo Alto, CA:
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de Soto, Hernando. The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World. New York:
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The Mystery of Capital. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

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Gibson-Graham, J. K. "Beyond Global vs. Local: Economic Politics Outside the Binary
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"Diverse Economies: Performative Practices for 'Other Worlds'." Progress in Human
Geography 32, no. 5 (2008), pp. 613-632.

Hansen, Karen. "Who Rules the Streets? The Politics of Vending Space in Lusaka." In
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(Uppsala: The Nordic Africa Institute, 2004), pp. 62-80.

___ and Mariken Vaa. "Introduction." In Reconsidering Informality: Perspectives from Urban
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Jordhus-Lier, David. "Moments of Resistance: The Struggle Against Informalization in the
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Lindell, Ilda, ed. (2010). Africa's Informal Workers: Collective Agency, Alliances and Transnational
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___ (2010a). "The Changing Politics of Informality: Collective Organizing, Alliances and
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Between Exit and Voice: Informality and the Space for Popular Agency I 11


___ and Jenny Appelblad. "Disabling Governance: Privatization of City Markets and
Implications for Vendors' Associations in Kampala, Uganda." Habitat International 33, no. 4
(2009), pp. 397-404.

___ and Amin Kamete. "The Politics of 'Non-Planning' Strategies in African Cities:
International and Local Dimensions." Journal of Southern African Studies. (forthcoming).

"The Multiple Sites of Urban Governance: Insights from an African City." Urban
Studies 45, no. 10 (2008): 1879-1901.

Lourenqo-Lindell, Ilda. Walking the Tight Rope: Informal Livelihoods and Social Networks in a
West African City. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2002.

MacGaffey, Janet. "Economic Disengagement and Class Formation in Zaire." In The
Precarious Balance: State and Society in Africa, eds. D. Rothchild and N. Chazan (Boulder:
Westview Press, 1988), pp. 171-88.

Meagher, Kate. "The Politics of Vulnerability: Exit, Voice and Capture in Three Nigerian
Informal Manufacturing Clusters." In Africa's Informal Workers: Collective Agency, Alliances
and Transnational Organizing in Urban Africa, ed. Ilda Lindell (London and Uppsala: Zed
Books and The Nordic Africa Institute 2010).

Pieterse, Edgar. City Futures: Confronting the Crisis of Urban Development. London, New York
and Cape Town: Zed Books and UCT Press, 2008.

Potts, Deborah. "The Urban Informal Sector in Sub-Saharan Africa: From Bad to Good (and
Back Again?)." Development Southern Africa 25, no. 2. (2008), pp. 151-67.

Roy, Ananya. "The Gentlemen's City: Urban Informality in the Calcutta of New
Communism." In Urban Informality, eds. Ananya Roy and Nezar Alsayyad (Lanham,
Boulder, New York, Toronto and Oxford: Lexington Books, 2004), pp. 289-317.

Scott, James. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1985.

Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. London: Yale University
Press, 1991.

Sharp, Joanne, et al. Entanglements of Power: Geographies of Domination/Resistance. London and
New York: Routledge, 2000.

Simone, AbdouMaliq. For the City Yet to Come. Durham and London: Duke University Press,
2004.

Tripp, Mari A. Changing the Rules: The Politics of Liberalisation and the Urban Informal
Economy in Tanzania. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997.


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African Studies Quarterly I Volume 11, Issues 2 & 3 I Spring 2010


Changing Youth Dynamics in Lusaka's Informal Economy in

the Context of Economic Liberalization

KAREN TRANBERG HANSEN

Abstract: The paper examines the consequences of changes in economic regime on the
self-employed in Lusaka and attendant political dynamics. The focus is on urban
vendors, particularly youth. The paper discusses how economic restructuring involves
new regimes of spatial regulation and new strategies of urban management that have
resulted in intensified political tensions and struggles. These struggles arise from the
interaction between externally driven agendas and local political dynamics. The paper
argues that the relationships between the state and vendors, while long-standing, are
today more antagonistic than ever before, in the context of economic liberalization,
structural adjustment programs (SAP), poverty strategy reduction programs (PSRP), and
highly indebted poor countries initiative (HIPC). This is demonstrated, firstly, with
reference to recurrent controversies between urban regulatory authorities and vendors
over access to, control over, and use of market and public space. Occurrences of state
imposed removals and relocations of vendors and their responses are discussed.
Secondly, political tensions have also emerged from shifts in (state and donor driven)
strategies for market management. Tracing the history of market management forms in
Lusaka and the legacy of political party influence in the markets, the paper describes
how the decentralization of market management has increased conflicts between
different interests within the markets and reinforced the role of political interest groups,
rather than democratizing social relations in the markets. Such top-down shifts in forms
of market management have sometimes triggered major dashes in the markets.

Introduction

Focusing on the contested space of streets and markets while asking questions about the role of
youth in claiming urban space, this paper explores whether and if so, how, young people's
interests are attended to in the economic sphere in Zambia.1 My backdrop is the streets and
markets in the capital, Lusaka, that for the past two decades have been an important economic
resource for urban livelihoods and the center of a storm of controversy. This is because the vast
majority of Lusaka's residents, including ever more young people, create a living from a range
of extra-legal activities that are most visible in public space. It is not surprising that the
intermittent eviction of vendors from sidewalks and streets and their removal from market
places to create room for redevelopment have received varied responses. On the one hand,
vendors have appropriated these sites, customers frequent them to satisfy their daily needs

Karen Tranberg Hansen is professor of anthropology at Northwestern University in the United States. She has
conducted urban research in Zambia since the early 1970s on several issues related to the informal economy,
including housing, gender, and youth. Her most recent publications are Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and
Zambia (2000), Hansen and Vaa (eds) Reconsidering Informality: Perspectives from Urban Africa (2004), and Hansen et al.
Youth and the City in the Global South (2008). She continues her research on markets, youth, and consumption.

http: //www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/vll/vlli2-3a2.pdf
University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448






14 | Hansen


because of their convenient location in public space, and politicians curry their patronage
intermittently. And on the other hand, the public abhors street vendors for spreading dirt and
disease, investors blame them for adversely affecting business, and local government and
representatives of the state consider them to be unruly and difficult to regulate. Yet at the same
time and according to recent development orthodoxy, such activities are examples of micro-
entrepreneurship and hold the solution to urban poverty.
Controversies over the use of public space and access to markets in Lusaka's city center are
by no means unique. They are not recent phenomena but date back to the colonial period. Such
dramas have also taken place in many other urban settings, for example the 1997 eviction of
Calcutta street hawkers, referred to euphemistically as Operation Sunshine, or the 2005
eradication in Zimbabwe of informal stands and housing, known as Operation Murambatsvina
("clean out dirt" or "restore order").2 Each case reflects the operation of distinct local politics of
space. In Lusaka the dynamics have changed since the past, with age, or rather generation,
constituting the most conspicuous fault line today.3 This has to do in part with the recent
conjuncture of neo-liberal politics with a new demography, that is, the rapid growth of youth
into a very large proportion of the overall urban population. I suggest for the case of Zambia
that economic liberalization since 1991 coupled with structural adjustment programs, the highly
indebted poor countries initiative, and the poverty reduction strategy program, are producing a
relationship between the state and the urban informal economy that is more antagonistic than
ever and in ways that severely circumscribe young people's options. That is to say, economic
restructuring involves new regimes of spatial regulation.
Some of the key issues in confrontations over public space are epitomized in the demolition
of tuntembas, a Bemba word for self-constructed stalls, that mushroomed in Lusaka in the wake
of the introduction of free market policies in the early 1990s. I suggest that that ongoing
struggles over access to, use of, and control over trading space are fuelled in part by externally
derived planning agendas. What is more, we need to understand that these agendas interact
with local dynamics of differentiation, including generational access, in complicated ways. In
effect, externally driven efforts to regulate marketing that invoke a governance rhetoric of
participation ignore the politics of everyday urban life, including generational issues, by
detaching the marketing process from the social and cultural practices that organize it. As this
paper demonstrates, the result is a politics of urban space in which young people are
particularly constrained.
Briefly, to situate the social biography of this project, it was in the 1990s, when I worked in
and around Lusaka's city center markets during my research on the secondhand clothing trade,
that I was struck by the number of youth, especially young men, who were active economically
in public space. As the 1990s went on, I became convinced that a variety of new forces were
restructuring public retail space and in the process, bringing potential new actors to the fore,
among them youth, at an unprecedented scale. While my research since the beginning of the
new millennium has focused on youth issues across class in Lusaka in a very general way, I also
continue to keep track of developments on the market front.

Urban Transformations


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Changing Youth Dynamics in Lusaka's Informal Economy | 15


The specific context for this paper's observations are the succession of structural adjustment
programs (SAP) by a World Bank initiated Poverty Strategy Reduction Program (PSRP) in 2002,
the compliance with which in April 2005 qualified Zambia for debt relief under the Highly
Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. While this new pro-poor policy approach aims to
reduce some of the many adverse effects of SAP programs, including growing poverty, PRSP
stresses that poverty reduction needs to take place in a democratic society with open markets
and a competitive business environment. With PRSP, the previous development agenda's focus
on growth and distribution has yielded to concerns with governance and capacity building.
Spending policy under PRSP targets agriculture, tourism, and the social sector (health and
education). Zambia's 2002-2004 PRSP document leaves out major issues, among them,
employment, housing, and markets, thus ignoring the livelihoods of the urban poor. School
leavers, school drop outs, and graduates are all pressing on a shrinking formal labor market in
Zambia. Between 1992 and 1999, formal employment declined from 17 to 11 percent of the labor
force.5 According to 2004 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) projections, young
people below 25 years of age comprise 64 percent of Zambia's total population of around 11
million. Close to half of the total population is urban. Lusaka, the capital has an estimated
population of 2.5 million. Young urban people in Zambia face serious odds because of the
country's striking decline. The two decades during which Zambia has been a target for
IMF/World Bank initiated SAP programs were marked by growing inequality, rising
unemployment, deteriorating health (including a high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate), declining
access to education, and an infrastructure that has not kept pace with urban population growth.
Zambia's 2003 ranking on the Human Development Index slid to a low of 164 (of 177 countries),
making it the only country on the list for which the index was lower than in 1975.6
SAP and recent neo-liberal reforms have spatial ramifications that affect the livelihoods of
different population segments in disparate ways, sharpen social and spatial inequalities, and
extend them in new ways. Two decades of SAP and neo-liberal reforms since the early 1990s
have altered the nature and availability of urban space in Lusaka, including land and
infrastructure, and access to markets. In the wake of these reforms, changes in land values have
adversely affected access to housing and its location as well as the place and nature of
commercial activity. Because housing markets have been privatized and no low-cost
government housing constructed since the 1970s, the vast majority of Lusaka's population lives
in informal housing in the peri-urban areas.7 Inadequate provision of electricity, water, and
transport reduces the exploitation of service and small-scale manufacturing activities by
residents in such areas. In their efforts to earn an income, many peri-urban residents have
turned to the markets and streets in Lusaka's city-center.
In popular representations in Zambia, "freeing the market" has almost come to mean
opening it up to external rather than local participation. Globally promoted development
policy since 1991 has encouraged foreign investment which in Lusaka by and large has been
directed toward the retail sector. Urban retail space has been reconfigured as investments,
especially by South African and Chinese firms, resulting in selective urban upgrading and new
patterns of spatial segregation. One of the highly visible results has been the opening of four
up-scale shopping malls since 1999, financed by British and South African capital, as well as by
local business interests. Additional malls and upgrading of long-existing markets, some with


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16 | Hansen


Chinese financing, are also under way. These processes reach markets and streets as well, with
Chinese shopkeepers selling low-priced imported goods, introducing a competitive wedge at
the very lowest level of the urban trading system.

Gender and Age in Lusaka's Informal Economy

Past and present, Zambia's informal economy has been dominated by trade and retail, followed
by services and small-scale manufacturing.8 From small beginnings during the colonial period,
these activities became more widespread in the early 1970s as the economy set on a downward
slide.9 A common research finding from the 1980s and 1990s concerns the gender and age
division of informal actors.10 Contributing the survival margin to many urban household
economies, women's work stimulated the growth of the informal economy, especially in trade,
but mostly at much lower returns than men. The majority of traders of both sexes tended to be
middle aged (25-40 years of age), and women dominated in petty trading, older men in
carpentry and tin smithing, while younger men worked in auto repair, electrics, and
mechanics." But research findings since the mid-1990s have begun to reveal changes in the
gender and age composition of the urban informal economy. First, the majority of street
vendors are young, in the 20 to 30 year age category; and second, the majority of street vendors
are male.12 Because vending in the streets entails more risks and dangers than in designated
markets, this gender and age profile is not surprising. What is striking is that only a minority of
the young male vendors were married. 13 They earn so little that they cannot establish their own
household, as I noted in city center and township markets since 1992, when I met many more
young unmarried male vendors than I did in the 1970s and 1980s.14
Lusaka's streets and markets are among the most important sources for non-formal
employment. But the mere reference to the enormous growth of the informal economy since the
1970s glosses over the many inequalities that are embedded within it, in terms of gender and
age, and, depending on activity, location and organization. During the 1990s, privatization of
the economy and retrenchment of the civil service pushed many adults into the informal
economy. The presence of adults in the more lucrative jobs limits young people's entry to low-
level jobs that offer few prospects for upward mobility and provide few skills that might lead to
the acquisition of higher qualifications. As a consequence, young women and men from poor
backgrounds have fewer economic options in today's transformed urban space than their
parents' generation enjoyed. Adult stand-holders hire young women and men as "workers" for
a pittance. Plenty of young men work on the streets, selling anything from foodstuffs and
hardware to copycat tapes and videos. Much of this work involves subcontracting, which is
most visibly evident in the young Zamcab drivers who hire wheelbarrows to transport the
purchases of customers.

Tuntembas and Youth

The term tuntemba came into use in the early 1990s when traders and aspiring vendors left the
designated markets in the city and the townships, descending on the city center and setting up
stands they put together from wood, plastic sheeting, and cardboard. These makeshift


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Changing Youth Dynamics in Lusaka's Informal Economy | 17


structures became known as tuntembas, which in the Bemba language translates approximately
into "area of operation." The term graphically captured what in fact the traders were doing:
staking claims on space for their own activities. The 1991 change of regime from a one-party
command economy to a multi-party democracy had not helped formal employment to expand
but rather fuelled the growth of informalization. In fact, the removal of controls on foreign
exchange, imports, and prices attracted more people to trade than ever before. And vending
became particularly visible and dynamic on the streets.
The Chiluba Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) government had come into
power with the promise of improving housing, social welfare, health, and education, yet rapid
privatization of the para-statal companies did not benefit the general population.15 Because of
the strained economy, state intervention in marketing and street vending became a very
contentious matter. In the first MMD government in 1991, the minister of Local Government
and Housing, Michael Sata, ordered city councils to allow street vending.16 This decision
prompted many traders to desert designated markets for streets and sidewalks. When in 1993
the Lusaka City Council (LCC) assisted by police and military undertook one of many sweeps
of street vendors, it clashed with the vendors and a riot ensued. An angry President Chiluba
intervened strongly on the vendors' behalf, blaming the city council for not finding alternative
places before forcing them off the streets. Extending this vendor friendly atmosphere, the
president in December 1996 established a Vendors' Desk with a deputy minister at State House,
a decision that was interpreted to mean that anyone could trade and erect a stand anywhere.
And this is exactly what they did. By Christmas 1998, street vending in Lusaka had achieved
anarchic proportions. Main streets, alleyways, and shop corridors in the city center, and many
other places, had turned into one huge outdoor shopping mall with thousands of street vendors
selling all manner of goods.

Designated Markets

The term designated, or authorized, market refers to areas where urban retail is permitted
under the Market Act. In the late 1990s Lusaka had about 40 designated city markets and 54
designated township markets. 17 Proliferating and growing in size, these markets diversified
their commodity base, service activities, and participants, including as I have already indicated,
more adult persons retrenched from formal jobs and young people out of school, especially
young men. Among these markets was Lusaka's largest, Soweto, that developed in the late
1970s at the edge of the light industrial area on privately owned land as a center of the produce
trade for peri-urban farmers. Beginning informally and illegally, it soon featured the capital's
largest auto part section plus the standard trades in small-scale manufacture, repair, and
services. Over the years, the market grew rapidly. Toward the end of 1994, traders in Soweto's
outside section and part of the built-up interior market were relocated to yield space for the
construction of a new market. In return, the city council promised them stands in the new
market. Some traders went farther out on the open field, establishing stands underneath tall
pylons carrying power cables. Others moved on to Kamwala, Lusaka's oldest market built
during the colonial period, where many set themselves up on the open field outside the built-up
market, next to the railway tracks.


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18 | Hansen


But above all, traders spilled into the streets. The 1997 opening of a new market at Soweto,
called City Market, did little to halt these processes. Many stand-holders who had fought to be
allotted space in the new market soon gave up their stands, complaining of lack of customers
and high fees. A few days after the market's opening, the city council burned the tuntembas on
its outskirts. Yet stand-holders continued to leave the new market for the streets resulting in
ongoing conflicts between inside and outside traders, police, the LCC, management, and
political cadres.
In the pre-dawn hours of 28 April 1999, city council staff, police, and paramilitary in riot
gear razed the tuntembas in Lusaka's city center, extending the demolition the following night
and weeks across the city, into the townships and, in June, to the Copperbelt and all the towns
along the line-of-rail. This time, and unlike in 1993 when he supported the vendors, the
president, who had approved this costly removal, kept quiet. Although it is illegal, political
parties use designated markets to collect funds through market fees and levies. But street
vendors come and go and do not even pay such fees. According to a well-informed source, the
majority of street vendors were not registered voters. That is, they were entirely dispensable
from the point of view of the reigning party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, who did
not need their electoral support. The deputy minister of the Vendors Desk took the flak for the
evictions, arguing that the move to designated markets would place vendors in enabling
environments and enhance their security. For a while, Lusaka's main streets remained almost
clear of the mass of street vendors who were such a common sight throughout the 1990s. Yet the
vendors soon returned to trading in public in a variety of disguises, among them car boot sales,
sales from containers, and business during early morning and late afternoon rush hours.

Market Management, Decentralization, and Participation

Markets in Zambia are state property. The Market Act empowers the minister of Local
Government and Housing to delegate development and management of markets to local
authorities (district, municipal, and city councils). In the past, markets were managed either by
councils or authorized co-operative societies. Stand-holders paid levy to the council, rent to the
co-operative society, and daily market fees. Many also paid fees to funeral societies, football
associations, and security guards. Because markets are strategic places for party recruitment,
their management has been a target of political maneuver. During the Kaunda regime, the
ruling party UNIP (United National Independence Party) usurped power under the Market Act,
often through the co-operative societies, in this way controlling, or taking control through its
Youth Wing, of the allocation of stands in many markets.18 UNIP membership became a
prerequisite for access to a stand, with stand-holders paying fees or levies to the party. In those
days stand-holders, especially women, were rounded up to line the streets or cheer at the
airport on the occasion of formal state visits.
The Local Government Act of 1991 uncoupled the party structure and operations from
district councils in a move toward establishing autonomous local authorities with elected
councilors and mayors. The majority of LCC members belong to the Patriotic Front (PF). The
central government still reshuffles senior officers and controls finances.19 In the open economy
era, local authorities have begun to contract private firms to manage designated markets. Yet


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Changing Youth Dynamics in Lusaka's Informal Economy | 19


the political legacy, with its "cadre mentality," is still evident in many markets today. The MMD
has kept a visible presence with an office and a staff in many markets, as do some opposition
parties. Today the term "cadre" continues to be used for political involvement in a discourse
that takes us back to the days of the one-party state and the disciplinary, vigilante functions of
its youth wing. Politics in markets has complicated the Ministry of Local's Government's efforts
to implement donor required decentralization of the urban administration, an example of which
is the management of markets by private firms.
City Market, opened in August 1997, was the first market to be managed by a private
company. This arrangement did not last much longer than a couple of years. In 1999, when I
conducted research there, the MMD maintained an office in the very center of the inside section.
Lusaka's largest market, Soweto, has offices not only of the council, the MMD, and other
parties, but also of the Soweto Marketeers Co-operative, and ZANAMA (Zambia National
Marketeers Association), an association that has managed markets on the Copperbelt for some
years. Within markets, different groups quarrel over who is in charge in a process that pits
marketeers' associations, the LCC, the ministry, and political party branches against one
another.20
When things get rough in markets, party cadres are blamed. In efforts to lessen political
involvement, the Minister of Local Government and Housing in 2004 removed the control of
bus stations from organized groups of transporters with political affiliation. Similar plans were
announced for the markets. With the ministry in charge, the door is wide open for private sector
participation in the administration of markets. When President Mwanawasa introduced such an
approach in 2005, he suggested that it would hasten the "development in Local Authorities and
help ... them control street vending."21 The idea of establishing boards was not new but had
already been introduced in the late 1990s in the management model that was part of an EU's
market rehabilitation project in Lusaka and the Copperbelt.22 In line with the externally
mandated government policy on decentralization, such boards are expected to represent
marketeers, consumer organizations, local government, commuters' associations, and the
Chamber of Commerce and Industry.23 Aimed at including a variety of stakeholders and
empowering them through market governance, the establishment of boards might serve to
depoliticize the management of markets, and perhaps lessen the persistent wrangles between
councils, co-operatives and marketeers' associations, the ministry, and parties.
But this was not the outcome. The decentralized reform strategy of governance through
stakeholder participation in fact reinforced the role of political interest groups and
powerbrokers rather than democratizing social relations in the management of markets. In
November 2006, Local Government Minister Sylvia Masebo dissolved the management boards
in markets and bus stations.24 Toward the end of 2008, the new Markets and Bus Stations Act
(No 7) of 2007 went into effect. Board membership was based on party allegiance and special
interests with cadres, political factions, committees, and associations collecting or soliciting
levies (the PF at City Market and the MMD at Kamwala). Once again, the local authority, that is
the ministry, took charge of the management of markets in its usual top-down manner. No
doubt, the backdrop for this particular action included major clashes at several Lusaka markets
between political cadres of different parties in the wake of the 2006 elections. A major promise
of the populist campaign of opposition candidate, Michael Sata (PF), was jobs and housing.


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20 | Hansen


Much like in 1991, when he was MMD minister of local government and housing, this time Sata
also addressed the problem of street vending. But while he attracted the majority vote in all of
Zambia's urban areas, Mr. Sata lost the election to the sitting president, Levy Mwanawasa.
Although President Mwanawasa and Sylvia Masebo launched the "Keep Zambia Clean and
Healthy" campaign that included ridding streets and corridors of vendors and removing
tuntembas from the city center, street vending persisted.

Displacements

Because different segments of the state view street vending differently, interventions lack
coordination and have been ad hoc. The market management approach dealt with street
vendors in passing, pertaining to them only by way of control rather than of assistance. Efforts
to renovate old market structures, upgrade, or entirely replace them have not effectively
contained the problem of street vending. And the construction since the late 1990s of ultra-
modern markets to enable street vendors to move to designated markets has been slow, or has
stalled. In fact, some of the market upgrading, including the redevelopment project in Lusaka
launched in the late 1990s by the European Union, were unfinished for several years and only
completed in 2008. The project involved the demolition of old market structures that pushed
many traders away from the old markets. Market redevelopment, for example the Chinese
financed upgrading of Lusaka's oldest market, Luburma (Kamwala) built during the colonial
period, charged high rental fees that forced existing traders away. Similarly, the redevelopment
of the Town Center market financed by a local consortium forced traders onto the streets
because of the limited number of stalls and the high rental fees. Taken together, these
developments threaten the earnings potential and livelihoods of the thousands of people whom
investment- driven market liberalization has displaced. No wonder that vendors keep returning
to the streets and that the council's admonition that they should work from designated markets
has had, at most, temporary effects.

Collaboration and Scope for Organizing

In response to the call of external advisors, new market associations have emerged that relate to
the powers that be in the language of governance, demanding a place in decision making,
including membership in new governance structures such as market boards. Aside from
ZANAMA, which manages several markets in the Copperbelt towns and parts of some markets
in Lusaka (Chawama, Soweto), most of these associations are trade specific groups, such as the
secondhand clothes traders association, the fish traders associations, and the cross-border
traders association. Adopting the language of free agents and entrepreneurship, such groups
engage planning authority with a good deal of cynicism because experience has made them
doubt the outcome.
Although young vendors are highly visible in markets and on streets everywhere in
Lusaka, they rarely assume an organized presence. The dissolved market boards, for example,
did not include any specific youth representation. The situation in which most young people
find themselves in Lusaka casts serious doubt on the organizational ability the governance


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Changing Youth Dynamics in Lusaka's Informal Economy | 21


agenda attributes to civil society groups. To be sure, such groups do not arise automatically out
of altruistic sensibilities or pre-existing cultural templates called "tradition." They are not
primordial but have to be created in order to emerge.
There are many factors that operate against the development of wider self-help groups and
networks of solidarity among youth. They include the fragmented nature of young people's
activities in streets and markets and the need for flexibility in the competition for economic
space. Such young workers need street knowledge, stamina, and capital. The work of many is
subcontracted, including the sale at the traffic lights of major intersections of toys, cosmetics,
and household goods as well as of fruit and vegetables and newspapers. The earnings of many
young workers include little more than bus fare, a mid-day snack, and some spending money
that do not enable them to accumulate start-up capital for future ventures of their own. Many
young workers wish to get out of, rather than hang onto, such fragile and insecure informal
economic employment. While a few young workers live alone or share rented rooms with
friends, the status of most young people as dependent members of households vests part of
their earnings in the household pot. That is why young people's individual interests in getting
by economically in order to get on to establish adult lives do not easily coalesce into urban
social movements. The types of collaboration I have seen involve a couple of friends who help
each other watching out for the police or the sharing of costs for renting overnight storage space
for their goods.
The struggles of Lusaka's street vendors and market traders have been episodic and
disjointed, yet they keep reoccurring. The market scene is so fragmented that the ruling party in
1999 had no qualms about launching the largest exercise to remove vendors from urban space
ever to be conducted in Zambia. This action was possible in part because of the striking fluidity
of the market scene where traders come and go, change commodities, and move between
indoor and outdoor spaces, and at times handle other jobs as well. And it also reflected that
what is at the heart of the informal economy and keeps fueling its activities are first and
foremost the survival needs of individuals and households.

Micro-Entrepreneurship as a Solution?

Employment reaches the core of the urban youth predicament in Zambia. The scale of that
predicament is massive, as a recent event demonstrates. In the summer of 2005, more than 3,500
young job seekers turned up in response to a job fair in Lusaka held by Celtel, Zambia's largest
mobile phone service provider. By late afternoon, Celtel staff had attended to more than 3,500
while 800 additional job seekers, mainly graduates from the University of Zambia, the
Copperbelt University, and other tertiary institutions, were still waiting in a long queue.
According to a news release, Celtel planned to employ 200 of the persons who were
interviewed. When labor minister Bates Namuyamba commented on the event, he noted that
the high unemployment levels among youth and women were now affecting college and
university graduates. The situation, he said, has caused "formal employment to decline, forcing
more people to seek refuge in the informal sector as more and more people are ending up on
the streets."25
Political rhetoric acknowledges the employment ramifications of the urban youth bulge, yet


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22 | Hansen


few policy measures are in place. Take Zambia's PRSP document, for example, that
demonstrates an almost total disconnect with the situation on the ground. It makes absolutely
no reference to young people even though, for the purposes of strategy development, they
constitute an extraordinarily relevant category because their livelihoods cut across the specific
sectors on which Zambia's PRSP focuses: agriculture, tourism, and health and education.
Zambia's PRSP does not engage with the issues of rapid urban growth or the future of urban
livelihoods. It does not recognize housing as an urgent urban issue, and most strikingly, it does
not single out unemployment as a problem in its own right. Even the 2005 Economic
Commission for Africa (ECA) report recognizes this when it notes tersely that "the employment
content of PRSPs in Africa remains weak."26
Zambia's PRSP introduces issues related to earnings and income through a focus on
investment, trade promotion, and the development of small and medium enterprises.27 Such
enterprises are hailed as development strategies and solutions to the unemployment problem in
the new Technical Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training (TEVET) policy, a
program to support technical training (2001-2005) passed by an act of parliament in 1998 under
pressure from the World Bank and international donors. This is an example of a youth oriented
policy, specifically revolving around micro-enterprise with clearly targeted beneficiaries: young
women and men from Grades 7 through 12 who are no longer in school, for a "demand driven
culture of entrepreneurship."28 While this policy shift is a reaction to the lack of fit between the
skills taught in formal institutions and the needs of the labor market, it does not reckon with the
workings and organization of Zambia's informal economy, nor does it engage with the
structural barriers of the labor market in the era of late capitalism.
For a number of reasons, entrepreneurship and micro-enterprises in the informal economy
are not grassroots solutions to unemployment. A focus on such activities implies that the
informal economy can absorb ever-increasing numbers of newcomers. This view is flawed for
many reasons, one of which is its tendency to lump all workers together. In the case of Lusaka,
age- and gender-based employment hierarchies of the informal economy that I have alluded to
restrict young people's access, propelling them into casual work and low-grade jobs that curtail
upward mobility and the acquisition of the skills and qualifications required for job promotion.
A policy focus for youth employment that centers on training for small-scale enterprise and
entrepreneurship draws attention away from the vulnerable position of young people in the
labor market. The technical and vocational training approach does not acknowledge that
today's competitive and technological job market is likely to leave growing numbers of young
trainees without formal jobs or at best underemployed and performing casual labor. Such
programs are not likely to make massive changes in the employability of the many young
people in Lusaka, some of whom turned up at Celtel's job fair and the many others who will, as
the minister of labor said, seek refuge in the informal sector and end up on the streets. Unlike
the TEVET act that approaches the informal economy as a site of development, the minister saw
Zambia's informal economy as proof of the country's economic problems, doubting that it can
serve as a development strategy on young people's treacherous journey toward adulthood.
Routine allusions to youth empowerment in political rhetoric in recent years have been
slow to produce results. In 2003, the Ministry of Sport, Youth and Child Development began
preparations for a new National Youth Policy to replace the previous policy from 1994. The


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Changing Youth Dynamics in Lusaka's Informal Economy | 23


policy proposal was presented to the cabinet in 2005 and adopted by the government in April
2006. It contains some astonishing elements, among them the definition of youth as young
people up to the age of 35 (unlike the previous policy that used the United Nations definition:
up to 25 years of age). While the document gathers dust on the shelves, so far one proposal
related to street children has been implemented. This proposal recycles a policy from the days
of the one-party state with slight innovations to reckon with the present. At issue is a
rehabilitation program launched in 2005 that places urban street children in two former Zambia
National Service (ZNS) training camps near Kitwe and Katete. The target group is young people
between 15 and 18 years who are taught carpentry, bricklaying, agriculture, animal husbandry,
and poultry management. There are courses in shoe making and tailoring as well.
In the wake of the adoption of the new youth policy, the government established a Youth
Empowerment Fund. Much like the program to rehabilitate street children, this project recycles
previous approaches to youth projects and innovations, in this case by creating a youth
investors' fund to provide seed money. Outmoded notions of vocational training and micro-
enterprises are at the heart of both the revived ZNS training program and the Youth
Empowerment Fund. These projects will not solve the massive employment problem of young
urban people. The Minister of Science and Industry put this plainly when commenting on the
budgetary marginalization of the Ministry of Sport, Youth and Child Development: "The future
of youth should not lie in tuntembas but proper education."29

Conclusion: The Battle over Regulation

Vendors have returned to the Lusaka's streets, in new disguises, with new sales strategies, at
specific times of the day, and in strategic spots in the city even though police and paramilitary
kept a visible presence in the city center since the massive clean-up exercise of street vendors in
1999. In 2009, ten years after that exercise, a New Soweto Market with stands for 5000 traders,
financed by the European Union, was ready to be formally commissioned by Rupiah Banda,
who assumed the presidency on Mwanawasa's death in 2008. Informal vendors had occupied
the space where the new market was constructed and were promised stands within it. But a lack
of transparency in the allocation of stands and allegations of political interference delayed the
market's opening, and the initial allocation was nullified. As a result, street vendors crowded
the nearby streets. Rumors of a major removal by the LCC of street vendors abounded in spite
of an injunction filed in court by the opposition PF party against the government's plan to
remove the vendors.30 Meanwhile, rival political cadres from the MMD and PF took over
sections of the Soweto market, collecting fees.31 The new minister of local government and
housing, Benny Tetamashimba, lacked the action of the former tough-talking minister, Sylvia
Masebo. In effect, new wrangles and clashes keep rising in conflicts over space for trading and
will no doubt continue to do so. To be sure, the government's lack of political will or power to
regulate the management of the designated markets makes taking a stand on street vending
highly problematic.
Exercises to remove vendors from public space have a lot to do with the introduction of
"free market" practices, as well as many other matters that contribute to make street vendors a
problem, among them sanitation, public health, and safety. Using the rhetoric of free markets


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24 | Hansen


and entrepreneurship, the government's approach to markets and vending produces new
hierarchies of access and extends inequalities across space. In this new regime of power, the
lines of access circumscribe space, and they hit young people disproportionately. The
contradictions inherent in this approach to development are visibly evident on Lusaka's streets
and in its overcrowded designated markets. When vendors speak about their tuntembas, they
make unprecedented claims on ownership and self-employment, that is, filling the employment
gap that results from the state's inability to grow the economy. The meanings of tuntemba, we
recall, revolve around notions of "area of operation/ influence," that is to say, of being in charge,
as a part of a larger whole. What the irony of the tuntemba narrative achieves is to subvert the
state's lackluster control efforts and challenge its neglect/lack of support in the very rhetoric of
entitlement and aspirations that democracy has promoted since the early 1990s.


Notes


1. This paper is informed by observations from field research I conducted in Lusaka since
the early 1990s, and it draws as well on public debate about markets, their regulation,
and youth policy. Maurice Pengele assisted me with interviews of specific categories of
street vendors in 2002. Northwestern University's Research Grant Committee, the
Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and the Council for
Development Research of the Danish Agency for International Cooperation have
supported these research activities over the years. I am grateful to them. I have written
about some of these processes elsewhere (Hansen 2000, 2004, 2008), but not with focus
on youth matters.
2. Brown, 2006; Roy, 2003, pp. 173-174; Potts, 2006.
3. Cole and Durham, 2007.
4. Republic of Zambia, 2002.
5. Central Statistical Office, 2000.
6. United Nations Development Program, 2004.
7. Mulenga, 2001.
8. Central Statistical Office, 1991, pp. 24-25.
9. Hansen, 2008.
10. Bardoulle, 1981; Hansen, 1980; 1982; 1989; Jules-Rosette, 1979.
11. Hahn, 1982, pp. 6-9; Peters-Berries 1993, p. 3
12. Lusaka City Council, 1995.
13. Imboela, 1997, pp. 11, 27.
14. Hansen, 2005.
15. Myers, 2005, pp. 114-115.
16. Peters-Berries, 1993, p. 3; p. 15; p. 18.
17. Hansen, 2004, p. 68.
18. Beveridge and Oberschall, 1979, pp. 84-86.
19. Mutale, 2004, pp. 41-42.
20. Times of Zambia, 28 August 2003.


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Changing Youth Dynamics in Lusaka's Informal Economy | 25


21. Zambia Daily Mail, 18 April 2000.
22. Zambia Daily Mail, 7 April 2000.
23. Post, 18 April 2005.
24. Times of Zambia, 23 October 2006.
25. Post, 19 July 2005.
26. Economic Commission for Africa, 2004, p. 14.
27. Republic of Zambia, 2002.
28. Republic of Zambia, 1998.
29. Post, 12 March 2006.
30. Times of Zambia, 4 June 2009.
31. Times of Zambia, 24 July 2009.

References

Bardouille, Raj. "The Sexual Division of Labour in the Urban Informal Sector: Case Studies of
Some Townships in Lusaka." African Social Research 32 (1981), pp. 29-54.

Beveridge, Andrew A., and Anthony R. Oberschall. African Businessmen and Development in
Zambia. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979.

Brown, Allison, ed. Contested Space: Street Trading, Public Space. and Livelihoods in Developing
Cities. Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby: Intermediate Technology Publications, Inc, 2008.

Cole, Jennifer and Deborah Durham, eds. Generations and Globalization: Youth, Age, and Family in
the New World Economy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

Central Statistical Office (CSO). Women and Men in Zambia: Facts and Figures. Lusaka: Central
Statistical Office, 1991.

--.--- Living Conditions in Zambia 1998. Lusaka: Central Statistical Office, 2000.

Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). "Meeting the Challenges of Unemployment and
Poverty in Africa." Economic Report on Africa 2005. Addis Abeba: Economic Commission for
Africa, 2005.

Government of Zambia (GOZ). Technical Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training
(TEVET) Policy. Lusaka: Ministry of Science, Technology and Vocational Training, 1996.

Hahn, Hans C. "Some Characteristics of Informal Sector Businessmen in Lusaka and Kitwe,
Zambia." World Employment Programme, Southern African Team for Employment Promotion.
Working Papers. Lusaka: ILO, 1982.

Hansen, Karen Tranberg. "The Urban Informal Sector as a Development Issue: Poor Women
and Work in Lusaka, Zambia." Urban Anthropology 9 (1980), pp. 199-225.


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26 | Hansen


----. Lusaka's Squatters: Past and Present." African Studies Review 25, nos. 2/3 (1982), pp. 117-
136.

-----. "The Black Market and Women Traders in Lusaka, Zambia." In Women and the State in
Africa, eds. Jane L. Parpart and Kathleen Staudt (Boulder: Lynne Reinner Publishers, 1989),
pp.143-159.

--.--- Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia. Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 2000.

-----. "Who Rules the Streets? The Politics of Vending Space in Lusaka," In Reconsidering
Informality: Perspectives from Urban Africa, eds. Karen Tranberg Hansen and Mariken Vaa
(Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute, 2004), pp. 62-80.

-----. "Getting Stuck in the Compound: Some Odds against Social Adulthood in Lusaka,
Zambia." Africa Today 5, no.4 (2005), pp. 3-18.

-----."The Informalization of Lusaka's Economy: Regime Change, Ultra-Modern Markets, and
Street Vending, 1972-2004." In One Zambia, Many Histories: Towards a History of Post-Colonial
Zambia, eds. Jan-Bart Gewald, Marja Hinfelaar, and Giacomo Macola (Leiden: J. Brill, 2008), pp.
213-239.

Imboela. L. M. New Forms of Economic Activities in the Informal Sector after 1990: An Investigation of
the Socio-economic Characteristics of the Tuntemba Operators and Their Role in Household Survival
Strategies in Zambia. Lusaka: Development Studies Department, University of Zambia. Serial no.
50 (1997).

Jules-Rosette, Bennetta. "Alternative Urban Adaptations: Zambian Cottage Industries as
Sources of Social and Economic Innovations." Human Organization 18, no. 3 (1979), pp. 389-408.

Lusaka City Council (LCC). "Report to the Technical Sub-committee of the Inter-Ministerial
Committee on Street Vending." Unpublished report filed at the LCC Research Unit (1994).

Mulenga, Chileshe L. "Peri-Urban Transformations and Livelihoods in the Context of
Globalization in Lusaka, Zambia. Working paper 3." Peri-Urban Research Network, Faculty of
the Built Environment, South Bank University. London (2001).

Mutale, Emmanauel. The Management of Urban Development in Zambia. Aldershsot: Ashgate,
2004.

Myers, Garth A. Disposable Cities: Garbage, Governance and Sustainable Development in Urban
Africa. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005.

Peters-Berries, Christian. The Urban Informal Sector and Structural Adjustment in Zambia. World
Employment Programme Research, Working paper 62. Lusaka, 1993.


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Changing Youth Dynamics in Lusaka's Informal Economy | 27


Republic of Zambia. Zambia. Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. Lusaka: Ministry of Finance
and National Planning, 2002.

Republic of Zambia. The Technical and Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training Act, 1998.
NO. 13 of 1998. The Government Printer: Lusaka, 1998.

Roy, Ananya. City Requiem, Calcutta: Gender and the Politics of Poverty. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 2003.

Potts, Deborah. "'Restoring Order'? Operation Murambatsvina and the Urban Crisis in
Zimbabwe." Journal of Southern African Studies 32, no. 2 (2006), pp. 273-291.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2003 Human Development Report, 2004.

Zambian Newspapers

Post, "Bus drivers oppose Levy's market boards." 18 April 2005.

CELTEL story. 19 July 19 2005

"Youth crisis is a manifestation of inequality-Phiri," 12 March 2006.

Times of Zambia, "Taking over markets long over-due." 28 August 2003, p. 6.

"Masebo dissolves markets, station boards." 23 October 2006.

"Street vendor-free Lusaka in sight?" 4 June 2009, p. 8.

"State warns against market hooliganism." 24 July 2009, p. 3.

Zambia Daily Mail, "K6.7bn. set for 3 Lusaka markets." April 7 2000.

Statement by His Excellency Levy P. Mwanawasa, S.C. on the management of bus
stations and urban markets in Zambia. 18 April. 2005, p. 7.


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African Studies Quarterly I Volume 11, Issues 2 & 3 I Spring 2010


Between Neglect and Control: Questioning Partnerships and

the Integration of Informal Actors in Public Solid Waste

Management in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

AXEL BAUDOUIN, CAMILLA BJERKLI, YIRGALEM HABTEMARIAM,
& ZELALEM FENTA CHEKOLE

Abstract: The paper addresses the long-standing role of informal actors in solid waste
management in Addis Ababa. Large numbers of people make a living through
scavenging, waste collection and recycling. The varied and shifting relations between
these actors and the local authorities are examined. For the most part, the authorities
have largely neglected informal waste collectors. Recently, however, the role of
informal actors was recognized and the authorities attempted to establish a
"partnership" with informal actors in the waste sector. The paper discusses the
consequences and problems involved in this partnership and how it facilitated
political dominance and surveillance in a context of authoritarian governance.
Informal actors have frequently resisted attempts at taxation and have avoided any
collaboration with and control by the authorities. More generally, the paper concludes
that political manipulation, poor accountability, lack of opportunities for
participation, and the ensuing mistrust among informal actors towards local
authorities prevent any successful integration of the actors and their interests in the
public management of waste in the studied setting.

Introduction

Informal forms of work are the dominant income activities in many cities in developing
countries, providing livelihoods for millions of people.' A proportion of these people make a
living through activities in the informal waste sector as waste pickers or scavengers, itinerant
buyers, and small-scale recyclers. They are often stigmatized and many are poor. In some
cases, though, people working in this sector earn non-negligible incomes.2 Scavenging also
stimulates other economic activities by producing raw materials for industry and artisans.
Informal waste recycling also has value from an environmental point of view. More
generally, the informal waste sector plays an important role in the context of fast growing
cities experiencing inadequate formal service provision. In spite of these various benefits, the
attitudes of local governments are often characterized by neglect, lack of recognition,
harassment, or even attempts to eradicate informal activities.3
A growing number of scholars advocate proper recognition and support of the informal
sector in solid waste management (SWM).4 Rouse, for example, states: "There is a need for a



Axel Baudouin is associate professor of Geography at Norwegian University of Science & Technology (NTNU),
Trondheim, Norway. Camilla Bjerkli is currently completing a doctoral dissertation on waste management and
governance in Addis Ababa. Zelalem Fanta Chekole has an M.Phil in development studies and social change
from the Department of Geography at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and is presently
working as Regional Planner at the Federal Urban Planning Institute, Ministry of Works and Urban Development
in Addis Ababa. Yirgalem Habtemariam has a Ph.D in Geography from NTNU and is presently senior lecturer
in the department of Geography at the University of Addis Ababa.

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University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for
individuals to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448






30 | Baudouin, Bjerkli, Yirgalem, & Zelalem


paradigm shift in the way informal sector service providers are viewed ... these enterprises
are vital parts of the urban services simply responding to and effectively meeting customers
needs."5 There are also calls, in both the academic and donor literature, for policies aimed at
integrating informal actors into municipal SWM strategies.6 Such calls are often underlined
by the view that an efficient SWM cannot be achieved by municipalities alone but rather in
association with several partners, including private, formal and informal as well as
community-based organizations (CBOs). On the ground, however, we have witnessed in the
course of our research in Ethiopia serious conflicts in the concrete relationships between
authorities and informal operators in the solid waste sector. In some cases, as this paper will
show, the conflicts are so serious that informal actors, far from seeking recognition, prefer to
"escape" by refusing any contact with the municipality. Alternatively, local authorities
totally ignore the contribution of the informal sector. In this paper, we explore the troubled
and changing relationships between informal actors and local government in the solid waste
sector in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Categorizing relationships between informal actors and the state

The attitudes of authorities towards informal waste actors reflect cultural perceptions,
including those relating to caste, ethnicity, and social class. Social stigmatization is
particularly pronounced when it comes to workers in the waste sector.7 Although
governments often view informal waste actors in a negative way, their attitudes and
relationships with these actors can vary. Medina classifies these attitudes and relationships,
with reference to the waste sector, into four categories:

Repression Many governments and social groups consider scavengers as backward
and a source of shame for "modern" cities. These hostile attitudes lead to repressive
policies, punishments, harassment, and attempts at eradication, even to the extent of
organized murder: "Approximately 2000 'disposable' individuals have been killed by
the end of 1994 as a result of [the] 'social cleansing' campaign in Columbia."8

Neglect In many cases, authorities simply ignore scavengers. They do not take their
contribution to waste management into account. In addition, authorities often ignore
aspects of sustainable waste management, such as waste reduction, separation, and
recycling that are dealt with by informal actors. This lack of recognition or neglect can
have quite negative consequences on the lives of individuals in the informal sector.
For the informal transport sector, Rouse described how the banning of rickshaw
drivers from main roads in Dhaka threatened their activity, yet without solving the
city's transport problems.9 Not taking into account the consequences of actions
affecting the informal sector is also a form of neglect. In Addis Ababa, a "successful"
policy for replacing fuel wood with kerosene, gas and electricity, which are supplied
by the formal sector, led to a reduction in the use of fuel wood from 80 percent to 13
percent but also to widespread unemployment among informal suppliers of fuel,
including transporters and retailers.i0

Collusion Collusion is a form of partnership between local authorities and the
informal sector, but it is a "criminal partnership." Political clientelism, corruption,
and bribery can flourish between authorities and scavengers, as has happened in
Mexico between the ruling party and the caciques (the local bosses of scavengers'


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Public Solid Waste Management in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia | 31


cooperatives)." Scavengers have even been used as musclemen by the party during
election campaigns. The term "collusion" suggests that participation or partnership
are not necessarily positive.

Stimulation Stimulation ranges from tolerance (slightly better than neglect) to active
integration or partnership. Most researchers and even planners agree that the
informal sector is a resource. According to Medina, in some countries, such as
Indonesia, China (in particular, Shanghai), Egypt, and Brazil, recognizing the
economic, social, and environmental benefits of scavenging and recycling has led
governments to change their previously negative attitudes towards scavenging.12
Scavenger cooperatives receive recognition and financial support (Indonesia),
scavengers become more or less integrated into the municipal collection system
(Shanghai), and they are provided with infrastructure and municipal services (Cairo,
Egypt and Korea). In such cases, one could speak of a form of Public-Private
Partnership (PPP) with informal actors. Nevertheless, these examples are still
relatively few.

There have been other attempts to categorize the relationships between local authorities and
informal actors. For instance, DiGregorio uses the categories of eradication, incorporation,
accommodation, and collaboration. By introducing "accommodation," he brings in a more
positive relationship than neglect.13 Incorporation and collaboration correspond to Medina's
stimulation concept. DiGregorio's notion of incorporation includes both instances where the
municipality controls and restricts scavenging to delimited areas, as well as cases of near
integration of scavengers, where they become "quasi-public servants." We consider
"integration" too strong a word and prefer to use the term "partnerships," as it introduces
more variability and does not necessarily imply a high degree of formality.
Current international models for urban development place great emphasis on public-
private partnerships, as a means of capitalizing on the strengths of different actors in the
pursuit of common goals.14 Such models advocate the involvement of, and collaboration
with, the private and community sector in order to solve waste management and other
problems. And indeed, it has been noted that the informal private sector and community
groups are also gradually being seen as partners by municipalities in developing countries.'5
Official recognition of informal service providers may be seen as a means for supporting
employment and combating poverty and social inequality. It may also be a means of
avoiding public expenditure for services, a strategy currently pursued by many governments
in the neoliberal age. Partnerships may also be driven by political agendas and may
constitute a way for the state to extend its influence into the informal sector.
Partnerships can exist between private and informal sector operators, as is the case in
Bangkok, Thailand, where the latter engage in informal alliances with both public collectors
and construction entrepreneurs, behind the back of an inefficient administration.16 In other
kinds of partnership, such as those between a municipality and the private sector, one can
observe unintended but quite common consequences. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, when
analyzing public private partnerships, Mkwela showed a "classic" consequence of the
collaboration of municipalities with the private sector.17 Proper services are provided to high
status areas where customers are able to pay the required fees for waste collection, while low
status areas are more or less left to themselves with an improper waste collection. This is
quite a common problem with private sector-municipality partnerships in other countries,


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32 | Baudouin, Bjerkli, Yirgalem, & Zelalem


such as those where municipalities are unable or unwilling to properly monitor their
partners. 8
This paper examines how the relations between informal actors and the local authorities
in the waste sector in Addis Ababa have changed through time. It shows how they have
evolved from total neglect towards authoritarian partnerships for waste collection or
continuous neglect for recycling. The paper discusses the consequences of and problems
involved in this partnership and how it has facilitated political dominance and surveillance.
The responses of informal actors are also presented. With "informal activities" we use the
following definition: "... unregistered, unregulated or casual activities carried out by
individuals and/or family or community enterprises that engage in value-adding activities
on a small scale with minimum capital input, using local materials and labor intensive
techniques."19 Such activities differ from authorized and registered small enterprises-such
as the micro and small-scale enterprises which are also referred to in this paper-in that
informal activities occur outside existing legal frames. The notion of "informal sector" is
problematic and should be viewed as a common-sense notion rather than a concept with
analytical value. Among other problems, it is difficult and inadequate to draw a clear
separation between a formal and an informal sector given the linkages that often exist
between them. Instead, one should think in terms of fuzzy boundaries, the shifting contours
of which are a key concern in this paper.
The researchers conducted two to three months of fieldwork and used a range of
research methods. They conducted semi-structured open-ended interviews with a wide
range of involved actors, including members of private enterprises, NGOs, informal
enterprises, government-sponsored enterprises, and administrators at different levels of the
city administration (at kebele, sub-city and city levels).20 They complemented their sources
with their own observations, including observing scavengers at work and recording the
frequency of container collection by municipality trucks. Participant observation was
practiced when participating in garbage collection with NGOs, in city cleaning campaigns, or
events such as the annual Cleaning Day. Whenever possible, the researchers undertook
informal discussions with the people involved. The use of secondary literature was
somewhat limited due to the scarcity of publications. A quantitative survey of plastics
delivery to the largest market place in the city was also conducted.21 In her research on
plastics recycling, Bjerkli interviewed 63 waste collectors across the city and 150 households
in the sub-city of Addis Ketema (kebeles 6, 13 and 15). She also conducted interviews with
two owners of plastics factories, five municipality employees in charge of solid waste
management and the staff of two relevant NGOs: ENDA Ethiopia and GTZ. Zelalem
interviewed both formal and informal actors, as well as operators in government-induced
micro and small-scale Enterprises (a total of 23 interviews). He also carried out interviews
with a few households and with the relevant officials at several administrative levels.22
Yirgalem interviewed forty scavengers operating at the Repi landfill site, as well as
employees in small-scale informal industries located in proximity to the landfill site.23
The next section describes the solid waste situation in Addis Ababa and discusses the
important role of the informal sector. The different categories of informal actors conducting
waste-related activities are presented, followed by a discussion of the relations between them
and the local government prior to 2003 and also the ways in which informal actors attempt to
avoid the authorities. The paper then analyses the change in governmental strategy towards
the informal waste sector between 2003 and 2005, the official justifications, and the hidden


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Public Solid Waste Management in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia | 33


agendas behind its intervention, as well as the outcomes and responses of informal actors to
it. The paper ends with a summary of the findings and concluding remarks.

The informalizing waste sector: neglect, distrust, and avoidance

Addis Ababa is a fast growing city with a population of over three million. Among other
problems associated with rapid urbanization, the management of solid waste poses a serious
challenge. The management approaches and techniques employed by the municipality of
Addis Ababa to manage solid waste have been largely inadequate. Compared to other
sectors, solid waste management has been given too little attention in terms of resource
allocation and establishing effective institutional arrangements. It has been estimated that
geographical coverage and frequency of disposal by the public collection system has been by
far below the existing needs, ranging between 40-70 percent of the total generated waste.24
Thus, a considerable portion of the city and its population is not adequately serviced by the
public collection system. In addition, the city is still awaiting the establishment of new and
properly built sanitary dumping sites. The current system for waste disposal is unsafe, with
high social and environmental costs. The existing solid waste disposal site, the Repi landfill
site, is an open landfill site, devoid of any infrastructure. The Repi landfill site does not meet
the necessary criteria, not least in terms of minimum buffer distances required for safe waste
disposal, between the site and other land use activities, such as settlements, schools and
recreation. Communities settled around the landfill are exposed to great health risks due to
the high levels of environmental contamination, including ground and surface water
contamination.
Informal actors play a critical role in the solid waste sector in Addis Ababa. Activities
related to the sector are a source of income for many urban poor. Such activities include
waste picking and door-to-door collection, recycling, composting, and reprocessing. The sub-
studies conducted on activities at the landfill site and within the plastic waste sub-sector
revealed that diverse actors are involved.25 Interviews carried out with a variety of actors
involved in these activities make it possible to identify some of the key actors and the
relations between them.
Foragers collect materials from municipal containers and from the streets while
scavengers collect items at the municipal landfill site. It is estimated that the Repi landfill site
supports up to 500 on-site scavengers, including both temporary and permanent ones.26 On
the basis of the interviews conducted with individuals in this group, it can be stated that
permanent scavengers are mainly young people from the nearby settlements. They are
organized into gangs which control the resources collected on the site and whose power is
based on seniority and local residency. Newcomers are forced to pay a certain amount of
cash or share the collected items with local bullies. Scavengers then sell the recovered items
for reuse or deliver the materials to small-scale industry owners and farmers with whom
they have arrangements. Some municipal employees are also involved in scavenging.
The qorales-the local term for small-scale unregistered waste collectors-collect or buy
items such as plastic materials, tin cans, bottles, scrap metal, and paper directly from the
households and to a limited extent from the foragers and small-scale enterprises.27 They
deliver these items to the traders, locally called "wholesalers," operating at Merkato, the
largest market place in Addis Ababa. These wholesalers do not comply with governmental
regulations, such as those relating to the payment of taxes. Qorales and wholesalers are
linked through tightly drawn networks based on ethnic affinities, as both groups tend to


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34 | Baudouin, Bjerkli, Yirgalem, & Zelalem


identify themselves as belonging to the Gurage ethnic group. Considerable differences in the
income levels were found between the various categories of operators described above, with
wholesalers being definitely better off and in an advantaged position in relation to the other
groups.28
The above operators are vertically linked, directly or indirectly, to the local recycling
industry. Firstly, close to the landfill site, there is a small-scale industry which re-processes
waste from the tanneries and carcasses to produce glue, locally called colla. There are two
private "clandestine" colla producers in the area, each with approximately five employees.
Five of them were interviewed informally by Yirgalem. The colla producers buy carcasses
from on-site scavengers and/or gather the waste that tannery factories dump at the landfill
site. Secondly, in the plastics sector, wholesalers supply the materials directly to factories
located in Addis Ababa.29 Solid waste collection is also performed by a few private registered
enterprises and NGOs, whose role is relatively limited.
The informal system for the collection, trade and transformation of plastic and other
waste materials appears to be highly organized. The informal plastics recovery system is
particularly efficient, in that an estimated high volume of plastic materials (23 tons) is
informally collected on a daily basis in the city and recycled.30 This is related to the high local
demand for plastic products manufactured from plastic waste, which in turn is related to the
low purchasing power of a large part of the urban population. With regard to recycling in of
plastics, as of other materials, the municipality has never developed any systematic efforts.
Hence, recycling activities are mainly carried out by informal operators.
Despite the important role of informal operators in the handling of solid waste in Addis
Ababa, the dominant attitude of the authorities was, until the early 2000s, one of disregard.
Although the existence of informal operators in the sector was acknowledged at different
levels of the city administration, their significant contribution to waste reduction, reuse and
recycling was either unrecognized or ignored. No sound policy or incentives were directed
at supporting and developing their activities, nor were there any attempts to integrate them
into the formal waste management system.
Informal operators, on the other hand, tried to avoid any contact with the city officials,
opting to operate clandestinely due to lack of trust and confidence in the authorities. For
example, the small-scale colla producers by the landfill site occupy rather inaccessible and
hidden locations, mainly to avoid being discovered by government officials.31 The business
owners try to avoid any discussion with unfamiliar persons regarding colla production and
hide from outsiders, instructing their employees not to talk about their activities. Any
stranger coming to the site is perceived either as a potential business competitor or as a
government agent who is seeking to enforce legal measures against their activities.32 Among
the major reasons for these informal operators to work clandestinely are fear of eviction from
their location and of unfair, unaffordable taxes.33
In the plastics recovery system, similar secrecy and distrust were found on the basis of
interviews with the various kinds of actors involved.34 During fieldwork, Bjerkli found it
very hard to talk to people operating in the informal recovery system and obtain information
about their activities. Outsiders to the system are not trusted; only those having social
relations with others within the system and knowing the rules and norms operating within it
can be trusted. For example, it was almost impossible to find out which factories the
"wholesalers" sold their plastics to and from whom the factories bought their plastic waste.
During interviews, it surfaced that a major reason for this secrecy was that those involved
feared that the government would find out about their "illegal" activities. They perceived


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Public Solid Waste Management in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia | 35


that this would result in increased taxes or even in the closing down of their businesses.
Their lack of confidence in the government also stemmed from the fact that the authorities
do not recognize their contribution and make decisions without consulting the people
concerned. Respondents feared that the government would make decisions that would force
them out of business. For example, at the time of fieldwork, the government had plans to
relocate Menalish Terra (the area within Merkato market where "wholesalers" operate) to a
site located far away on the periphery of the city. Since the informal operators could not
count on any governmental support and were not consulted about decisions affecting them,
many of them felt that they were better off without the government's involvement. A new
strategy by the municipality to introduce micro and small-scale enterprises (MSSEs) into the
sector would only deepen these feelings and make informal actors wary of the government's
intentions, as will be further discussed below.

A tentative partnership between the municipality and the informal operators

In the early 2000s, there were increasing concerns about the image of Addis Ababa. When
visiting the city, President Khadaffi stated that Addis Ababa was too dirty to be the
headquarters of the newly created African Union. This and other pressures apparently had
an impact on the city administration. The strategy of the municipal government to tackle the
waste problem took an important turn in 2003, when a provisional city government and a
new mayor, Arkebe Oqubay, were appointed.
Prior to 2003, the municipality placed small containers in particular locations for waste
collection at the housing block level. The municipal trucks emptied the containers irregularly
and transported the waste to the Repi landfill. The collection of waste from the households to
the containers was either done directly by the households themselves or by informal
collectors paid by the households. This system was based on informal and oral arrangements
between the informal waste collectors and the municipality. Having formerly ignored the
role of informal waste collectors, the city authorities in 2003 initially appeared interested in
recognizing and facilitating their work. Government officials apparently recognized that
informal waste collectors were capable of collecting more waste than the municipal trucks
operators. They realized that they could reduce the cost of waste collection by leaving the
door-to-door collection to the informal waste collectors (i.e. the pre-collection stage). The city
government withdrew from waste collection at the housing block level practiced earlier by
the municipal truck fleets, as reported by Zelalem.35 It restricted its operations to the
transportation of waste from fewer and bigger containers that were placed at readily
accessible locations. Informal waste collectors started to organize themselves into small-scale
informal enterprises and were to some extent recognized or supported by the municipality.
In a second phase a few months later, however, the new city administration gradually
developed an interest in fully controlling the pre-collection component of solid waste
management. By the end of 2003, it started to advocate the need for further formalizing the
pre-existing informal solid waste collecting enterprises. The government intervened in the
sector by institutionalizing it and introducing new actors in the form of micro and small-
scale enterprises (MSSEs). These enterprises were organized under an agency, the Micro and
Small-Scale Enterprises Development Agency (MSSEDA), with offices at all levels of the city
administration (city, sub-city, and kebele). According to Zelalem, this intervention was made
without any kind of preliminary consultation and consensus with the pre-existing actors.
The newly introduced actors, whose members were selected from among the unemployed by


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36 | Baudouin, Bjerkli, Yirgalem, & Zelalem


the local authorities, therefore appeared as rivals to the pre-existing informal enterprises
(and even to established formal private waste enterprises). Semi-structured interviews
conducted by Zelalem with pre-existing formal private and informal actors, with the new
MSSEs, and with kebele, sub-city, and city officials, elicited insights into this intervention and
the responses to it.36
The kebele authorities, played an important role in implementing the new strategy.
Experiences varied across different kebeles in the city. The MSSEDA officials operating at
kebele and sub-city levels adopted three different approaches. The first approach was to
dispossess and evict the pre-existing solid waste collection enterprises from their service
areas. Secondly, government officials adopted another mechanism by which the pre-existing
enterprises were forced to be reorganized under the umbrella of MSSEDA, which in turn
meant denying their rights and interests in organizing themselves as independent
enterprises. In some cases the pre-existing enterprises were forced to merge with the newly
organized MSSEs. Thirdly, in other cases the government officials avoided conflicts and
evictions by deliberately organizing and deploying the MSSEs only in areas that were not
served by any other enterprise.
The authorities employed various overt and covert means of intervention in areas where
pre-existing enterprises were to be evicted. According to informants from private formal and
informal enterprises, one of the overt interventions involved issuing official letters signed
and stamped by kebele authorities and distributed to each household. The letters gave the
impression that the MSSEs were the only legitimate enterprises and urged the households to
terminate their contract with the former collectors and to enter into a new contract with the
newly institutionalized MSSEs. This led to a systematic eviction of pre-existing enterprises
from their established service areas. In other cases, the pre-existing enterprises were directly
ordered to leave part or the whole of their service area for the newly established MSSEs. Due
to such harsh interventions by the kebele officials, even the private formal enterprises were
expelled from their service areas in favor of government-sponsored MSSEs. Similarly, the
informal operators were offered few alternatives: at best, to share part of their service area
with the MSSEs, or, in the worst case, to leave.37 Another form of intervention used by the
government officials to capture clients from pre-existing enterprises was to reduce the
service charges to a lower level than those set by the pre-existing enterprises. According to
Zelalem, the kebele officials along with the MSSEs promised to deliver their service at lower
fees, often below a workable minimum price.
The pre-existing solid waste collectors, particularly the informal ones, responded in
different ways to the newly introduced government-sponsored MSSEs, as revealed by
interviews with formal and informal operators. They increased the frequency of collection,
reduced collection fees, and rendered free supplementary services to improve their
competitiveness.38 They used informal networks to gather information, discuss current
developments, and strategize how to react to government interventions. Most importantly,
almost all of the interviewed pre-existing solid waste collectors, formal and informal, were
strongly negative towards the newly integrated MSSEs. Hence, conflicts and hostilities
developed as the dominant kinds of relationships between government-sponsored MSSEs
and other formal or informal operators. Conflicts became sometimes serious and triggered
clashes. One of the interviewed informal operators told how one man was killed in such a
fight. There were also instances where in order to be heard the pre-existing actors used
conflicts as a strategy to attract the attention of the kebele authorities and other government
officials.


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Public Solid Waste Management in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia | 37


Justifications and outcomes of governmental intervention

From the interviews with officials at city and sub-city level it became apparent that the city
government justified the need for the above-mentioned interventions in solid waste
collection on the basis of two objectives. One objective was to ensure a more efficient and
cost-effective solid waste collection by discouraging the more random waste collection
activities carried out by the informal sector. The second objective was to generate
employment opportunities in the sector through sponsoring MSSEs. These stated objectives
were far from achieved and the intervention appeared to be more of a political exercise. The
intervention was instrumental in recruiting new party members and ensuring political
dominance and local surveillance. In this regard, Bjerkli underlined that the city
administration of Addis Ababa was "highly politicized."39 Consequently, the result of the
interventions was almost entirely to marginalize the pre-existing solid waste collecting
enterprises and to disrupt the existing system, even though it was thriving in terms of both
the volume of waste collected and the service catchment areas. Some areas were left without
any door-to-door collection. Garbage piled up in the streets and along the streams of Addis
Ababa. The number of illegal dump sites also increased.
The integration of MSSEs into the pre-existing solid waste collection system has
contributed to the emergence of three predominant patterns of change in different city areas.
The first is that the MSSEs have expanded at the expense of pre-existing informal and formal
enterprises, as the latter were displaced or absorbed into the MSSEs. The second pattern is
that both pre-existing and newly integrated actors have been functioning together in the
same area with little conflict. A third pattern indicates that the pre-existing actors are on the
recovery and reconquering collection areas as most of the MSSEs were dissolved shortly after
they were established, as discussed below.
From the interviews, it became clear that the MSSEs faced serious challenges and intense
conflicts involving the pre-existing informal and private formal actors. The informal and
private enterprises were forced to spend their time, resources, and efforts engaging in a
series of conflicts rather than focusing on their actual work. Moreover, the levels of income in
both informal enterprises and MSSEs that is, of the individuals engaged in waste collection
across all enterprises appear not to have increased to a reasonable level. Rather, judging
from the interviews it seems that incomes have deteriorated further, mainly due to the
prevailing "unhealthy competition" implemented simply for the sake of pushing some
enterprises out of business. Most of the enterprises, and particularly those organized under
MSSEs, had become weaker in terms of finances, material capacity, and employment
stability.
The MSSEs were introduced mainly by the entrenched interests of the kebele authorities.
Each kebele had its own target quota and officials were responsible and accountable for
ensuring the realization of the intended targets. Their aim was to establish as many
enterprises as possible so as to appear as loyal champions in implementing the city
government's program for creating "new employment." To this end, putting pre-existing
enterprises out of operation by offering lower service fees resulted in reducing employment
in the pre-existing informal sector. It was a belief held among the interviewed officials that
more than 10,000 new job opportunities were created in solid waste collection, but this seems
far from having been achieved. In real terms, what the city government did was to
institutionalize new enterprises under its auspices while simultaneously evicting the pre-
existing actors. It created "new job opportunities" for those organized under the MSSEs,


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38 | Baudouin, Bjerkli, Yirgalem, & Zelalem


while individuals working in the informal enterprises lost their jobs. This can only be
described as "fake employment creation."
Imbalances developed in the spatial distribution of enterprises operating across different
kebeles, as some kebeles were oversupplied with solid waste collection enterprises, while
others suffered from inadequacies in waste collection. MSSEs were mainly deployed in areas
that were already served by the pre-existing enterprises, further contributing to the
geographical imbalance in coverage. According to the interviews, MSSEs usually failed to
sustain service delivery at the newly introduced collection rates and often dissolved after a
short period of operation. This appeared to provide an opportunity for pre-existing informal
actors to re-conquer their spaces of operation. But, the earlier slushing of fees by the MSSEs
has complicated the situation, as households may refuse to accept newly adjusted collection
fees.

Caricatures of partnerships and unresolved problems

The authors' studies of the waste sector in Addis Ababa have shown varied and shifting
relationships between the municipal authorities and small-scale operators in the sector. The
attitudes of the local authorities towards small-scale operators have ranged from total
neglect to authoritarian forms of partnerships that could be characterized as a form of
control. The latter kind of relations are absent from DiGregorio's and Medina's
categorization of relationships between informal actors and the state presented earlier in this
article. These forms of control, however, should thus be included as a separate category
within such categorizations.
Barriers or resistance to institutionalized relations have been expressed by both
governmental actors and informal operators. In the studied setting, the nature of these
relationships has reached the stage where, for the most part, informal operators (particularly
in recycling) try to avoid any contact with the municipality. The local government is
perceived as only interested in trying to impose new or increased taxes on people. In plastics
recycling, the activities are run completely by informal actors and carried out totally outside
the control of the municipality, which is unaware of and unconcerned about recycling. Many
municipal employees were not aware of the magnitude or even existence of the activity.40
Informal actors have also shown a remarkable level of agency. They have demonstrated an
ability to negotiate, a flexibility to adapt to changes, and willingness when necessary to fight
for their interests. This was evidently the case when informal collectors had to cope with the
threat posed to their activities by the introduction of MSSEs.
The period 2003-2006 under Mayor Arkebe represented a new trend, as for the first time
there was an attempt to support and collaborate with groups in the informal sector, which
had traditionally been ignored by the authorities. This support was, however, short-lived as
the local government soon proceeded to support competing actors, i.e. authorized small
enterprises in the sector. This marginalized and threatened the livelihoods of pre-existing
local scavengers and waste collectors and disrupted the informal waste collection system.41
The authorities employed authoritarian methods in order to impose their own political
agenda, one driven by social control and opportunities for clientelism. The whole process
was dictated by political motives of merely boosting employment figures and aimed at
extending local political control. This finding is in accordance with what Bjerkli mentioned as
the presence of a "highly politicized" government structure which was dominated by a high
degree of upward accountability. The findings show that the authoritarian top-down


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Public Solid Waste Management in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia | 39


approach failed because it did not consider existing informal operators in the sector as
possible partners. In planning and implementing development projects it is vital to
understand and appreciate the existing service delivery mechanisms by informal
entrepreneurs and seek ways of working with, rather than against, existing individuals,
businesses, and structures.42 Ignoring and even undermining the existing informal system,
and creating a clientele among another group of unemployed which was supposed to replace
the former operators, can thus be described as a caricature of a partnership.
Undoubtedly, problems of competence and capacity in the local government have also
hindered appropriate responses to the waste challenge. Among many problems, there is a
high turnover of staff in charge of waste management due to politicization and frequent
reforms of the administrative structures. Government officials have poor knowledge of the
real situation of the informal solid waste sector and the resources for conducting studies on
the sector may be lacking. While the difficulties faced by the local administration are
important, however, the problem cannot be reduced to one of lack of competence, or lack of
the appropriate technology, or of the "right" organizational set-up. The political and
governance context is far more important. The outcomes of particular attempts at
establishing collaboration with informal actors depend to a great extent on the nature of
relationships between the state and/or local administration and other actors in particular
contexts. In a way, what we have shown is a municipality temporarily adopting a strategy of
collaboration and partnership with informal actors, in accordance with the calls of both
donor agencies and some scholars, yet doing it within the framework of an authoritarian
political culture that has dominated the history of Ethiopian administration. It is therefore
doomed to fail.
According to UN-HABITAT, good governance involves the adoption of an "enabling
approach" that allows all actors to be involved in all matters and decisions that affect their
activity.43 In contrast, as Onibokun remarks, in a number of African countries, "lack of good
governance is at the root of most of their urban problems, particularly in waste
management."44 In his view, "Both central and local governments lack democracy,
transparency, accountability and cooperation with the public in their operations and
processes and in their relationships with civil society."45 Others have also pointed to the
central importance of the issue of governance in relation to service provision.46
In the study setting, the authoritarian methods and the hidden agenda of the local
authorities deepened the general mistrust of informal actors. The only realistic possibility for
collaboration requires democratic accountability and participatory governance, more
precisely a genuine recognition of informal actors and willingness to involve all actors in
decision-making. In addition, it requires the provision of support in the form of access to
credit, vocational training, and the provision of equipment and social and health services.
Only then will informal actors trust the government and achieve some form of "social
contract." Participative governance also requires the strengthening of collective
organizations among informal operators in order to facilitate collective representation of
their interests when negotiating with other partners.


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40 | Baudouin, Bjerkli, Yirgalem, & Zelalem


Notes


1. Demeke (2002) reported that according to the survey conducted by the CSA (the
office of statistics in Ethiopia) up to 80 percent of the population in Addis Ababa was
engaged in some form of informal income earninging activity in 1997.
2. See for example Aagesen's study of Bangkok (2000), Medina (1997) on Cairo, and
Bjerkli (2005) on Addis Ababa.
3. Naas and Rivke, 2004.
4. For example, Naas and Rivke (2004); Rouse (2004) as well as Asmamaw (2003), for
Ethiopia.
5. Rouse, 2004, p. 9.
6. See for example, Azam and Mansoor, 2004.
7. For example, in Ethiopia, informal waste operators did not qualify for the Small Scale
Income Generating Scheme which was intended to provide micro-credit facilities and
training for poor urban dwellers (Demeke, 2002).
8. Medina, 1997, p. 14.
9. Rouse, 2004.
10. Rouse, 2004.
11. Medina, 1997.
12. Medina, 1997, pp. 16-17.
13. DiGregorio, 1994.
14. Azam and Mansoor, 2004, p. 471.
15. Van de Klundert and Lardinois, 1995, p. 16.
16. Aagesen, 2000.
17. Mkwela, 2001.
18. See for example Mugagga (2006) on Uganda.
19. Van de Klundert and Lardinois, 1995, p. 10.
20. The lowest administrative unit in Ethiopia.
21. Bjerkli, 2005.
22. Zelalem, 2006.
23. Yirgalem, 2001.
24. Yirgalem, 2001.
25. Yirgalem, 2001; Bjerkli, 2005.
26. Yirgalem, 2001.
27. The term qorale is the short form of the Amharic 'Korkoro yaleh' (Have you any scrap
metal?), which is what the young boys shout when out collecting.
28. The incomes of wholesalers were sometimes as high as 85 USD per day (Bjerkli,
2005).
29. Bjerkli, 2005.
30. Bjerkli, 2005.
31. Yirgalem, 2001.
32. Yirgalem, 2001.
33. Yirgalem, 2001.
34. Bjerkli, 2005.
35. Zelalem, 2006.
36. Zelalem, 2006.


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Public Solid Waste Management in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia | 41


37. Zelalem, 2006, p. 78
38. Zelalem, 2006.
39. Bjerkli, 2005, p. 89.
40. Bjerkli, 2005.
41. Zelalem, 2006.
42. Post et al., 2003.
43. UN-HABITAT, 2002, p. 8.
44. Onibokum, 1999b, p. 240.
45. Onibokum, 1999a, p. 231.
46. Nunan and Sattertwaite, 2001.

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NTNU, 2002.

Azam, Ahmed Shafiul and Ali Mansoor. "Partnerships for Solid Waste Management in
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79.

Asmamaw, Enquobahrie. "Controversies Underlying Informal Sector Operation in
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Bjerkli, Camilla. "The Cycle of Plastic Waste: An Analysis of the Informal Plastic Recovery
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Demeke, Worku. "Interventions in Strengthening the Informal Sector: The Case of Small
Scale Income Generating Scheme in Addis Ababa." Master's thesis, NTNU, 2002.

DiGregorio, Michael R. Urban Harvest: Recycling as a Peasant Industry in Northern Vietnam.
Honolulu: East West Center Occasional Papers, Environment Series, 1994.

Medina, Martin. Informal Recycling and Collection of Solid Wastes in Developing Countries: Issues
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Mkwela, Hawa. "Investigation on the Role of Urban Agriculture in Solid Waste
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Mugagga, Frank. "The Public-Private Sector approaches to Municipal Solid Waste
Management. How Does it Work in Makindye Division, Kampala District, Uganda."
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Naas, Peter J.M. and Jaffe Rivke. "Informal Waste Management. Shifting the Focus from
Problem to Potential." Environment, Development and Sustainability 6 (2004), pp. 337-53.


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Nunan, Fiona and David Sattertwaite. "The Influence of Governance on the Provision of
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Onibokun, Adepoju G. (ed.) Managing the Monster. Urban Waste and Governance in Africa.
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Onibokun, A.G. "Synthesis and Recommendations." In Managing the Monster. Urban Waste
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Post, Johan, Broekema, J. and N. Obirih-Opareh. "Trial and Error in Privatization:
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Urban Studies 40, no. 4 (2003), pp. 835-852.

Rouse, Jonathan. "Absorbing Informal-sector Entrepreneurs into Improved Urban Services."
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African Studies Quarterly I Volume 11, Issues 2 & 3 I Spring 2010


Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions Involving "Traditional"

Asante Market Women

GRACIA CLARK

Abstract: This paper analyses the changing relations between organised women market
traders and rulers in a West African context, from a distant past to the present. It shows
how political elites have used market traders as loyal supporters and as scapegoats for
many centuries. These relations have taken a convoluted path that alternates between
alliance and repression, in the context of shifts in the political and economic
environment. Notorious episodes of price control and market demolitions from 1979 to
1984 are only the most dramatic moments in a long history of official intervention in
trade and suspicion of prominent traders. Protecting traders as local citizens alternated
with attacking traders as scapegoats for the ills and frustrations of national economic
life. The paper focuses on "traditional" forms of organisation among market women,
describing their political role, in terms of their interactions between their female leaders
and the authorities. It shows how the constant need for negotiation reinforced group
loyalty and how such forms of organisation have displayed resilience and adapted to
various economic and political shifts.

Introduction

The West African market woman is one of the most prominent iconic figures in the
ethnography and journalism of the whole region. From the earliest travelers' accounts to
modern popular culture, she appears as a figure who symbolizes both devoted maternity and
irreconcilable difference.1 Her public persona of aggressive, shameless persistence in the
pursuit of profit was perhaps somewhat unsettling to European gender assumptions and to
Europeanized African aspirations. Southern Ghanaian towns, including Accra (the capital) and
Kumasi (the second largest city), reported in the most recent census figures that nearly 80
percent of the adult female population works as traders. Her continuing economic centrality at
the heart of expanding West African economies was equally unsettling to abstract development
models that assumed progress through stages to modernity.
Yet the same characteristics make women traders difficult to digest culturally in many
other parts of the world.2 Even more often, bitter and occasionally violent conflicts flare up
between market and street traders and city governments over urban land use, profiteering and


Gracia Clark has been working with traders in Kumasi Central Market since 1978, earning her doctorate from the
University of Cambridge in Social Anthropology. She consulted for the International Labor Office and UNIFEM
before teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and currently at the
University of Indiana-Bloomington. Books include Onions Are My Husband ( 1994), African Market Women: Seven Life
Histories from Kumasi Central Market ( 2010) and three edited volumes, Traders Versus the State (1988), Gender at Work in
Economic Life (2003) and Trading Up ( 2008). Her published articles and chapters have addressed commercial policy,
price controls, structural adjustment, credit, food security, gender, marriage, motherhood and group leadership.

http://www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/pdfs/vlli2-3a4.pdf
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to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448






Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions Involving "Traditional" Asante Market Women I 44


licensing issues.3 Newspaper reports from across Africa (Zimbabwe, Malawi, Cote d'Ivoire,
and most recently Nairobi) put market and street traders at the center of many appalling
incidents of violence, whether by rebellious youth or by a government acting against unruly
economic sectors. The market and the street are global metaphors for public opinion, but they
also operate as material venues for the contestation of central government policies that impact
the daily fight by ordinary Africans for survival and political expression.
The longstanding dominance of marketplace systems in the West African regional economy
challenges the assumption that today's global informalization is a unique and recent process.
For centuries, these systems managed international trade across the Sahara and through the
Atlantic Coast, a trade that shaped the economic and cultural institutions of West Africa in so
many ways. Governing leaders were expected to promote the prosperity of their constituencies
by fostering trade, yet successive governments were often suspicious of traders' wealth and
influence. Besides gathering people and products destined for export, markets redistributed
crops and other key resources across the ecological boundary between forest and grassland.
Substantial continuities can be traced through today's markets with the locations, connections,
identities and trading practices of years past.
Yet these markets do not simply perpetuate a timeless tradition because it is all their people
know or can imagine. Aspects of Ghana's markets that are now firmly enthroned as traditional,
such as the "market queens," evolved into their present forms at specific historical moments, in
response to concrete economic pressures. The gender and ethnic demography of trade, the
credit and transport patterns in specific commodities, and markets can all be shown to have
changed dramatically, even within living memory. In fact, the strong networks of traders,
organized around shared commodity and locality interests, enable them to adapt more quickly
and smoothly to abrupt shifts in commercial policy, food supply, consumer demand, and the
labor market.
In Kumasi, consumers in the 1970s and 80s were not loyal customers of open markets
because of cultural conservatism or unfamiliarity with more "modern" grocery and department
stores. The more rigid relationships and procedures of the formal sector, inspired and to some
degree enforced by Western business, proved less capable of dealing with the challenges of
contemporary political and economic turbulence. Goods kept flowing through marketplace
channels when store shelves were bare. The "informal" sector maintained its organizational
integrity and continuity while "formal" institutions were falling apart. Market and street
traders provided lifesaving supplements to the employment, income, food and consumer goods
that more official or formal sectors of the economy could not supply, but at the same time they
constituted highly visible evidence of the inadequate performance of these "modern" sectors.
These paradoxes kept traders and successive governments at each others' throats, because
neither could do without the other entirely.

Research Methodology

Studying the membership organizations of Ghanaian market traders formed part of a larger
enquiry into economic and other aspects of market life that began with dissertation research in
1978 and continues to the present. Details of leadership practices such as dispute settlement
were documented most fully from 1978-80, during a period of full-time participant observation


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and interviewing in Kumasi Central Market. I spent most days with traders in the market or
accompanying them on buying trips to other rural supply areas or other regional markets.
Three heads of state followed each other, with General Akuffo in 1978, including the first brief
term in office of Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings from June to December 1979, and ending with
elected President Hillal Limann in office in 1980. These regime changes enabled close
observation of interactions between market leaders and both military and civilian officials. The
effect of price controls and other commercial policy changes on ordinary traders was also
evident in their personal accounts and a sample survey of the central portion of the market,
conducted in 1979.4
Information on historical trends comes from combining ethnographic and archival sources.
Dramatic enforcement strategies such as beatings, market demolitions, and confiscation of
traders' goods stimulated much discussion of current and past market conditions. Older and
more experienced traders commented on how these episodes intensified police practices seen
intermittently over the past several decades since they had started trading. Likewise, further
fieldwork with Kumasi traders on other subjects since 1980 indicates that the general outlines of
group activity remain recognizable, although adapting to the changing political and economic
environment. Searching archival collections at the Asantehene's Record Office in Kumasi and
the National Archives branches in Accra and Kumasi turned up petitions from traders to
colonial officers and the Asantehene over Kumasi market disputes, wartime price controls, and
market construction and taxation policies during the colonial period.5
Additional periods of fieldwork in Ghana enabled me to monitor changing economic and
political conditions and their effects on market trade. Subsequent projects related to rural crop
processing and women traders brought me back to Kumasi during 1982-4, 1990-1, 1994-5, 1999,
and 2006. An ILO consultancy kept me in Ghana during 1983, when the second government of
Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings brought the most intense attacks on traders and their national
marketplace system. Life histories of older Asante women traders, recorded in 1994-5, gave
especially rich information from market leaders and on the first half of the twentieth century.
Some elderly women were able to recall stories from their mothers about times before the
British came. Reorganization made archival collections more accessible and brought to light
additional documents related to trade. The already rich historical scholarship on precolonial
and colonial Asante continued to multiply, while over the years my ethnographic record itself
became a kind of historical document in itself. These opportunities for long-term research and
the relatively deep historical record allow the identification of trends in market organization
and leadership throughout the long twentieth century.



Market Commodity Groups

The market woman has been an icon of West African trading traditions in ethnographers' and
travelers' accounts since Europeans first began to visit the Guinea Coast.6 The self-confidence
and group solidarity of women traders impressed them partly because it contradicted European
gender stereotypes, although comparable enclaves were not unknown in the European informal


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Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions Involving "Traditional" Asante Market Women I 46


sector. The resilience and persistence of traders in the face of intermittently hostile colonial and
national policy initiatives and other difficult conditions testified to their vital economic role. The
same difficulties generated powerful loyalties among traders to their organizations based on
local markets and long-distance networks. Leaders and elders provide valuable services on a
daily basis which their members could not easily do without, and orchestrate responses to
serious crises that preserve critical resources.
Markets throughout Ghana were organized along consistent lines when this research began
in 1978.7 Each basic group was identified with a single local market, but only the smallest
markets had one group for all traders. In any larger market (and certainly Kumasi Central
Market, the largest single market in the country) the basic units were further specialized by the
commodity or range of goods that its members sold. Market commodity group leaders were
elected by each group's council of elders from within their ranks. For smaller groups the elders
comprise all mature traders over about forty years of age, while in larger groups this category of
mature traders votes for representative elders who constitute their council. These same elders
can remove a leader for malfeasance, but she normally serves for life.
Qualities considered positive in a potential candidate include her long experience in the
market, her good reputation among her colleagues for reliability and honesty, and her
demonstrated skill in settling minor disputes among her immediate neighbors as an elder. Any
influential connections to the palace, the government, or a political party are legitimate assets
because she may tap them later for group advantage as well as for getting elected. Daughters,
nieces, and granddaughters of previous group queens gain valuable knowledge and
connections by assisting them while in office. Such a descendant rarely succeeds directly, but
often becomes a leader later in life.
The Kumasi Central Market commodity groups generally included the retailers who had
stalls or tables in the market itself, the travelers, who brought goods in from various supply
areas, and the wholesalers, who received shipments from travelers for resale to retailers.
Integrating these three categories of traders into one group meant that most buying and selling
transactions took place between traders answerable to the same leader. Primary competitors
also would normally be members of the same group. Thus, the interactions most likely to
motivate bad behavior or give rise to disputes took place between two group members. Instead
of undermining group solidarity, this structured internal heterogeneity made it more useful to
each subgroup of members and thus reinforced their loyalty.
Like wholesalers, the queens need to be constantly available in the market, so they are often
drawn from the ranks of wholesalers. When homebound due to age and frailty, a commodity
queen usually chooses a deputy to perform her duties until she actually dies. This deputy does
not automatically replace her, nor does her daughter or granddaughter inherit the position, but
the successor must be selected by the elders. A market queen should have some success as a
trader, to demonstrate her competence and maintain a respectable public image, but the
wealthiest wholesalers tend not to seek this office. Their time is too valuable for generating
income to spend it on settling minor quarrels and attending meetings and funerals to represent
the group. On the way up, they may well have suppressed the character traits of impartiality,
calmness, and sympathy desired for group leadership.
Powerful group loyalties were clearly anchored in dispute settlement services, which were


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consistently mentioned first in interviews with leaders, elders, and followers alike. Settling
market disputes on-site was much quicker and cheaper than any available alternative, whether
provided by a chief, policeman, or magistrate. One trader explained that it would cost her less
to lose a case in the market than to win a case in court, considering the time lost, possible bribes,
lawyers' pay, and other legal fees. Traders who were "known" to the commodity queen could
expect fair treatment and a judge fully aware of their commercial realities Many market
conventions like bargaining procedures, steady customer privileges, and space allocation had
no legal standing in national or chiefly courts. They could only be enforced among traders
whose businesses depended on returning to trade in the same location regularly. Traders
needed to remain in good standing with the commodity queen so that they could bring their
own disputes to her in the future. Refusal to abide by a leader's decision was taken more
seriously than the original offense, and punished by ostracism and/or fines paid to the market
queen herself. In one such case, bystanders commented that the offending trader would be
ashamed to show her face in the Kumasi Market again, and that others would hesitate to do
business with her.
This peer pressure not only enforced commercial conventions but facilitated the extension
of credit among members. Wholesalers could extend credit to retailers who were fellow group
members with some degree of confidence that they would abide by the commodity queen's
judgment if problems arose. Short term credit was a critical factor to maintaining a smooth flow
of goods through the high-volume wholesale yards in Kumasi Central Market. The direction of
credit changed seasonally for most foodstuffs, so that today's creditor might be asking for credit
herself before the year's end. Outside trading partners, including farmers, would also extend
credit more freely to Kumasi traders because they could also bring a bad debt case before the
trader's group leader. One defaulting trader was excoriated in 1979 for trying to frighten her
farmer creditor away; by saying the market queen would have him beaten. Traders observing
the case commented that this was not only a personal insult to the queen's character but would
also hurt fellow traders by making farmers in general more reluctant to give them goods on
credit.
Market leadership institutions incorporate organizational features from a variety of models
active within the local community, most notably ethnic traditions. The great majority of traders
in Kumasi Central Market sell local foodstuffs. In most of these groups, Asante women
predominate, and they draw on Asante chiefly traditions to legitimate their status. Their
procedures of dispute settlement, election, and indirect speech on very formal occasions reflect
values of consultation and mutual consent very central to the broader Akan culture. These
market queens are titled (6hemma) like the renowned Queen Mother of Asante, but not linked
explicitly to the chiefship hierarchy that pairs male and female chiefs at each level. Where
Asante men predominate, mostly in craft groups, they seem more careful to avoid the
equivalent male title (6hene) without palace precedent. Commodities sold mainly by men or
women from Northern ethnic groups, including butcher meat, chickens, shea butter and kola,
appropriate the Hausa terminology for male leaders (sarkin) and female leaders (magazia). Kola
traders described the dispute settlement skills of their leader in terms linked to their Islamic
modes of jurisprudence. He had the ability to tell who was lying, to see the truth, and decided
cases based on firm, clear principles. Asante traders described a skillful leader as settling cases


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Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions Involving "Traditional" Asante Market Women I 48


so that they stayed settled, deciding on an outcome each side could live with. In times of public
crisis, the male and/or Northern group leaders close ranks behind the yam queen. Though they
have little interaction with the market queens in quiet times, they allow her to speak for them
and represent the market as a whole.
Asante chiefship traditions also institutionalize specific forms of accountability that protect
traders from arbitrary or autocratic leaders. No important case can be decided or policy decision
made without consulting the elders extensively as part of the process. Disputes brought to the
market queens are often appeals from a lower-level elder who has been unable to make a
decision stick. Each party narrates their story of the events in question, fully and repeatedly,
and consults their own sympathetic elders. The market queen, as in chiefly courts, only chimes
in with her final pronouncement after all the elders present have proposed their own solutions
in turn. The consensus emerging from increasingly senior elders becomes evident to the parties
involved as well as the attentive leader. Whenever a market queen goes out on official business,
even funeral attendance, she goes with two or more of her elders. They advise her, but they also
keep her honest. They witness the course of events, potentially providing independent
testimony that can report her underhanded actions or confirm the accuracy of her account. Two
or three other commodity queens accompany the yam queen when she goes to represent the
market as a whole.
Commodity groups also selectively incorporate elements of terminology and procedure
from Christian church women's fellowships, the co-operative movement, and trade unions. The
council of elders is also referred to as the "committee," with the market queen as president and
other members appearing as vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and sergeant at arms or
"police."
Several of the larger groups had hired a male "secretary" who kept tactful minutes of
meetings, issued membership cards, recorded dues payments in "passbooks," and sometimes
recorded credit transactions. With the increase in education levels among younger women,
these men are now frequently replaced by one of the women traders when they retire. Drivers
and butchers (virtually all male) registered as trade unions, although most of them were also
self-employed. When government policies favored cooperatives for loans and other assistance,
several commodity groups registered as cooperatives. By 2006, the neoliberal policy emphasis
on entrepreneurship led a few of the more up-to-date traders to use the term "microenterprise."

Deep Roots for Trade and Intervention

The long history of political manipulation of trade in West Africa lends legitimacy to
contemporary government interventions and recent aggressive commercial policies. A ruler's
responsibility for promoting the prosperity of loyal countrymen finds familiar or expected
expression in protecting their commercial interests. Although the Asante were only under
British colonial rule from 1898 to 1957, they drew upon a very deep Akan heritage of
intercontinental trade. Caravans had linked Akans to North Africa across the Sahara since
before Roman times, and these carried Arab merchants and chroniclers throughout the open
grasslands at least from the tenth century AD.8 Ivory, gold, kola nuts, and slaves from the
forest region occupied by Akans were exchanged for cloth, blankets, leather, livestock, salt,
metalware, and cowrie shell currency. Portuguese ships first reached the West African coast in


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49 | Clark


the fourteenth century, making regular trading voyages to Elmina, in present-day Ghana, and
other port towns. Early Portuguese chroniclers noted that Akans supplied a large part of the
gold, kola, and slaves available, using trading skills and capital developed in the caravan trade.9
Prominent early Africa traders in what is now Ghana included the Akanny, who organized
a tight network of diaspora communities in towns throughout the area, with parallels to the
Hanseatic League, still powerful then in Northern Europe, or the Aro-Chukwu financial
network in Eastern Nigeria, organized around shrines.10 At least until 1700, African local
authorities tightly regulated and taxed trade, protecting the trading position of their citizens
and playing different European nationalities off against each other as these jostled for exclusive
access." Long after coastal chiefs lost the power to forbid direct trade between European and
inland traders, wealthy local intermediaries still provided essential services as credit references,
landlords, brokers, and negotiators. Periodic foodstuffs markets fed the growing non-farming
population and reprovisioned departing ships (even with "ship's bread" baked from local
grain.) DeMarees' description of reserved spaces and commodity specialization in these
markets suggests their organization along the lines of contemporary market groups.
As Akans moved deeper into the forest, they founded Kumasi to control existing trade
routes leading to important market towns on the northern edge of the forest, such as Salaga and
Bonduku. By the eighteenth century, the Asante Confederacy had coalesced around Kumasi,
becoming the dominant imperial power in the region.12 Its chiefs actively manipulated markets
by closing their borders to hostile neighbors, expelling competitive foreigners, and invading
uncooperative rivals to force market access. The male Asantehene and female Asantehemma,
along with their major subordinate chiefs, participated in trade directly, through designated
royal treasury officials who assembled trading caravans, and indirectly, by loaning money from
their official treasuries to prominent private citizens for trade. These chiefs appointed officials
who kept order and collected taxes in markets inside Asante, although most chiefs received
food for their families and entourages as tribute from farm villages peopled by their subjects or
slaves. Kumasi, the royal capital, had a more substantial commoner population, which bought
its food and consumer goods in several markets. 13
The British colonial government promoted the commercial interests of its own citizens and
officials just as openly as the Asante had. They established the Gold Coast Colony over the first
half of the nineteenth century in response to the petitions and manipulations of British traders
reluctant to operate within a nascent Fante Confederacy. The reorganization of import trading
along lines more favorable to Europeans began on the coast, where the larger European firms
pushed aside the wealthy Africans and independent European traders during the early
nineteenth century. 14 The passbook system replaced them with more reliably subordinate
customers who deposited security with the firms and took that amount in goods for resale.
Passbook holders were often illiterate women, while ambitious African men preferred the
autonomy of the learned professions as lawyers, ministers, doctors, and bankers. 15
Once they defeated the Asante in 1896, British colonial authorities dismantled the royal
border controls and promised safe access for non-Asante traders and employees. The
administration of trade through court officials and state loans collapsed, and British import and
export firms now enjoyed privileged access to services and assets such as military protection,
subsidized rail transport, credit, and prime downtown locations. Coastal ethnic groups and


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Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions Involving "Traditional" Asante Market Women I 50


Asante political exiles became the categories of African traders with the most capital and
upward mobility. "Northerners" moved into Kumasi from Salaga and other grassland towns,
extending their connections to trading networks for "Northern" commodities such as kola,
livestock, and grain.16 Asante men moved in large numbers into the lucrative and rapidly
expanding cocoa industry, as farmers and brokers outside the marketplace system. This left
market trading within Ashanti Region increasingly to women and to immigrant men from the
Northern Territories and further afield.17
With this demographic shift came a surge of organizational innovation, as women and
immigrant men needed to renegotiate their relationships with both British colonial officials and
the Asante chiefly hierarchy, which retained considerable power under indirect rule. The first
official record of a commodity group came as early as 1915, when smoked fish sellers (mainly
Fante) in the overcrowded main market downtown met with city officers about sanitation and
congestion.18 Instead of rebuilding or expanding it, the city eventually moved the Central
Market to a hastily filled swamp near the railway station with room for growth.19 Elderly
traders recalling the relocation process in 1979 described their group leaders preparing lists of
bona fide traders and collecting money to build communal sheds or stalls.
During the 1930s and 1940s, pressures to negotiate with colonial officials over site access
and fee schedules led to the formalization of the present system of commodity group
organizations. Once colonial officers realized how promptly traders would pay rent for market
stalls or daily ticket fees for market access, revenues from rebuilt markets became the mainstay
of local government finances across Ashanti Region.20 In order to retain this income stream,
local officials compromised with market leaders on the enforcement of legal regulations that
could interfere with business and promoted local traders over traders based elsewhere (except
Britain).21 In Kumasi, population growth brought a rapid expansion in the volume of foodstuffs
traded, leading traders to found more commodity groups and organize new wholesale yards.
Once the British established colonial institutions like barracks, prisons, and schools they
had a vested interest in keeping food prices low, so as to save money directly when buying food
for them and indirectly by keeping wages low. During the First and Second World Wars,
military recruitment and training raised market demand for food after siphoning off young men
from the active farm labor force. The rising cost of living brought demands for wage increases
in the military, civil service, and mines. British colonial authorities tried to enforce price controls
in regional capitals and mining towns (including Kumasi and nearby Obuasi).22
They also intervened openly in the 1940s to protect the market share of the leading British
firms, when wartime conditions made shipping risky and costly. Import quotas for individual
firms were based on their percentage of trade before the war. Lebanese, Indian, and United
States firms had no success arguing for higher quotas to compensate for British wartime
shortages of goods and transport or postwar rationing. British firms asked successfully for
higher official prices that covered their rising costs.23

Nationalist Alliances

The struggle for independence brought a solid and visible alliance between Gold Coast
nationalists and market traders. Nationalist politicians defended market traders against British
charges of causing price inflation and noted the much looser price control enforcement on


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51 I Clark


imports by European firms than by Lebanese and African importers. African economic
resentment was directed towards the British authorities and firms, giving ordinary traders the
position of fellow victims.
One of the first Gold Coast collective actions that attracted wide international attention was
the cocoa boycott of 1936-7. After world cocoa prices fell sharply during the Great Depression,
the few international firms buying cocoa for export agreed to divide up the cocoa producing
areas to avoid direct competition between their agents. The nationalists blamed these
arrangements for the continuing price collapse, and convinced farmers and brokers to refuse to
sell their cocoa. The cocoa holdup was so complete partly because its organizers also boycotted
consumer goods imported by the same large firms who bought cocoa. 24 Market traders who
sold these goods publicized and enforced that side of the boycott among the cocoa farmers'
wives and mothers, whose demands for new cloths might have undermined their resolve. Just
such family pressures eventually led laborers and caretakers to sell their shares of the cocoa
harvest, and not return empty-handed to their villages far to the north.25
J. B. Danquah, the leading nationalist figure throughout the 1940s, praised market women
as heroically devoted mothers, hardworking and underpaid.26 Market women returned this
support by collecting and contributing money for the nationalist parties, making speeches at
their rallies and mobilizing their market colleagues and commercial contacts to support them.27
Kwame Nkrumah's Convention People's Party (CPP) continued to draw on market women,
among others, for financial and political support. Within a few years of independence in 1957,
President Nkrumah had adopted not only colonial price controls but the colonial rhetoric that
blamed selfish, parasitic traders for the high prices of food and consumer goods, with special
condemnation of Lebanese and women traders.
Several of the market leaders interviewed during initial fieldwork (1978-80) had lived
through this period of political party rivalry in the 1950s, just before and after independence,
and most of them did not remember it as empowering. Each party tried to get their candidates
elected as commodity group leaders when these offices came open, counting on them to deliver
votes from their group members for the elections that began in 1951. Kumasi was a bastion of
Danquah's Progress Party, which was associated with Asante chiefs and cocoa farmers. Less
privileged urban residents more often supported the CPP. Each party maintained gangs of
young men, who roamed through Kumasi intimidating supporters of the other by assaulting
them, blowing up their houses, and the like.28 These rival gangs rioted in Kumasi Central
Market in January 1955, and market leaders made highly visible targets. Several of the older
leaders mentioned they had had to leave town for their home villages and hide there for several
years, until the violence died down. These memories discouraged several market leaders from
declaring any party affiliation when elections were held again in 1979, and even as late as 1994.
On the other hand, one elderly CPP loyalist cheerfully resumed her place as a commodity group
leader when the election of President Limann returned the CPP network to power in October
1979 under its new name, the People's National Party (PNP).
Under Nkrumah's one-party banner of African Socialism in the 1960s, commercial policies
turned increasingly hostile to independent traders. He nationalized an existing chain of
department stores (Lebanese and not British-owned) to found the Ghana National Trading
Corporation, which also had a food section. The most direct confrontation came from the Ghana


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Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions Involving "Traditional" Asante Market Women I 52


Food Distribution Corporation, which sold locally grown foodstuffs at its kiosks outside
markets. The problems its male employees had securing supplies and avoiding spoilage of fresh
produce still drew derisive comments from women traders in the 1980s. "They handled
tomatoes like they were plantains. They had to ask their sisters how to trade." While
Nkrumah's socialist initiatives never seriously challenged the commercial primacy of the
marketplace organizations, they did monopolize public capital and policy support. Groups
considered progressive or modern, including the state enterprises, trade unions, and
professional associations, participated much more in what political or economic consultation
remained under the one-party state.
Politicians meanwhile retained important patronage connections to the marketplace
system. The sheer numbers of traders and their group cohesion made their backing valuable for
collecting money and turning out crowds for rallies. Officials enjoying preferential access to
imports or manufactures sold them for cash to the experienced traders willing to retail them
openly. Market stalls, passbooks and "chits" (notes for allocations of factory goods and imports)
made well-appreciated rewards for loyal political supporters, and also good severance gifts for
ex-wives and girlfriends. Traders with long market careers complained about these
inexperienced upstarts who made windfall profits, but they also cultivated their own
relationships with store managers and police officers through kinship links or regular gifts.
Dr. Kofi Busia and his Progress Party won the election held after Nkrumah's overthrow by
a military coup in 1967, and remained in power from 1969 to 1972. President Busia was a
champion of free-market policies, yet he still felt obligated to prove his good intentions
immediately by enforcing price controls and arresting traders. His most famous initiative, the
1969 Aliens Compliance Order, could be interpreted as either attacking or supporting market
traders.29 Although it sparked an exodus of foreign cocoa laborers, Busia explained that the law
was aimed at traders from Nigeria or Lebanon who had market stalls, or operated well below
the level where foreign expertise or capital was arguably necessary. In Kumasi Central Market,
a number of 1979 stallholders had acquired their stalls and other assets such as sewing
machines very cheaply from foreigners leaving in a hurry in 1969. Although the expulsion made
space for Ghanaian entrepreneurs in the short run, Nigeria later took its turn at expelling
Ghanaians in 1983.



Military Rule (1972-79)

Despite the contradictions inherent in their situation, or perhaps because of them, government
policy towards market traders stabilized into a cyclical pattern during a series of military
regime changes through the 1970s. After overthrowing President Busia in 1972, General
Acheampong led the National Redemption Council (1972-5) and the Supreme Military Council
(1975-8). Raiding episodes followed each reorganization of the governing coalition, a pattern
hard to predict. Attacks on the usual targets would be followed by a period of recovery, when
little attention was paid to the prices and sources of goods. Traders with sufficient capital could
ride out such oscillations by charging a high enough markup during quiet times to compensate
for what had been confiscated the last time. Close family or business ties to well-placed soldiers


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also brought timely warnings to stay at home when a raid was planned.
Kumasi residents and traders reported a more predictable annual cycle of price control
enforcement by 1978. In the fall, after the cocoa harvest put money in people's pockets and
cocoa exports renewed the supply of foreign exchange in the Bank of Ghana, city market stalls
filled with new stocks ready for Christmas shoppers. Around November, there was usually a
price crackdown that lasted long enough for the soldiers to collect some money and make their
own Christmas purchases at the lower official prices. Once they had finished shopping, the
police and soldiers considerately left the markets alone, so that others could buy or sell without
fear.30
The governing elite remained dependent on the continuing viability of the marketplace
system for many unacknowledged services. Without smugglers and hoarders, this elite might
run short of high-status foods, drinks and other luxury goods. The poor might be willing to
rebel if they lacked the minimum level of subsistence goods still available through these
markets, from overseas and local illegal sources. The market also offered the poorest citizens
self-employment which, although underpaid, defused or at least dampened the time bomb of
rising unemployment. Meanwhile, national leaders continued to deflect blame for the country's
increasingly desperate economic situation from themselves onto the convenient stereotype of
the wealthy woman trader. Price controls on imports and manufactures remained on the books,
always available for enforcement whenever a display of political bravado was needed.
During the Acheampong period, corruption reached levels which even other military
officers suspected was unsustainable. In July 1978, he was in turn overthrown by Lt. Colonel
Akuffo, who also arrested other notorious public figures but did not impose dramatic
punishments or fines commensurate with their gains. He ordered strict enforcement of existing
price controls in July and again in November 1978, maintaining the episodic rhythm of market
raids. His most innovative tactic, a total currency exchange in March 1979, did target hoards of
cash held by corrupt ex-officials and wealthy traders, although arguably sparing those whose
bank connections had stayed current.
These episodic raids respected another consistent limit: they always focused on the sections
selling cloth and other imports or manufactured goods. Basic local foodstuffs were not standard
enough in quality and quantity to set official prices easily, and perhaps the nationalist focus on
international terms of trade had some lingering effect. These were the listed "essential
commodities" subject to price controls, a category dating from the Second World War. Traders
selling these had adapted to the high risk with unusual selling practices that restricted the
display of goods and kept most of the stock at a safe distance. A handful of empty cans on a
table indicated what canned food was available, once the buyer passed inspection. Another
strategy, popular for rice and sugar, was for a wholesaler to hire or sponsor a retailer with no
stall to sell from a metal basin on the ground. These were always young, strong men and
women, who could run away fast when inspectors arrived. Cloth sellers with stalls in prime
locations learned to open their doors only a few inches, sitting inside in the dark with only a
half dozen pieces. The owner was always away when known or suspected spies tried to buy
something. Traders with weak nerves reported deciding to sell local foodstuffs, which after all
took up the majority of the market. Traders who flourished despite the pressure were reputed
to have special protection, whether from family connections, magical paraphernalia, or so-called


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Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions Involving "Traditional" Asante Market Women I 54


"bottom power." 31 Gender tensions within the lineage and in marriage and parental relations
acted as a focal point for economic frustrations that threatened accepted normal standards of
child support, meal preparation, mutual respect, and social commitment.32 The iconic market
woman presented a pre-positioned lightning rod and scapegoat for all that was wrong in the
economy and at home.33
Commodity group leaders in cloth or provisions (packaged foods) had once been local
notables, proud to display their authority in their base of operations. Now market leaders in
these groups made such easy targets for arrest that they could not appear openly in the market
to settle disputes or represent their group in public. Existing cloth and provisions leaders
announced their retirement and stopped coming to market, one by one. Only a few decades
before, market elections had been hotly contested, but now no one else was willing to accept
these positions, and be identified as one of "those" wealthy traders. Even basic member services
could hardly be maintained, such as dispute settlement or representation at funerals or
negotiations, unless leaders could be accessible and speak openly. The long hiatus left these
groups slow to revive, even after price controls were officially dropped in 1984. Only the yam
queen still had an annual Christmas interview on national television, describing the abundance
of yams amid scenes of holiday shoppers thronging Kumasi Central Market.
Under military rule, published rhetoric denouncing market women became more and more
extreme. In newspaper articles and letters, the image of the poor, hard-working mother trader
dropped out of usage entirely, displaced by the evil "market queen."34 She could be a group
leader or simply a wealthy wholesaler, but the media demonized her for her relative success in
preserving a reliable income, compared to people who deserved it more: salaried, better
educated formal sector employees (predominantly male). As the Ghanaian economy continued
to deteriorate, real incomes plummeted with no credible policy response. These diatribes
constructed even ordinary traders as grasping viragos responsible for every kind of economic
hardship, "big cheats and nation wreckers."35 Such discourse created an atmosphere that
permitted physical repression of traders to intensify rapidly.






Markets under Attack

The pattern of episodic price control raids on imports and manufactures traders persisted while
Acheampong was succeeded by Akuffo in 1978, then Akuffo by Rawlings under the brief 1979
Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) regime and then Rawlings by President Limann
after the 1979 election. Flight-Lieutenant J. J. Rawlings had significantly intensified the pattern
from June to October 1979, but it quickly reasserted itself after his handover to elected civilian
rule. The AFRC "housecleaning exercise" still invoked the corrupt or wealthy trader as the
targeted "hoarder," but reached far beyond the familiar list of "essential commodities" with
published official prices. 36
Soldiers in Kumasi now also took over formal sector stores and market locations devoted to
local foodstuffs, not just cloth and imports. They sold off all sorts of goods at prices they set on


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the spot, often by figuring one half or one tenth the previous price. Confiscations and forced
sales destroyed many Kumasi traders' capital, and a handful endured public flogging. Those
traders with any capital left tried to keep it safe by suspending trade; as long as they had
savings to live on they could stay home. The poorest traders, who lived hand to mouth and took
goods on supplier credit, were disproportionately exposed to these dangers. They had to keep
coming in and trying to earn something, even under the least promising and riskiest conditions,
or go hungry with their families. Market leaders scrambled to find a strategy that moderated
the increasingly arbitrary price controls and unpredictable violence facing their desperate
constituents.
The yam queen and her colleagues tried to negotiate official prices for local foodstuffs,
since none had existed before, so traders who abided by them could then avoid harassment.
They sought out meetings with the Market Manager, the Kumasi Metropolitan Authority and
even the Regional Commissioner, as relatively neutral senior authorities who could set price
levels in public that enforcers would have to accept. Unfortunately their authority over military
personnel proved unreliable. After market leaders invested considerable time in listing quality
grades and agreeing on prices for sample specimens, they discovered that soldiers in the market
ignored these price lists. If traders had reduced their prices in advance, the soldiers still cut
them to one-half or one-quarter the new price.
By contrast, male occupational groups in and around Kumasi received very different
treatment from the AFRC during price control enforcement. Truck drivers, spare parts dealers,
butchers, and adinkra cloth printers, among others, negotiated their official price levels in
relation to prices for their inputs. The military authorities had approached them to start talks
before their control prices were announced, and the prices agreed upon were then respected.
Military authorities also summoned the market queens to ad hoc meetings with delegations
of farmers or soldiers, but these were quite different from meetings with male groups. Elderly
market queens complained of the time and energy consumed by frequent meetings, but all the
market elders complained bitterly of the disrespect they faced in the meetings called by soldiers.
Despite the attendance of civilian government officials, traders found that the promised
negotiations were a sham. The most basic conventions of negotiation and dispute settlement
were violated. The time and place were set unilaterally; the soldiers in fact commandeered the
commodity group meeting room in the middle of a peak trading day. Most outrageously, the
policy decisions had already been taken and were simply being announced, with no
opportunity for traders to state their case in a meaningful way or propose alternatives. Traders
were subjected to humiliating harangues---"they speak to us like we are children, when we are
old enough to be their mothers!" Their carefully honed negotiating skills were tacitly dismissed
and rendered useless and besides, "how can you talk to a gun?" The chances of positive
participation in any kind of political process seemed very remote.
As the handover to civilian rule approached, Rawlings made one last effort to leave a
lasting mark on the national marketplace system. On September 5th, 1979, Makola #1, the most
famous market in Accra, was blown up with dynamite, and those in each regional capital faced
demolition over the next several days. Kumasi City Council members reportedly argued
successfully with the soldiers there to demolish only the outlying sections and spare the oldest
section, within the original walls. Still, incoming President Limann found it necessary to


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Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions Involving "Traditional" Asante Market Women I 56


validate his political credentials with a new episode of strict enforcement of price control
regulations soon after taking office in October 1979.
When the December 31 Revolution in 1981 returned Fit. Lt. Rawlings to power as head of
state with his People's National Defence Council (PNDC) regime, he immediately reinstated the
extra-legal confiscations and violent harassment of the AFRC period. Since I was living in Accra
(the coastal capital) from 1982-84 and traveling to aid project villages in different regions, I
could observe events in various parts of the country and monitor their impact on villagers as
well as passing through Kumasi repeatedly. Interactions between commodity group leaders
and the regime reached a new low point in 1982-3 during this early PNDC period. This time,
Rawlings seemed determined to destroy or at least dethrone the marketplace system
permanently.
The PNDC made strenuous efforts to set up parallel distribution channels that would
bypass market traders altogether. Possessing commercial quantities of food was grounds for
arrest, and considered prima facie evidence of hoarding. Each farm village was exhorted to
organize a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), which would sell their produce
directly to institutions and consumer cooperatives from urban neighborhoods. At first, soldiers
brought trucks out with cloths, soap and cutlasses to sell to CDRs at controlled prices,
providing free transport both ways. These benefits generated some enthusiasm among farmers,
but once the goods ran out and CDRs started charging for transport, farmers stopped
cooperating. Newspaper reports began denouncing traders for appearing in villages with trucks
loaded with consumer goods for sale and offering farmers high prices -all very unpatriotic.
It was the dry season of a second drought year by 1983, not a good time to remove price
incentives.37 The repatriation of a million Ghanaian immigrants expelled from Nigeria in
February 1983 further stressed the food system. One mother described to me coming in to
Kumasi Central Market with money and bursting into tears, because there was nothing to buy
to make dinner for her family. Urban food supplies dried up almost completely for several
months, leading to the prominent collarbones covertly referred to as "Rawlings' necklace."
Soldiers were as hungry as anyone and began to hijack food trucks from the highways that
passed by their barracks, making farmers and traders nervous of traveling at all. 38
The ideological shift that turned any market traders' organization into a sinister conspiracy
made any gesture towards consultation or even negotiation with market women more and
more unthinkable. Without announcing any policy reversal, the PNDC quietly began to allow
traders to bring and sell foodstuffs in the cities again by late 1983. Resuming the familiar
episodic enforcement pattern tacitly acknowledged that the new distribution channels could not
do the job of feeding the nation.

Market Deregulation

By 1984, Rawlings capitulated to international financial and diplomatic pressures and accepted
the neoliberal austerity measures recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
While perhaps motivated by national bankruptcy rather than the leaders' change of heart, the
thoroughness with which the PNDC implemented the already familiar list of IMF loan
conditionalities soon made Ghana famous. Price controls and foreign exchange controls were
dismantled, bringing consequences similar to those seen elsewhere. Austerity measures


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required to balance the budget brought massive layoffs of government employees and drastic
cuts in health and education services. The buying power of the typical middle or lower-class
market patron was sharply limited by such policies for "demand constraint" and "cost
recovery." World Bank publications featured Ghana prominently as a structural adjustment
success story, offering a good example to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
On the positive side, traders saw a welcome end to the physical violence of police raids and
fear of confiscations. Renewed access to credit and aid funded long-needed infrastructure
projects that resurfaced major highways and city streets. Rebuilding the drains that ran through
the Central Market took years, but eventually the market no longer flooded regularly and
spoiled traders' stock. Gasoline rationing ended, so transport was readily available to whoever
could afford it. This greatly reduced the search effort for specialized travelers, although raising
the capital requirements for efficient trading.
The promised surges in foreign direct investment and in innovative local entrepreneurship
unfortunately failed to materialize. Despite Ghana's GDP growth, the living standards of
ordinary people hardly budged due to the increasing polarization of income distribution. The
same export sectors that colonial policy had favored (gold, cocoa, and timber) received the
lion's share of World Bank investment capital under their new designation of "comparative
advantage." These are also the very production sectors whose income is most concentrated in
the hands of a small proportion of their participants, and whose owners and employees are
predominantly men.39 New technology in the gold mines raised output but reduced manpower
requirements.
As private formal sector employment shrank, partly under pressure from newly plentiful
imports, unemployed or never employed workers flooded into the marketplace and the streets.
The influx of young men into occupations like vegetable trading, previously coded female, was
highly visible at the market's edges. Dividing up the restricted pool of consumer demand
among more people meant even lower incomes for existing traders. Market traders found the
new open economy did not open up much viable space for them, and increased income
polarization and capital dependency among their own ranks.
Legalization also did not end traders' political isolation. While they might be off the
political hot seat, their concerns still were virtually excluded from development planning or
assistance. The much replicated Programme of Action to Mitigate the Social Costs of
Adjustment (PAMSCAD) began in Ghana in 1987, but it specifically disqualified traders from its
1988 small loan program aimed to encourage entrepreneurship and risk-taking.40 Market repairs
moved as slowly and corruptly as ever, and traders' material interests seemed to be ignored as
completely as ever. Those trading in the outer precincts of the marketplace, who operate from
flimsy stalls or stop for a few hours in a regular spot, remained subject to repeated clearances,
with little warning despite the rent they paid to the city.

Political Inclusion Begins

Some examples suggest that market traders may be making progress towards more political
integration as the country settles into a stable electoral democracy. In 1989, women traders from
Accra began to appear on a few government advisory and planning commissions. A few traders


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Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions Involving "Traditional" Asante Market Women I 58


won seats on rural district assemblies through local government elections again held in 1989.
Under decentralization measures district assemblies operate in local languages and control
some funds.41 Traders' organizational representatives also joined those appointed in 1991 to the
constituent assembly convened to draft a new constitution before the return to national
elections.
In Kumasi, the yam queen was also appointed for one term to a city council seat not filled
by election and still enjoyed her air-conditioned office in 1994. Debates were always held in
English, which she did not understand, so she sat near a family friend who could translate for
her. She was satisfied with her own occasional remarks, considering them analogous to the final
summing-up by the senior chief presiding over a traditional council. The family friend,
conversely, reported that educated members ignored her comments, so they had little impact on
council decisions.
A local Kumasi registered non-governmental organization, the Center for the Development
of People (CEDEP) made several interventions intended to raise awareness and respect for
market women. Its Women's Forum collected life stories of successful local women as inspiring
examples in 1995, deliberately including the yam queen in the Women's Forum launch
celebration and an eventual publication. A subsequent CEDEP initiative organized participative
workshops for market leaders at which they prioritized their problems and identified potential
solutions and partners. A corresponding workshop for city officials at the Kumasi Metropolitan
Authority aimed to raise their awareness of traders' contribution to local development, stressing
that approximately half the total city budget came from market revenues.42
Increased official awareness did not negate the underlying political inequalities and
tensions. City officials reacted in 1999 by trying to squeeze even more money out of traders with
a dubious security guard scheme. Market leaders had already stated flatly that real progress
was unlikely under the longtime city council chairman. Regardless of that (unrecorded)
consensus, the assessment exercise may have stiffened their resolve to reject the security guard
proposal. In June 2006, a new city leader had not been in office long enough to make long term
policy changes evident.
Without the burden of overt government hostility, however, the long history of local rulers
promoting local prosperity through trade seemed to slowly reassert itself during the 1990s.
Some chiefs of farming districts growing local food crops for sale tried to protect the
commercial territory of their hometown traders against urban-based buyers. Techiman and
Gonja chiefs, at different times, forbade Kumasi yam traders from buying directly from farmers
in villages or town markets, insisting they buy through local traders. In these instances,
urban/rural and north/south rivalries overshadowed the occupational divide between traders
and farmers. Traders based in small towns and villages are also more often farmers themselves.
A violent confrontation between tomato buyers from the southern cities and tomato
farmers from the distant Upper East Region, indicates women traders may now be regaining
some access to government officials. These traders (from the national capital, Accra, and nearby
southern cities) successfully asked high-ranking public officials to intervene on short notice. The
leader of one of the traders' associations advised me that she took a cell phone call reporting the
attack from one of the traders from her town who was there. She immediately headed for Accra
to alert her superior, head of the National Tomato Traders' Association, who had already been


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informed by her Accra colleagues who were in the group ambushed near Paga.43 Within hours,
they were able to contact national and regional officials to ensure police protection and mediate
the dispute.
These farmers grew dry season tomatoes on the irrigation projects fed by the Volta River.
Promises that a long-defunct tomato cannery nearby would be rehabilitated had induced them
to plant in large quantities that year. Some had sold or mortgaged assets like land to finance
larger farms, expecting a higher price from the cannery. Meanwhile, women traders from the
southern cities had organized to buy tomatoes in bulk across the nearby border in Burkina Faso,
as customs agreements allowed. When the harvest started but the cannery was not ready to
buy, farmers were desperate. The Member of Parliament for that area spoke on the house floor
of riots and suicides.44
These remote farmers had little leverage to hasten the power lines towards their local
cannery, but the roads from Burkina Faso brought the more vulnerable traders right through
their villages. On March 1, a group of male farmers blockaded the Paga border post, trapping
traders with at least 41 of their tomato trucks. After local police escorted these trucks through
the nearest large town, Navrongo, farmers ambushed them again farther south, stealing the
traders' money and cell phones and sending several traders to the hospital.45
The incident brought an immediate response from regional and national officials, starting
with the Upper East Regional Security Council, the Regional Director of Agriculture, the
Deputy Regional Minister, and the Regional Minister. Before a week had passed, the President
of the National Tomato Traders and Transporters Association had extended a compromise offer
to farmers and concluded impressive negotiations in Bolgatanga and Accra that involved the
Minister of Trade, the Minister of Food and Agriculture, and the President of the National
Farmers and Fishermen Award Winners Association. The agreement announced March 7 set up
procedures for local purchases and imports that accommodated traders and farmers but paid
little heed to international treaties or free market principles.46 It was hard to imagine in 1990 or
1999 that public figures of this stature would be openly sitting down with traders' leaders,
willing to indicate that degree of respect for their perspectives only a few years later.

Conclusion

The complex historical dynamics of market organizations in Ghana show a continuing
ambivalence in the relations between individual traders, their local commodity groups, and the
various governments that have sought to control them. Notorious episodes of price control and
market demolitions from 1979 to 1984 were only the most dramatic moments in a long series of
interventions in trade that public opinion often legitimate. Meanwhile, market rents and daily
fees supplied a steady source of public revenue that funded local government institutions.
Traders' tenacious resistance to regulation and the resilience of their autonomous organizations
advertised the limits of government control of the economy. The shifting contours of this
contestation shaped traders' organizational and ideological strategies throughout the twentieth
century.
The identification of the occupation of trading with women and men, with Asante and with
Northern and foreign ethnic groups, and with contingent nationalist agendas has been an


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Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions Involving "Traditional" Asante Market Women I 60


effective connection in drawing hostility towards traders at successive historical junctures.
Underlying contestations over relations based on class, race, nationality, and urban or rural
residence seem to intensify this hostility, in spite of not following any simple correspondence
with categories of traders or specific punitive actions. The degree and even the direction of
these identifications lacked stability in both the demography of the trading population of
Kumasi and its ideological positioning. Traders acted as a convenient target for expressing and
for deflecting frustrations that rose from a wide range of social contradictions throughout the
last century. Gender often figured conspicuously in such constellations of hostility surrounding
traders. Not nearly representing a binary opposition between women and men, the diverse
gender roles of women as mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, not to mention as queen
mothers, schoolgirls, and temptresses, were precisely what enabled gender to resonate in such
powerful ways with economic frustrations. The economic landscape was equally complex and
contradictory, including relations that linked and opposed persons and interests across multiple
cross-cutting dimensions. The contradictory allegiance engendered by gender relations for
both women and men were diverse enough to offer parallels to many of the thorniest local and
global dilemmas that entangle them as Ghanaians and continue to do so. Any of them might be
invoked by attacking traders as "those women," so such attacks remained persistently
worthwhile through economic transformations that undermined many other legitimating
practices. Their diversity simultaneously may have prevented women from organizing
effectively in defense of their interests as women, like women did in some Nigerian Yoruba and
Igbo communities.
Overcoming such deep-rooted antagonism is a complicated process that will probably take
a long time and a combination of many different strategies and cultural changes. On the other
hand, the complicated historical dynamics that constructed the underlying mutual distrust also
support a more encouraging interpretation. It took just such a complex interaction of many
factors to bring the situation to this pass, so there is a precedent for future change being equally
complex. Market commodity groups represent neither an eternal tradition nor an imitation of
modernity, but an indigenous innovation. If their recent configuration responds to specific late
twentieth century conditions, this suggests that traders can and will continue to generate
creative shifts in their organizational practices in response to twenty-first century changes in
their political, economic and cultural environment. Such future innovations will be needed to
preserve the resilience that has been so conspicuous and valuable in their past.
In Ghana, open marketplaces remain the primary economic institution delivering the basic
foods and consumer goods without which urban residents (and most rural communities) cannot
survive. Marketplaces revive so rapidly after periods of violent crisis not just because traders
can deploy a priceless cultural repertoire of transactional and organizational praxis, but because
market systems can and do change swiftly. The historical record suggests that public policy
towards marketplaces needs to accommodate this flexibility and continuity in supporting
traders' access to public space, customers, transport, storage facilities, credit, sanitation, and
other social infrastructure.
Traders contribute best to sustainable economies as active participants creatively meeting
contemporary challenges, not as folkloric anachronisms in out-of-the-way preserves. This
requires recognizing traders' organizations as legitimate stakeholders in urban and regional


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61 I Clark


planning, and including their leaders in all relevant consultation processes. Such inclusion
needs to take culturally and historically appropriate forms, but this does not reduce its
importance. As a general principle, full inclusion would mean a substantial step forward in the
often volatile and destructive relations between traders and their governments in many parts of
the world.

Notes



1. De Marees, 1602; Huxley, 1954; and Little, 1973 are exemplary.
2. For analysis of the gender conflicts over trade in various Latin American cultures, see
Bunster and Cheney (1985); Seligmann (1989); and Weismantel (2001). Further analysis
on Ghanaian gender conflicts is presented in Clark (2001); Robertson (1983); Allman
(2000); and Mikell (1989).
3. The political economy of informal trade has attracted distinguished analysts over many
years: Geertz (1963), Mintz (1971); Bromley (1978); and de Soto (1989) offer classic
generalizations. Case studies were collected in Bromley and Gerry (1979), Guyer (1987);
and Clark (1988). Monographs include MacGaffey (1987) on Zaire, Robertson (1997) on
Kenya and, on the South American Andes, Babb (1989), Weismantel (2001), and
Seligmann (2004).
4. More details on these research methods are included in the thesis and a subsequent book
(Clark 1984; Clark 1994). I would like to thank the ESRC (UK), the ILO, the SSRC, the
Fulbright Commission, and the US Dept of Education for funding various of these
fieldwork opportunities.
5. I am especially grateful to historians Gareth Austin, Larry Yarak, and Thomas McCaskie
for directing my attention to valuable files.
6. De Marees, 1602; Little, 1973.
7. See Clark (1994) for more detailed analysis of commodity groups, drawn from my
fieldnotes of that period. Due to the illegality of many of these activities at the time and
the recent return to office of the political party linked to that regime, personally
identifiable examples and quotations cannot be published.
8. Hopkins, 1973, p. 79ff.
9. Hopkins, 1973, pp. 87-88; Hymer, 1970, p. 39.
10. DeMarees, 1602, p. 396; Dike and Ekejuiba, 1990.
11. Hopkins 1973, pp. 90-108; Harrop, 1964, pp. 29-31.
12. Wilks, 1975, p. 111.
13. Wilks, 1975, pp. 197, 268-9; Akoto interview, 1980.
14. Priestley, 1969, p. 157.
15. Priestley, 1969.
16. NAK1.
17. Mikell, 1989.
18. NAK6; NAK7.
19. NAK8.


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20. NAA1.
21. NAK1.
22. NAK7.
23. NAA4; Kay, 1972, p. 62.
24. Hopkins, 1965, p. 135.
25. Howard, 1978, p. 75.
26. NAA6.
27. Drake and Lacy, 1966, pp. 72-91.
28. Allman, 1993.
29. Sudarkasa, 1979; Mikell, 1989.
30. See Clark (1988 and 1994) for observations of the November 1978 and March 1979
events, and more traders' narratives of earlier episodes.
31. See Clark, 2001.
32. See Clark, 1989b.
33. See Robertson, 1983.
34. Hart, 2006.
35. From a letter to the editor, Daily Graphic 3/22/79.
36. For more detailed analysis of the AFRC and PNDC periods, see Robertson (1983) and
Clark (1988).
37. Clark (1989a) compares food shortages in 1979 and 1983 to regular dry seasons.
38. Incidents are described in Clark (1988) from fieldnotes.
39. Clark and Manuh, 1991.
40. Recorded from PAMSCAD posters, 1984.
41. Owusu, 1992.
42. King, 1999.
43. Field interview, September 2007.
44. GNA 3/1/06.
45. GNA reports from 3/1/06 to 3/4/06 were compared with oral reports from a participating
traders' organization leader to prepare this summary account of events.
46. GNA 3/7/06.

References

Allman, Jean. The Quills of the Porcupine. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.

I Will Not Eat Stone. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2000.

Babb, Florence. Between Field and Cooking Pot. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1989.

Brown, James W. "Kumasi 1898-1823: Urban Africa During the Early Colonial Period." Ph.D.
diss, History, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1972.


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Bromley, Ray. "The Urban Informal Sector: Critical Perspectives." World Development 6:1033,
1978.

and C. Gerry, eds. Casual Work and Poverty. New York: John Wiley, 1979.

Bunster, Ximena and Elsa Cheney. Sellers and Servants. New York: Praeger, 1985.

Clark, Gracia. "The Position of Asante Women Traders in Kumasi Central Market, Ghana".
Ph.D. diss, Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, 1984.

"Price Control of Local Foodstuffs in Kumasi, Ghana, 1979." In Traders vs. the State, ed.
G. Clark. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1988), pp. 57-80.

___ (1989a). "Food Traders and Food Security in Ghana." In The Political Economy of African
Famine, eds. R.E.Downs, D.O.Kerner and S.P. Reyna. (London: Gordon and Breach, 1989), pp.
227-54.

___ (1989b). "Money, Sex and Cooking: the manipulation of the paid/unpaid boundary by
Asante market women." In The Social Economy of Consumption, eds. B. Orlove and H. Rutz.
(Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1989), pp. 323-48.

Onions Are My Husband. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

"Gender and Profiteering: Ghana's Market Women as Devoted Mothers and 'Human
Vampire Bats'." In "Wicked" Women And The Reconfiguration Of Gender In Africa, eds. Dorothy L.
Hodgson and Sheryl A. McCurdy. (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001), pp. 293-311.

___ and Takyiwaa Manuh. "Women Traders in Ghana and the Structural Adjustment
Programme." In Structural Adjustment and African Women Farmers, ed. Christina Gladwin.
(Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1991), pp. 217-36.

Daily Graphic (Accra) 3/22/1979.

De Marees, Pieter, Chronicle of the Gold Coast of Guinea, translated by A. Van Dantzig and Adam
Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1602 [1985].

De Soto, Hernando. The Other Path. New York: Basic Books, 1989.

Drake, St. Clair and Leslie Lacy. "Government vs. the Unions: The Sekondi-Takoradi Strike,
1961." In Politics in Africa: 7 Cases, ed. Gwendolyn Carter (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1966), pp.
67-82.

Dike, K. Onwuka and Felicia Ekejiuba. The Aro of South-eastern Nigeria, 1650-1980. Ibadan:
University Press, 1990.


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Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions Involving "Traditional" Asante Market Women I 64


Geertz, Clifford. Peddlers and Princes. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1963.

Ghana National Archives, Accra:

NAA1: No. 437/35. "Delegation of Financial Responsibilities to Native Authorities.
Commissioner, Central Province to Colonial Secretary, 15/10/35."

NAA4: No. 0866 ST17. Complaints against profiteering by trading firms. Anonymous
letter to the Governor, 23/9/41.

NAA6: No. 0028 SF8. "Irregularities in Import Control. Motion by Hon. Dr. J. B.
Danquah, 26/3/47."

Ghana National Archives, Kumasi:

NAK1: No. 179, item 18. "Western Province, Ashanti, Half-Yearly Report, 1st April 1926
to 30th September 1926."

NAK6: No. 1315 Kumasi Town Council. Changes proposed to Superintending Sanitary
Engineer on visit to Kumasi, July, 1914.

NAK7: No. 1315, item 44. Minutes of a meeting of the Obuasi Sanitary Board Held on
18th July, 1941."

NAK8: No. 2866. Kumasi Town Planning. Hawkers' Controllers to President, Kumasi
Town Council, 6/4/51.

NAK12: No. 1136. "Foodstuffs and Meat Regulation, item 33. District Commissioner,
Obuasi to Chief Commissioner, Ashanti, 13/11/39; 25/11/39."

Ghana News Agency (GNA):

March 1, 2006 "Tomato Farmers against Importation from Burkina Faso." Navrongo
(U/E).

March 2, 2006 "Tomato Traders Harassed at Kandiga Junction." Kandiga (U/E).

March 3, 2006 "Tomato Traders face Harassment in Kassena-Nankana District."
Kandiga.

March 6, 2006 "Improve Tomato Production in UER Buyers." Bolgatanga.

March 7, 2006 "Farmers, Traders Agree Terms to Buy Tomatoes from Upper East."
Accra.


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65 I Clark


Guyer, Jane. Feeding African Cities. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Harrop, Sylvia. "The Economy of the West African Coast in the 16th Century." Economic Bulletin
of Ghana, 8, No. 15 (1964), pp. 15-29.

Hart, Jennifer, "Hoarding Mothers?: Shifting Images and Public Discourses of Ghanaian Market
Women, 1952-1979." Masters' thesis, Indiana University, 2006.

Hopkins, Anthony, "Economic Aspects of Political Movements in the Gold Coast and Nigeria
1918-39." Journal of African History 7, No. 133 (1965), pp. 133-52.

Hopkins, Anthony. An Economic History of West Africa. New York: Columbia University Press,
1973.

Howard, Rhoda. Colonialism and Underdevelopment in Ghana. London: Croom Helm, 1978.

Huxley, Elspeth. Four Guineas. London: Chatto and Windus, 1954.

Hymer, S. H. "Economic forms in pre-colonial Ghana." Journal of Economic History, No. 33
(1970), pp. 33-50.

Kay, G. B. The Political Economy of Colonialism in Ghana. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press,
1972.

King, Rudith. "The Role of Urban Market Women in Local Development Processes and Its
Implication for Policy: A Case Study of Kumasi Central Market." Ph. D. diss., Development
Studies, University of Sussex, 1999.

Little, Kenneth. African Women in Towns. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

MacGaffey, Janet. Entrepreneurs and Parasites. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

McCaskie, Thomas. Asante Identities. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Mikell, Gwendolyn. Cocoa and Chaos in Ghana. New York: Paragon, 1989.

Mintz, Sidney. "Men Women and Trade." Comparative Studies in Society and History 13, No. 247
(1971), pp. 247-69.

Owusu, Maxwell. "Democracy and Africa: A View from the Village." Journal Of Modern African
Studies. 30, No. 3 (1992). pp. 369-396.

Priestley, Margaret. West African Trade and Coastal Society. London: Oxford University Press,
1969.


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Gender Fictions and Gender Tensions Involving "Traditional" Asante Market Women I 66


Robertson, Claire. Trouble Showed the Way. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1997.

"The Death of Makola and Other Tragedies: Male Strategies against a Female-Dominated
System." Canadian Journal of African Studies 17, no. 3 (1983), pp. 469-95.

Seligmann, Linda. Peruvian Street Lives. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

"To Be in Between: The Cholas as Market Women." Comparative Studies in Society and
History 31, No. 4 (1989), pp. 694-721.

Sudarkasa, Niara "From Stranger to 'Alien': The Sociopolitical History of the Nigerian Yoruba
in Ghana, 1900 to 1970." In Strangers in African Societies, eds. W. A. Shack and E. Skinner
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), pp. 141-67.

Weismantel, Mary J. Cholas and Pishtacos. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Wilks, Ivor. Asante in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.


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African Studies Quarterly I Volume 11, Issues 2 & 3 I Spring 2010


Informality and Casualization as Challenges to South Africa's
Industrial Unionism: Manufacturing Workers in the East
Rand/Ekurhuleni Region in the 1990s

FRANCO BARCHIESI

Abstract: The paper addresses informalization processes driven by layoffs, casualization,
and outsourcing and their implications for workers' agency. The empirical focus is on the
metal engineering, glass, and paper industries in the East Rand, South Africa's industrial
heartland. The author argues that growing job precariousness, the expansion of casual
work, the increasing stratification of the labor market, and steadily high unemployment
rates represent a hollowing out of an earlier promise of liberation politics, which posited
wage labor as the vehicle of social citizenship-i.e. decent living conditions, protected
jobs, and social provisions-in a democratic South Africa. Present realities rather suggest
an erosion of the socially integrative role of waged employment. It also questions the
common binary opposition between "formal" and "informal" sectors that associates the
former with inclusion and the latter with marginality. Furthermore, in the author's view
the reconfiguration of the meanings of waged work has eroded the socially emancipative
role of organized labor. The possibilities and prospects for collective organizing on the
basis of wage labor identities are limited to the extent that casualization and
informalization undermine workplace-based organizations. It is, therefore, important to
consider forms of social emancipation that transcend an exclusive focus on waged
employment. The disarticulation of the working class, in fact, is not merely weakening
work-based identities, but also creates new spaces for social agency and contestation. The
paper stresses that focusing on the strategies and discourse of ordinary workers is more
politically productive than mainstream definitions of informality that emphasize
capitalist domination or state rationality. Rather than simply representing
disempowerment and vulnerability, informality also creates conditions for political
possibility.

Introduction


The labor movement was a protagonist in the South African liberation struggle. Hundreds of
thousands of black workers saw in trade union militancy not only a tool to improve wages and
working conditions, but a promise to redeem wage labor from injustice and abuse. Under
regimes of racial segregation, African workers had in particular experienced waged
employment as a precarious condition underpinning managerial despotism in the workplace
and the denial of social and political rights in society at large.' Coercive systems of labor
migration, insecure contract occupations, racially defined residential spaces of inferior quality,

Franco Barchiesi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of African-American and African Studies at the Ohio
State University. From 1996 to 2002 he has taught in the Department of Sociology at the University of the
Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. His latest book (co-edited with Tom Bramble) is Rethinking the Labour Movement in the
'New South Africa' (2003).

http: //www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/pdfs/vlli2-3a5.pdf
University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448






68 I Barchiesi


and the lack of social benefits defined wage labor as a reality of indignity for the black majority
of the South African working class. Trade union struggles announced a radically alternative
meaning of employment, turning working for wages into a vehicle of solidarity, social stability,
and claims for socioeconomic rights seen as necessary complements to a new democracy.2
After the first democratic elections of 1994, however, the redemptive promise of wage labor
has continued to confront an uncomfortable reality of persistently high unemployment rates
and a growing casualization of jobs. The intrusion of an illegitimate state in the everyday lives
of workers no longer determines, as in the past, employment precariousness. Nonetheless, the
economic liberalization that, under the government of the African National Congress (ANC,)
has accompanied political liberation, did not prove conducive to the creation of stable jobs with
benefits, and has indeed often expanded insecure occupations. The precariousness of waged
employment has negatively affected the identities and strategies of the labor movement,
undermining collective solidarity, and citizens' access to social provisions.
The post-apartheid labor market appears as highly stratified: approximately one third of
South African workers are still in permanent formal jobs, one third are in casual, intermittent,
self-employed, and informal occupations, and one third are long-term unemployed.3 Among
the unemployed, particularly difficult is the position of residents in the rural areas and the
former "homelands," who lack meaningful economic opportunities and survive through
remittances from employed relatives or very limited, means-tested government grants, which
by now cover 25 percent of the South African population.4 In South Africa's tradition of
industrial unionism, formal employment is required to belong to labor organizations. Many
unions, however, are reluctant to deploy resources to organize casual and informal workers,
whose shifting occupational fortunes do not make them reliable dues-paying union members.5
In this paper I examine how South African workers have experienced the hollowing out of
the post-apartheid emancipative promise of waged work by focusing on the East Rand, the
country's manufacturing core. During the 1990s, the region, reorganized in 2000 into the
Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality, has experienced rapid productive and labor market
changes in an increasingly competitive scenario. Large conglomerates, which have historically
dominated the area, used layoffs, outsourcing, and contingent employment in response to the
pressures of market liberalization. In the 1980s, the East Rand had been a stronghold of black
union militancy as part of widespread opposition to apartheid. Support for unionization mostly
came from migrant workers, the most exposed to the oppressive and precarious realities of the
apartheid workplace. The economic restructuring of the 1990s impacted, therefore, on a class
composition that specifically embodied the hopes and expectations of wage labor in the "new
South Africa."6 In the 2000s, the East Rand somehow bounced back, experiencing a renewed
industrial growth that was, however, premised on a more dispersed and unstable geography of
production, where a growing number of workers are employed in small-medium enterprises,
often with limited benefits, insecure employment, and no contractual protections. They often
constitute a gray area where the boundaries of formal and informal production become hazy
and undistinguished. As a result, the region reflects a broader reality where employment is
hardly conducive to social inclusion and citizenship. Rather, it produces new forms of poverty
and inequality. A study by the Human Sciences Research Council found that two thirds of
employed workers in South Africa can be defined as "poor."7


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Informality and Casualization as Challenges to South Africa's Industrial Unionism I 69


The paper is based on research I conducted between 1999 and 2001 in East Rand plants
with histories of African grassroots union organizing dating back to the anti-apartheid struggle.
I visited three metal-engineering, two paper, and two glass factories, and interviewed in a semi-
structured format a total of 140 workers, almost all blacks, the vast majority of which were
African males.8 My choice to focus on core, relatively stable working-class communities, rather
than workers already employed in informal jobs, allowed me to evaluate casualization and
informalization as processes that develop over time across transformations affecting what are
usually considered full-time, regular occupations. The study also indicated that workers do not
merely suffer the degradation and fragmentation of waged employment as disempowered
victims. Instead, they are able to strategize within South Africa's changing world of work and
autonomously signify the contrasts between wage labor's old promises and its present
uncertain realities.
At the time of my research, the three metal-engineering companies were undergoing deep
restructuring processes that, largely driven by changing market conditions, led to job losses and
an increasingly contingent workforce. One of the companies, Kelvinator, an electric appliance
manufacturer in Alrode (Alberton) employing about 1,200 workers, eventually shut down. The
glass and paper companies in the study were also facing increasing market competition. These
two sectors are historically dominated by a few large firms, which restructured largely through
technological innovations that adversely impacted on employment conditions. All the
industries investigated are mostly organized by unions belonging to the ANC-allied Congress
of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a labor federation with deep roots in radical
mobilization under apartheid. Respondents for this study were usually members of the
Chemical, Energy, Print, Paper, Wood and Allied Workers' Union (CEPPWAWU) in the glass
and paper companies, and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) in the
metal and engineering plants. During the 1990s, both unions have suffered from organizational
difficulties and membership losses, which leave current prospects of recovery uncertain.
In the first two decades of post-apartheid democracy, South African mainstream academic
conversation and policy debates have looked at issues of poverty and social inequality with an
emphasis on the country's labor market and waged employment scenarios. Various analysts
and observers have constantly argued that unemployment is a primary determinant of poverty
and, consequently, access to waged jobs is a necessary, albeit not always sufficient, condition for
effective social inclusion.9 Their recommendations are often phrased in terms that morally
praise individual industriousness and initiative, stigmatizing "dependency" on public spending
"handouts."10 This argument has gained authoritative institutional recognition in President
Thabo Mbeki's image of "two economies," one formal and one informal, uneasily coexisting
and underpinning social inequality. Mbeki's two economies thesis juxtaposes "an advanced,
sophisticated economy, based on skilled labour, which is becoming more globally competitive"
to "a mainly informal, marginalized, unskilled economy, populated by the unemployed and
those unemployable in the formal sector," which "risks falling further behind, if there is no
decisive government intervention."" Such scholarly and political interventions reflect a post-
apartheid official discourse that has come to privilege binary opposition between categories
like "formal" and "informal" sectors, "typical" and "atypical" workers, "employed" and
"unemployed" citizens, social "inclusion" and "exclusion." In each coupling, the first term


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70 I Barchiesi


normatively denotes virtue and normality, while the second characterizes social pathologies
and policy problems. The government's discursive articulation of South Africa's "two
economies," therefore, serves to characterize the second one -being the target of "decisive
government intervention" -as a maladjusted residue of market-based modernization.12 The
"two economies" thesis, however, does not problematize the fact that decent, secure jobs with
benefits are by now limited to shrinking enclaves, while the proliferation of informal
occupations is powerfully connected to strategies of corporate restructuring and
decentralization of production. A policy discourse that premises social citizenship on labor
market participation, rather than on the need to find alternatives to growing household reliance
on low-wage unprotected jobs, contributes to such omissions.
The idealization of wage labor in the post-apartheid policy discourse aimed to resonate
with the promise of working-class emancipation in past labor and popular struggles, but in the
end, it did not reflect a reality where, throughout the democratic transition, stable waged
employment with benefits has steadily declined. In mid-2009, the country's official
unemployment rate as measured by Statistics South Africa stood at more than 23 percent of the
economically active population (EAP). Since 2004, however, official statistics have conveniently
excluded discouraged jobseekers from the EAP. Should they be counted, the unemployment
rate would easily climb to more than 30 percent. In the mid-2000s, 65.8 percent of the
unemployed aged 25 to 34 and 37.9 percent aged 35 to 44 had never worked in their lives.13 But
South Africa's problems with waged employment are not confined to joblessness; they are also
reflected in the growing share of temporary and casual occupations. Aided by the fact that
social grants do not cover working-age unemployed or underemployed citizens, casualization is
swelling the ranks of the working poor. Buoyant economic growth in the mid-2000s has not
reabsorbed the permanent jobs sacrificed to industrial restructuring in the previous decade, and
new waves of layoffs have accompanied the deep recession of 2008 and 2009, the most serious
since the end of apartheid. The stratifications of the South Africa labor market no longer reflect
institutional racial segregation, but are reproduced through a wide variety of non-standard
employment contracts, which, under the pretenses of impersonal market objectivity, amplify
the precariousness of most workers' lives. As the relations between wage labor and social
inclusion have become frail and hollow, labor market inequalities are particularly affecting the
African majority of the economically active population. For them, the concept of informality
reflects both a degradation of existing jobs on offer in the labor market and a range of
alternative coping strategies developed in response to poor employment prospects. The next
section will explore the intersection-vital to grasp what "informal" means in the post-
apartheid world of work- of these two aspects, one of which refers to productive restructuring
while the other pertains to workers' agency.

Informality, Precariousness, and the Fading Promise of Wage Labor in Post-apartheid South
Africa

After 1994, the alliance between the ruling ANC and COSATU expressed ambitions for a
"developmental" state, embodied in the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP),
in response to widespread expectations for socioeconomic justice and redress. Integral to the


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Informality and Casualization as Challenges to South Africa's Industrial Unionism I 71


post-apartheid project were corporatist-styled policymaking institutions -especially the
National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC)-for tripartite bargaining
among representatives of the government, business, and labor. The system envisaged a
participative social compact aimed at job creation, the protection of workers' rights, and
inclusive social security.14 Labor representation was, however, confined to trade unions and
therefore tended to exclude casual and informal workers. Moreover, working-class influence on
state policies found a further barrier in the government's program of economic liberalization
and public spending thrift contained in the 1996 Growth, Employment and Redistribution
(GEAR) strategy. GEAR foreclosed radical redistributive options, encouraged labor flexibility as
an avenue to job creation, and left the expansion of formal employment to the operation of
market forces.
Policymakers indeed shared the priority of restoring macroeconomic fundamentals and
private investor confidence undermined by international isolation, socioeconomic disruption,
and low productivity under apartheid.15 Analysts and politicians argued that most unemployed
workers had poor skills that made them unsuitable for the competencies required in high-end
globally competitive productions.16 The only occupations they saw feasible for most jobseekers
in South Africa's "labor surplus" economy were, therefore, low-wage positions with reduced
security and limited collective bargaining protections.17 COSATU rejected GEAR as "neoliberal"
and clung onto its collective bargaining protections, but economic liberalization nonetheless
envisioned the informalization of work as a policy response to the country's employment crisis.
It also made clear that the social pact based on the creation of decent jobs would apply only to a
minority of workers, becoming therefore an increasingly feeble echo of old struggles to redeem
wage labor. In view of the government's responsibilities in reproducing a hierarchical world of
work, finally, Thabo Mbeki's lamentations on the state of the "second economy" sounded rather
paradoxical.
In 1995, 69 percent of the EAP was employed full-time; by 2001, the figure had declined to
49 percent. Over the same period, part-time, casual, and informal occupations rose from 14 to 31
percent.18 Up through about 2005, employment in "informal" enterprises was hovering between
13 and 17 percent of the total workforce.19 The economic weight of businesses defined as
"informal" has kept growing throughout the 1990s decade of liberalization and deregulation,
coming to encompass-precise figures on the matter are notoriously hard to come by-between
16 and 40 percent of the gross domestic product.20 Massive job losses in the second half of the
1990s had different impacts across racial groups, but they revealed the particularly low
absorptive capacity of formal occupations for low-skill African entrants. In fact, according to
Haroon Bhorat between 1995 and 1999 African employment has grown by 9.94 percent,
compared to an African EAP growth of 25.5 percent, resulting in an employment absorption
rate of only 25.07 percent.21
As low-skill African workers found it exceedingly difficult to land in regular jobs, corporate
outsourcing and subcontracting provided alternatives in myriads of non-union small and micro
enterprises that operated along an increasingly uncertain boundary between formal and
informal. Equally important in the decentralization of production was the shift of labor
recruitment towards temporary employment agencies ("labor brokers"), which bring their own
employees to work in companies that no longer employ them directly, thus further fragmenting


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72 I Barchiesi


employment contracts and collective bargaining coverage inside workplaces.22 Under the
impulse of labor brokerage, casual, fixed-term, part-time, and "homework" arrangements are
on the rise across the whole occupational spectrum, as shown by studies that also emphasize
the disparities between temporary and permanent workers in wages, benefits, and working
conditions. 23
The South African evidence, therefore, seems to indicate that changing corporate strategies,
a business-friendly policy environment, and growing working-class poverty are decisive
features in the expansion of the informal economy.24 The scenario contrasts to some extent with
what scholars often observe in the rest of Africa, where informality is a tool with which
communities-which may or may not be captured in the production cycles of domestic or
international capital respond to macroeconomic adjustment.25 South Africa seems rather to
reflect the reality of older industrial societies where informality is shorthand for the growing
precariousness of waged workers made profitable at the cost of growing vulnerability and
exploitability.26 Rather than eliciting the entrepreneurship and the resourcefulness of the poor,
therefore, the informalization of production underlies daily socioeconomic duress, deepened by
inadequate social grants and the governmental injunction that virtuous and empowered
citizenship requires economic activity rather than claims for "handouts."
According to Devey, Skinner, and Valodia, if "informal" work is defined not in terms of the
nature of the employer (registered or unregistered) but according to the types of jobs and
whether they come with legal provisions, statutory benefits, and protections, in South Africa
formality and informality tend increasingly to overlap.27 In fact, 44 percent of "informal"
workers (80 percent of whom have no written employment contract) are in permanent relations
with their employers, while 16 percent of "formal" employees are not. More and more
"informal" workers are hired as casuals and subcontractors by registered enterprises, even in
manufacturing sectors where the externalization of functions was once limited. While almost 90
percent of informal workers have no company-based retirement coverage (and in South Africa
there is no national state-subsidized retirement system), this also applies to one third of formal
employees. Finally, 44 percent of formal workers, but only 8.4 percent of informal ones, are
members of trade unions.
The South African case ultimately points at the limitations and quandaries of definitions of
formality and informality that primarily rely on the economics of the firm or on the sociology of
labor markets. It also provides a much broader view of informal work than in mainstream
definitions centered on its "extra-legal" juridical status.28 The informalization of work is rather
revealing of the erosion of the "centrality of the labour contract as the foundation of the social
order" in a context where, nonetheless, work remains central to the official imagination of what
being a full citizen means.29
The profound and complex connections between formal production and informal work also
belie the dualistic view expressed in the "two economies" thesis, as well as exposing its
simplistic, ideologically biased understanding of social exclusion. Scholars inspired by the
"chronic poverty" paradigm reject the idea that a clearly defined line separates the included
and the excluded depending on whether they have a real job or not.30 Such a paradigm can
surely have normative implications as it teaches the poor to conduct themselves as workers-in-
waiting, accept corporate power and the labor market as naturally objective sources of value,


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Informality and Casualization as Challenges to South Africa's Industrial Unionism I 73


direct their desires towards job seeking, and stigmatize claims for redistributive social grants.
Dualist arguments ignore, however, the role waged employment and labor market inequalities
play in reproducing the exclusion and poverty of those for whom a job in the unstable divide
between formality and informality amounts to a precarious social existence.

The East Rand Working Class in Flux: Employment Change and Industrial Restructuring in
the 1990s

Since the mid-1970s, the East Rand (now the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality) has been a
stronghold of the South African labor movement. The unionization of a rapidly growing
African working class, largely made of contract migrants from apartheid's rural "homelands,"
accompanied the rise of the region as the country's manufacturing core. During the 1980s,
workers' struggles in the East Rand tended to transcend workplace-based demands, a terrain
privileged by early black trade unions, and join community movements fighting for housing
rights and basic social services and against apartheid local governments and the political
disenfranchisement of the majority.31
The economic crisis of the apartheid system during the 1980s also contributed to the
gradual decline of manufacturing. In the 1990s, layoffs became generalized: approximately
eighty thousand manufacturing jobs were lost in the East Rand between 1988 and 1999.32 The
decline of waged employment undermined hopes and expectations for comprehensive social
change woven in earlier labor struggles and dealt severe blows to workers' organizations. For
example, the country's main industrial union, COSATU-affiliated NUMSA, lost 45 percent of its
East Rand members between 1989 and 1999. The downturn in the local industrial economy
became more pronounced with the post-1994 economic liberalization, which facilitated further
factory closures, workforce downsizing, and casualization.33 Service sectors, especially retail,
conversely, expanded: by the early 2000s, up to 65 percent of East Rand retail workers were
hired on a contingent basis.34 By 1999, 44.3 percent of the East Rand workers were employed in
services, while manufacturing had plunged to 32 percent from the above 50 percent figures of
the 1970s.35 Unemployment, which soared from 32.2 percent in 1996 to 40.4 percent in 2001,
facilitated the spread of precarious jobs.36 Throughout the 1990s, downsizing mirrored the
outsourcing of production in sectors like metal, engineering, chemical, glass, and paper. Small
companies, largely non-union, have proliferated especially in production segments that do not
require substantial capital investment and overhead. The use of "labor brokers," finally, played
a significant role in the casualization of employment.
The companies I researched reflect the type of challenges faced by stable, unionized
working-class constituencies in the area. Union Carriage and Wagon (UCW) is a manufacturer
of railroad transport equipment that has seen its headcount fall from 800 to 150 employees
between 1997 and 1999, largely as a result of the exhaustion of short term contracts for overseas
markets and the government's continuous neglect of domestic public transportation.
Kelvinator, a manufacturer of electric household appliances, was liquidated in 1999, which
meant the loss of twelve hundred jobs. In June 2000, a competitor, Defy, bought the company's
physical assets and decided to transfer production to the largely rural Ladysmith area, once an
"industrial decentralization" point subsidized by the apartheid government and now a low-


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74 | Barchiesi


wage labor reservoir amidst massive unemployment. Defy hired approximately 250 workers
there, with remunerations as low as one third of the old Kelvinator levels.37 Companies in the
glass industry (Consol Glass and MB Glass) and in paper products (Nampak Corrugated, Sappi
Enstra) are largely subsidiaries of vast conglomerates that, in a highly vertically integrated
production process, have also heavily suffered the impact of layoffs.38 In these cases, however,
management met renewed competitive pressures, for example due to the diffusion of plastic
containers, through determined, aggressive technological innovation and organizational
changes involving the outsourcing of "non-core" business.
Employers have used the decentralization of labor recruitment across the local urban
economy as a powerful weapon to stratify the labor force and generalize its vulnerability. The
combination of temporary contracts and labor brokerage can ensure workers' compliance and
flexibility while minimizing the obligations of the companies towards their employees, which
are legally employed by the recruiting agencies. At UCW, layoffs have accompanied the hiring
of contract workers, often the very ones who had been previously retrenched, via a local labor
broker. Brokered workers received higher cash remunerations than UCW employees. The
employment agency had in fact to pay higher wages because it mostly hired artisans, who are
harder to retain, but it could also afford to raise the monetary pay by cutting medical insurance,
which UCW workers enjoyed by virtue of their union contract. Workers hired through the labor
broker were, quite unusually, organized by NUMSA, which allowed them some benefits like
retirement pensions. The duration of contracts, however, could be as short as three months,
terminable at a one week's notice.39 Even if they undermine the position of permanent
employees, labor brokerage and fixed-term contracts are seen by some workers -especially
qualified ones who can negotiate higher wages with the employment agency-in a positive
light. But overall, labor brokerage indicates that jobs have become insecure, long-term career
orientations are almost impossible, and workplace identities have grown weaker. Most
employees saw non-permanent contract employment, no matter how remunerative, as a short-
term survival strategy in a precarious environment, rather than an investment in waged work
as a force of social emancipation:

You see, if you are unmarried and are not a husband your problems would be less than
mine, especially on the finance. For those years when I was a permanent, I really did not
benefit anything, but I started to benefit when I started to become a contract, then I saw
an improvement at home and in my life. I could save something like R500 a month while
I am giving my wife enough money to support herself and her children, I could pay an
equal share of the telephone bill and the electricity bill, and we still suffer. But before,
when I was a permanent, I used to suffer more, I had lots of debts behind my back, I
couldn't even afford to pay everyday expenses with the money I used to have in my
pocket .... Now I am just thinking that I have got a job here, I am just like a horse who's
got now enough grass, I don't look at the outside and after that maybe I'll get another
job. I have been in this situation for a long time, when the job is finished, I have to sit
down and wait for another one.40


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Informality and Casualization as Challenges to South Africa's Industrial Unionism I 75


At the same time, many UCW employees resent the presence of the labor broker in the plant.
Their condemnation has not only to do with competition from contract workers. It also evokes a
need for stability, commitment, and fairness, which they mobilized to reinforce claims to
permanent work against casualization:

I am permanent and I care for my house, my children, everything. These guys
[brokered workers] come only to get the money and they are told they are going
to stay for two months, after which they must go. But I am permanent, I am
working here more than two months, and those guys don't care about what is
going on here in the factory, they're only here to take their pay and they cannot
look three-four years from now, they just say "ek weet nie" -I don't know-but
here I have to do my best for the future of the factory, because I worry about my
children.41

The moral economy of the workplace and attachment to full-time worker identities come,
however, under heavy pressure in a situation where a job through a labor broker can mean a
wage 50 percent higher than regular company employees, albeit at the cost of reduced benefits.
In general, labor brokerage conveys the impression that standard conditions of employment,
applied across the board, give way to informal interactions between specific groups of workers
and an elusive employer, which does not coincide with the management actually running the
workplace. Workplace-based collective responses therefore prove of limited power in a
production milieu that extols strategies of survival and adaptation relying on individual
initiative and skills. My respondents generally recognized the importance of defending waged
employment as a source of livelihood. Many did so, however, with a certain instrumentalism
that led them to keep all options open, instead of soldiering on with union identities and a
collectivist working-class ethos. They cherished, most importantly, the possibility of escaping
one day from a workplace that no longer guarantees social stability and the satisfaction of
household needs. Workers' fantasies of self-entrepreneurial alternatives sometimes took the
form of starting individual businesses in addition to an insecure and unfulfilling factory job.
Among respondents, 19.3 percent of metal-engineering workers and 9.7 percent of glass-paper
workers had a second job, almost always on an unregistered, self-employed basis. The average
income from second jobs in the case of metalworkers was R588 per month, compared to an
average net monthly wage of R2202. Lack of capital, crime, and difficulties to access further
training are the reasons most often cited as impeding self-employment options. Many workers,
moreover, presented individual strategies of escape as a matter of basic survival:

The income for the workers is far too little to allow them to go out and buy what
they may sell. On Friday they get their money, do grocery shopping for the
family and on Sunday they are left with only five or ten Rand, only enough to
pay to come back to work on Monday, and on Monday they are borrowing
money from other people. That's the life we are living in this company. My
intention is to have enough money to run a business, but around here, ek se ["I


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76 I Barchiesi


say,"] you are taking a risk if you open a business because you don't sleep when
you have got a business; too much crime, especially in the township.42

Some workers who lost their jobs at Kelvinator planned to collect their retirement benefits and
pool them with retrenched colleagues or neighbor to start small unregistered businesses. The
others, however, usually needed the money to provide food, clothing, and utility payments for
their families, repay company borrowings, or settle debts with "loan sharks." Economic
necessity drives insecure workers into all sorts of parallel occupations, which may well be more
exploitative than their own official jobs. At UCW an important source of additional income is
provided by seasonal employment in the oil refineries of Secunda during their annual
shutdown and cleanup, when permanent local employees are on leave. Cleaning the plant from
oil and chemicals is an extremely dangerous job, for which UCW workers are hired as scarcely
trained casuals, a practice the unions have blamed as a major cause of deadly accidents. The
informalization of once stable jobs creates, therefore, in this case a floating reservoir of cheap,
unprotected labor to satisfy the demands of corporations with intermittent employment
requirements.43
Survivalism unquestionably remains the main motivation of individualized strategies of
response to the crisis of waged employment and allows little idealization of the entrepreneurial
spirits allegedly unleashed by informality. Workers' strategies to escape the factory and their
disenchanted commentaries on the workplace environment, however, also denote an embryonic
critique of work and productivism. They voice a sharp awareness of the contradictory post-
apartheid location of wage labor, torn between its glorification in official policy discourse and
its grim, degraded material realities. The informalization of work opens therefore possibilities
for alternative modes of workers' signification and agency. In few cases among my respondents,
second jobs are indeed conducive to actual self-valorization, which workers oppose to the
dullness and meaninglessness of the industrial shopfloor. A shop steward and electrical fitter at
UCW grew disillusioned with the company as a consequence of frequent retrenchments
followed by intermittent contract employment. For him, the frustrations and deprivation arising
from workplace life contrasted markedly with the satisfaction derived from his parallel career,
built entirely on self-taught skills. For three hours after clocking off at UCW and before going
home in the township of Duduza (Nigel), this worker tended to his business as a self-defined
"architect" in an office rented in downtown Nigel, where he drafts-without holding any
formal certificate but "just a talent for drawing" -plans for all sorts of buildings.44 One of his
colleagues, an electrician, has indeed no qualms about sabotaging his factory tasks for the sake
of his self-employed weekend activity as an electrical repairman. For him, the "informal"
activity explicitly takes priority over his waged occupation:

Sometimes I can take a day off here at work. Before there was no pay for sick
leave, now it is paid so I can just take one day and bring back a fake doctor's note
to cover up. Many people do it, even if one must be careful, they notice when
someone brings doctor's notices three times a month.

Q: So working at UCW for you is mainly something like...


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Informality and Casualization as Challenges to South Africa's Industrial Unionism I 77


A: To improve my life, but the main thing is that I can really stand alone, I can
work alone, the electrician job is what I really care about. 45

Many workers indeed told me that they would not mind being laid off, if that allowed them to
collect severance packages and retirement contributions to fund some new self-employed
enterprise. Therefore, even if waged work is weakened as a site of identity and life strategies,
workers do not necessarily consider unemployment as a reality of mere victimhood but can also
seek in it new opportunities. The fact that workers volunteer for layoffs faces the unions, whose
collective solidarity is already undermined by employment fragmentation, with fresh
challenges. For shop stewards, this is a major cause for concern:

[Workers] volunteer when they hear the company wants to retrench, they know
that under packages they'll get lots of money to pay for their accounts. Even
when we as shop stewards told them, 'No, you mustn't do this, let's wait what
the company is going to do.' They say, 'No, the company told us they want to
retrench, now you have to remind the company about that,' and I say, 'No that's
not my job, to remind the company to retrench people.'46

The ability of workers to signify their own precariousness and use informality as a life strategy
critically questions the centrality of waged work in South Africa's policy and scholarly
discourse. But choices to escape waged work also reveal that the entanglements of survivalism
and self-realization in informal employment can be quite problematic. On one hand, informality
and precarious employment are not only conditions of disempowerment, but also indicate
workers' quest for emancipative alternatives to waged work. The ambivalent meanings of
informality in workers' lives and imagination, on the other hand, is a warning not to confuse
informality with its progressive possibilities and raise the question of how such alternatives are
articulated politically.
Respondents for this research displayed a set of contrasting attitudes towards employment.
They mostly saw their actual jobs -with their low wages, demeaning tasks, oppressive routines,
unsustainable work rhythms, and widespread insecurity-as removed from ideas of a dignified
life. The prospect of a meaningful human existence lay for them elsewhere, in a place often
fantasized through dreams of individual market empowerment. Yet, when asked what they
regarded as the best solution to South Africa's problems of poverty and inequality, "job
creation" was the overwhelmingly dominant response. Such ambiguous attitudes towards work
were reflected in conflicted approaches to the ANC, to which one third of respondents
belonged, while a further fifth identified themselves as party "supporters." Workers' allegiance
to the ANC surely reflected their COSATU membership and deeply engrained political
traditions. When it came to evaluating the policies of the ANC government, however, 48
percent expressed a bitter disappointment and argued that post-apartheid job losses and
precarious employment had betrayed the promises of political liberation. The ANC emerged
therefore contradictorily as a responsible for the jobs crisis and the force expected to fix it
through job creation policies. It was, finally, remarkable that job creation occupied such an
important symbolic place among workers so disillusioned with the ability of their own jobs to


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78 I Barchiesi


build decent lives. Such contradictions were partially explained by the fact that, when
questioned on why job creation was a priority for them, many workers did not signify
employment as a mere economic transaction. Male respondents in particular represented
"proper" jobs as the imagined foundation of a social order -alternative to the precarious
occupations they held -that could restore family respectability, household authority, traditional
values, and power relations along gender and age lines. As one worker put it:

As in our customs, you are responsible for your family, I must make sure
everything is in order, that my children and my wife have enough food. Even if
she's working I shouldn't rely on her money.47

Conversely, respondents considered high unemployment and occupational insecurity as
conducive to all sorts of social ills, from rampant juvenile crime to the disintegration of the
family as women's need to earn wages allowed claims to independence from male household
authority. A social order hinging on stable jobs represented an alternative where male
breadwinners could keep disorderly youth in check and confine women to tasks of
reproduction and care. The symbolic centrality of job creation, in other words, revealed
workers' longing for a conservative masculinity whereby images of ideal jobs conveyed
lingering resentment at the decay of the actual ones.
The political possibilities opened up by the informalization of waged work remain,
therefore, a contested terrain. The workers who imagine informality as the possibility of an
entrepreneurial escape from their own employment predicament are often the same who desire
job creation policies as a commitment by the state to restore a lost world of male working-class
respectability. Conservative family values can, however, also interact with radical public
discourses conveyed by union militancy to originate a different set of responses. A minority of
workers I interviewed tried to articulate the critique of wage labor made possible by informality
not in the sense of individual strategies and conservative imagination, but by arguing for a
renewed progressive activism. They blamed the degradation of work on the decline of union
membership and solidarity, and advocated COSATU's independence from, and critical
engagement of, the ANC. They continued to see the unions as workers' representatives on
bread-and-butter issues, and even desired their greater involvement as service organizations
and legal advice structures. Outside the workplace, however, about one fifth of respondents
saw labor organizations as having limited value in dealing with the social consequences of the
employment crisis. To face the growing poverty of the working class, the rising costs of basic
necessities, the inadequacy of housing and municipal utilities, they argued that the unions
should act as community-based structures, possibly joining social movements critical of the
ANC's macroeconomic agenda. As one summarized:

The union has to engage the government, because the government has been
voted by us. The previous government was oppressing us but now we are in a
democracy so now if we have some complaints those people must hear us. ...
Every night I am always dreaming about whether I will lose my job, where will I
go? What will happen in ten years time in our country if people are not working?


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Informality and Casualization as Challenges to South Africa's Industrial Unionism I 79


The union needs to be more militant in engaging the government, because in the
present day I can't be happy that I am working. If the union says, hey, let's go
and fight the government and I say no, I can't go there because I am working,
then I will be killing myself, at the end of the day I will lose my job. The union
must fight both for the unemployed and for the people which are working.48

Various social and community movements, like the Anti-Privatization Forum, have, since the
early 2000s, interrogated the inadequacies of the labor market in relation to social marginality,
and demanded universal social protection and a decommodified social wage, including free
basic services and basic income grants, for the majority of South Africans who cannot enjoy a
dignified living through employment.
The informalization of jobs has, in short, reopened the question of the relationships
between work and social emancipation, after the disappointments of wage labor in the post-
apartheid era. Contrasting desires crisscross the unions' rank and file and shake collective
identities and loyalties, while workers' dreams to escape jobs that have become frail and
embattled seem to enable radically different political imaginations. My research, however,
indicates that progressive political subjectivities are more likely to emerge from a rapidly
informalizing world of production if work loses its centrality in the ways ordinary people
imagine life in a democratic society. Assuming-as governmental rhetoric and the mounting
resentment of sections of the working class tend to do-that despite its material degradation
wage labor must remain the normative foundation of society and citizenship, is by now at risk
of feeding a conservative and chauvinist political discourse. It is also likely to reflect the
material conditions of only the shrinking minority of workers with stable and decent jobs while
leaving the precarious majority voiceless and invisible.
In this contestation, it is the politics of working-class resentment that is for the moment
gaining the upper hand. At the end of 2007, a rank-and-file worker insurgency, led by
COSATU's leadership, caused a historic change at the top of the ANC. The new party leader,
Jacob Zuma, proceeded to become South Africa's president following the national elections of
2009. The movement that propelled Zuma's rise (called a "tsunami" by his supporters), crucially
expressed workers' disappointments with high unemployment and casualization under Thabo
Mbeki's government, and it amounted to a rejection of GEAR's neoliberalism.49 Zuma has,
however, articulated such feelings in a public discourse that with renewed strength emphasizes
hard work, deprecates welfare "dependency," condemns young women claiming social grants,
and resonates with the new leader's masculine persona, allegiance to family values, and
toughness on crime. The informalization of work and the anxieties it generates played a
decisive role in such momentous shifts. Whether they will have a progressive political outcome
will also depend on the ability of workers, social movements, and ordinary citizens to articulate
a political imagination of liberation from, and not only of, wage labor.

Conclusion

My findings suggest that informality is not, as the "two economies" thesis indicates, a separate
social realm of backwardness left behind in the post-apartheid globalized economy. It rather


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80 I Barchiesi


represents an aspect of capitalist modernization as it increasingly relies on a hierarchical world
of work and makes occupations precarious and insecure. Yet, the erosion of waged
employment as a condition of decent life for the majority is accompanied by arguments that,
from the government and rank-and-file workers alike, continue to imagine wage labor as the
foundation of respectable families, social discipline, clearly defined gender roles, and economic
initiative. On the workers' side such a conservative imagination of work seems all the more
paradoxical considering the disillusionment most respondents expressed with their jobs.
Desires to escape waged occupations reveal nonetheless workers' reluctance to be
disempowered by employment precariousness and their desire to use informality as an avenue
for alternative possibilities. Such possibilities, however, remain predominantly couched in the
languages, often mutually reinforcing, of individual entrepreneurship or working-class
resentment. Only in a minority of cases does informality enable a progressive imagination of
union and social activism.
The most important political implication of this paper is, in the end, that the reconstitution
of a progressive linkage between work and emancipation, after the disappointment of the post-
apartheid promise of wage labor, greatly depends on how workers will signify informality.
Does an increasingly informalized world of work enable demands for a universal social wage
and basic income independent from employment status? Or are, conversely, the anxieties of
precarious employment and dreams of individual empowerment contributing to the hegemony
of new conservative work-centered paradigms? To address such questions scholars and
activists will have to think of informality politically, rather than confining its analysis within the
parameters of the workplace and the labor market. Perhaps useful insights can come from the
history of labor struggles in Africa, where workers have often chosen informal and precarious
occupations as ways to resist capitalist work discipline and the attempts at labor cooption by
colonial and postcolonial regimes alike.50 Escaping the necessity to work for wages remains also
crucial, especially in contexts of neoliberal attack on labor under structural adjustment
programs, to keep multiple livelihood networks and social interactions alive.51 Amidst the
suffering and uncertainties it generates, the precariousness of work in South Africa has the
merit of raising the question of whether formal wage labor should still be the obvious, indeed
desirable, driver of social integration and citizenship, an issue that profoundly interrogates
what until now has appeared as an unassailable post-apartheid consensus.

Notes



1. Von Holdt, 2003.
2. Friedman, 1987.
3. Webster, 2006.
4. Posel, 2003; Seekings and Nattrass, 2005.
5. Hlela, 2003; Appolis and Sikwebu, 2003.
6. Barchiesi and Kenny, 2002.
7. Altman, 2006.


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Informality and Casualization as Challenges to South Africa's Industrial Unionism I 81


8. 140 interviews were conducted between July 1999 and May 2000. They are here
numbered according to their position in the author's database. The interviews were
conducted in the following companies: 1 to 20: Baldwin's Steel (Brakpan); 21 to 40, plus
45: Union Carriage and Wagon (Nigel); 41 to 60, minus 45: Kelvinator (Alrode); 61 to 80:
Paperlink (Germiston); 81 to 100: Nampak Corrugated (Wadeville); 101 to 120: Consol
Glass (Wadeville); 121 to 140: MB Glass (Leondale).
9. May, 2000; Bhorat et al., 2001; Seekings and Nattrass, 2005.
10. Meth, 2004, provides an insightful discussion of these ideological debates.
11. RSA, 2003, p. 97.
12. Hart, 2006.
13. Bhorat and Oosthuizen, 2005.
14. Adler and Webster, 2000.
15. Hirsch, 2005; Cassim, 2006.
16. Bhorat and Hodge, 1999.
17. Nattrass and Seekings, 2005.
18. Altman, 2003.
19. Bhorat and Oosthuizen, 2005.
20. Hlela, 2003.
21. Bhorat, 2003, p.6.
22. Theron, 2004.
23. Mosoetsa, 2001; Bramble and Barchiesi, 2003; Kenny, 2005.
24. Lund, 2002.
25. Meagher, 1995.
26. Critchlow and Tabak, 2000.
27. Devey, Skinner and Valodia, 2006.
28. See Hansen and Vaa, 2004.
29. Offe, 1997, p.82.
30. Aliber, 2003; Du Toit, 2004.
31. Ruiters, 1995.
32. Barchiesi and Kenny, 2002.
33. Rogerson, 2004.
34. Kenny, 2005, p.164.
35. Barchiesi and Kenny, 2002.
36. Development Bank of Southern Africa, 2005.
37. Bezuidenhout, 2004.
38. Rosenthal, 1999.
39. Interview 45. Male, 46, carpenter, UCW. Nigel, October 20, 1999.
40. Ibid.
41. Interview 27. Male, 33, Machine operator, UCW. Nigel, August 7, 1999.
42. Interview 4. Male, 39, sales representative, Baldwin's Steel. Brakpan, July 19, 1999.
43. Desai, 2002.
44. Interview 21. Male, 47, electrician, UCW. Nigel, July 24, 1999.


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82 I Barchiesi


45. Interview 39. Male, 39, electrical tester/wirer, UCW. Nigel, September 22,
1999.
46. Interview 1. Male, 45, sales representative, Baldwin's Steel. Brakpan, July
12, 1999.
47. Unnumbered interview. Male, 29, truck loader. Norwood Municipal Waste
Depot. Johannesburg, February 23, 2000.
48. Interview 137. Male, 37, general worker, MB Glass. Leondale, May 16, 2000.
49. Ceruti, 2007.
50. Cooper, 1987; 1996.
51. Simone, 2004.




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Mosoetsa, Sarah. "The Manchester Road: Women and the Informalization of Work in South
Africa's Footwear Industry." Labour, Capital and Society 34, no.2, (2001), pp. 184-206.

Offe, Claus. "Towards a New Equilibrium of Citizens' Rights and Economic Resources?" In
Societal Cohesion and the Globalising Economy, ed. Wolfgang Michalski, Riel Miller, and Barrie
Stevens (Paris: Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, 1997), pp.81-108.


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Informality and Casualization as Challenges to South Africa's Industrial Unionism I 85


Posel, Dorrit. "Have Migration Patterns in Post-Apartheid South Africa Changed?" Paper
presented at the Conference on African Migration in Comparative Perspective, Johannesburg,
June 4-7, 2003.

Rogerson, Christian M. "From National Industrial Workshop to 'Rustbelt': Restructuring the
Manufacturing Economy of Ekurhuleni, 1980-1999." Paper presented at the Wits-Ekurhuleni
Symposium on Sustainable Manufacturing, Johannesburg, June 10-11, 2004.

Rosenthal, Tanya. "Forms of Worker Incorporation and Resistance: A Case Study of the South
African Glass-Packaging Industry." In Globalisation and Patterns of Labour Resistance, ed. Jeremy
Waddington (London: Mansell, 1999), pp.131-59.

RSA, Republic of South Africa. Towards a Ten Year Review. Synthesis Report on Implementation
of Government Programmes. Pretoria: Government Printer, 2003.

Ruiters, Gregory. "South African Liberation Politics: A Case Study of Collective Action and
Leadership in Katorus, 1980-1989." Master's thesis, University of the Witwatersrand,
Johannesburg, 1995.

Seeking, Jeremy and Nicoli Nattrass. Class, Race, and Inequality in South Africa. New Haven:
Yale University Press, 2005.

Simone, AbdouMaliq. For the City Yet to Come. Changing African Life in Four Cities. Durham, NC:
Duke University Press, 2004.

Theron, Jan. "Employment Is Not What it Used To Be: The Nature and Impact of the
Restructuring of Work in South Africa." In Beyond the Apartheid Workplace. Studies in Transition,
ed. Edward Webster and Karl von Holdt (Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press,
2004), pp.302-23.

von Holdt, Karl. Transition from Below. Forging Trade Unionism and Workplace Change in South
Africa. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2003.

Webster, Edward. "Trade Unions and the Challenge of the Informalisation of Work." In Trade
Unions and Democracy. COSATU Workers' Political Attitudes in South Africa, ed. Sakhela Buhlungu
(Pretoria: HSRC Press, 2006), pp.21-43.


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African Studies Quarterly I Volume 11, Issues 2 & 3 I Spring 2010


Informalization from Above, Informalization from Below:
The Options for Organization

JAN THERON

Abstract: The paper examines different strategies for the collective organization of
informal workers, on the basis of a number of empirical illustrations from South
Africa. It argues that the situation of workers in the informal economy is best
understood in terms of two inter-related processes. The first is "informalization from
above," whereby employment is increasingly externalized, resulting in a layer of
workers ostensibly located in the formal economy to whom labor standards
increasingly do not apply. The second, "informalization from below," is manifested
by the expansion of self-employment and survivalist activities. The dominant form of
membership based organization in South Africa has been trade unionism. For reasons
that are canvassed in the paper, however, trade unions have not been able to respond
effectively to informalization from above. Trade unionism also does not represent an
appropriate model of organization to respond to informalization from below. What is
needed, rather, is an entrepreneurial form of organization. The paper therefore
advocates a paradigm shift towards building collective organization from the bottom-
up, based on a culture of self-reliance and of communal solidarity. In this context it
discusses the current upsurge of new cooperatives and emphasizes the potential of
the cooperative form of organization and the notion of building the social economy as
a means of empowering informal workers.

Introduction

Perhaps the arts are better able to express what is happening in South Africa in the era of
capitalist globalization than the social sciences. Although South Africa's contribution to
world cinema is a modest one, it is surely no coincidence that in two critically acclaimed
films of the post-apartheid era the theme is crime, against a back-drop of social
disintegration.1 In Tsotsi the protagonist is a young gangster who finds his humanity when it
turns out that a vehicle he has hijacked has a baby in the back seat. There is no such theme of
redemption in the more recent Jerusalema. Here the gangster styles himself the head of a
housing trust, whose ostensible object is to accommodate the poor and homeless. He gets
rich by "stealing" buildings.2
Crime in this paper is a signifier of social disintegration. The social indicators most often
invoked in public discourse about crime are unemployment and inequality. It is often
suggested, for example, that there is a causal relationship between crime and
unemployment. But unemployment does not suffice as an explanation for the violent nature
of crime in South Africa. Inequality does not provide a ready explanation for crime directed
at the most vulnerable sections of society, women and children in poor and working class


Jan Theron is a practising labour attorney and coordinates the Labour and Enterprise Policy Research
Group at the Institute of Development and Labour Law, University of Cape Town. He was formerly
the General Secretary of the Food and Canning Workers Union (FCWU) from 1976 until 1986 and of
the Food and Allied Workers Union from 1986 until 1988.

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individuals to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448






88 I Theron


communities. There are societies elsewhere where inequality is extreme but where crime is
demonstrably less of a problem.
What differentiates South Africa from the rest of Africa, some would argue, is that it has
both high unemployment and a small informal economy.3 It is also the smallness of its
informal economy that differentiates it from other societies with extremes of inequality, such
as India. Official statistics appear to confirm this. Probably these statistics underestimate the
extent of the "informal sector" (as it is described), and informality is certainly increasing.4
Even so, what is distinctive about South Africa, along with some other middle-income
countries, is rather the numerical and historical significance of its working class.
There are two factors associated with this predominance of the working class in relation
to what would otherwise be characterized as the poor. The first is what I term a "wage
culture." This is a societal norm in terms of which people in general, particularly men, aspire
to or expect waged employment as a means to subsist. This is in contrast with societies in
which there is no such expectation, and where poor people are either self-employed or
engage in the range of entrepreneurial activity that is generally conceived of as constituting
the informal economy.5 The second is the historical ascendance of trade unions as a form of
membership-based organization in poor and working class communities.
Trade unions played a key role in establishing and defining a tradition of communal
solidarity in poor and working-class communities in the apartheid era, I argue.6
Communities with a strong tradition of communal solidarity will be more coherent and less
susceptible to crime. But the political and cultural transition associated with the dismantling
of apartheid coincided with South Africa's economic integration into the global economy, at
the precise point at which trade liberalization began to take effect.7 Capitalist globalization
in turn has widened the gap between rich and poor in what Sklair has termed the class
polarization crisis.8
The effects of class polarization in South Africa have not been adequately theorized. It is
nevertheless clear that inequality is increasing between what is traditionally conceived of as
the working class and those who are relatively more deprived.9 At the same time, the
prospect of waged employment is increasingly unrealistic for ever larger numbers. Realizing
this, individuals and groups have devised various strategies to enrich themselves, of which
the protagonist of Jerusalema is an exemplar. Personal greed, rather than communal
solidarity, is the order of the day.10 If there is any prospect of re-establishing a tradition of
communal solidarity, I argue that another form of membership-based organization will have
to be promoted in poor and working class communities. It will also be necessary to
recognize that a "'wage culture," insofar as it creates unrealistic expectations, is part of the
problem that has to be overcome.
The scheme of the paper is as follows. The next section is a historical outline of the role
of trade unions in establishing and defining a tradition of communal solidarity. This is
followed by an analysis as to how membership-based organizations and communal
solidarity have been undermined by a process of informalization, both "from above" and
"from below." The paper then proceeds to consider organizational responses to
informalization. It concludes that a different paradigm is needed, if membership-based
organizations in poor and working class communities and a tradition of communal
solidarity is to be re-established. In this context, the paper emphasizes the significance of the
cooperative form of enterprise. The paper then turns to consider case studies of cooperatives
established in South Africa and discusses the extent to which the cooperative form of
enterprise has the potential to establish a new paradigm.


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Information from Above, Informalization from Below: The Options for Organization I 89


The membership-based organizations that emerged in the period of the struggle

South Africa in the 1970s was predominantly an industrial country with a working class
divided along racial lines. There was a white working class that was one of the beneficiaries
of apartheid and a black working class that was disadvantaged to varying degrees (the term
"black" is used here in its generic sense, to include both so-called "coloureds" and Africans).
The black working class was generally perceived as poor and the poor as working class. The
following quotation accurately sums up how the national situation was conceived at the
time the foundations of a "new" trade union movement were being established, in the late
1970s. "Most black South Africans are workers," it begins. "We believe, therefore, that to
understand the problems facing black South Africans we must begin with the labour
situation. It is the situation in which there is the greatest potential for forging new
organizations through which blacks can reclaim their human dignity.""
In retrospect, the urban and gender bias of the statement "most black South Africans are
workers" is apparent. Half of black South Africans are women. There were black women
workers, notably in low-wage manufacturing industries such as clothing and food
manufacturing, and women also predominated in domestic work. Most women, however,
were relegated to the rural areas and so-called homelands by apartheid's policy of influx
control. There they were forced to live off traditional agriculture and the kind of survivalist
activities that are nowadays categorized as informal.
It was nevertheless true that the labor situation had the greatest potential for forging
"new" organizations, as the next decade was to prove. Of course the trade unions that
emerged in the 1970s and 1980s did not represent an entirely new form of organization.
There was already a long established tradition of trade unionism, including of trade unions
organizing African workers.12 But this tradition had to be reinvented, in the course of a
series of debates internal to the unions: whether workers were best represented by trade
unions or plant-based committees; whether trade unions should organize generally or
industrially; the importance of non-racial unionism; what proper organization entailed; and
the relationship between trade unions and the community.13 These debates were in turn
shaped by the experiences of organization on the ground.
These trade unions were of course not the only membership-based organizations to
emerge during the struggle, but they were by far the most important. This was because,
unlike any other organizations or institutions having a membership base (such as faith-
based organizations) trade unions drew their support from a working class constituency and
the working class in an industrial country was politically potent. This was particularly so to
the extent that unions were able to unite different strata of the working class. In this it
seemed they were comparatively successful. One gauge of their success was the extent to
which they were able to recruit the "ordinary worker."
The "ordinary worker," in the low-wage manufacturing industries mentioned, was
typically black and female. In most other industries, the ordinary worker was unskilled and
a so-called contract worker from the rural areas. Because these unions subscribed to the
principle that the members should be in effective control of their organization, they also
articulated the need for ordinary workers to be part of the political process. In some
instances ordinary workers were elected to high office in such unions. Arguably this was
what was really "new" about these trade unions.


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90 | Theron


By way of contrast, the civic associations that began to emerge at about the same time as
trade unions did not feel any need to recruit members to justify their claim to represent the
community. More importantly, almost without exception, they had no presence amongst the
poorest sections of the African community: amongst contract workers living in the hostels
and, with the influx of people from the rural areas, amongst shack-dwellers in informal
settlements. The divide between these contract workers and recent arrivals, on the one hand,
and urban "insiders" on the other, was at the root of episodes of factional violence in 1976
and subsequently.
There was also a tension within unions in implementing the principle that "ordinary
workers" should be in control. It necessitated the adoption of procedures some perceived as
laborious and unnecessary.14 Underlying these tensions was a divide between the "ordinary
worker" and a comparatively sophisticated, urban-based, male leadership that was
becoming increasingly ascendant. As the unions grew larger, and were inevitably drawn
into a political role, these tensions were exacerbated. At the same time, there were unions
that were in effect proxies for political organizations and were less concerned with
developing a membership base than a political following.
These tensions were not resolved with the formation of the Congress of South African
Trade Unions (COSATU). It was accepted that the key policy that was to inform the
structure of the new labor organization was broad based-industrial unions, formed on the
basis of one union for one industry. But there was no debate as to how these unions should
be constituted. Here there were conflicting traditions. There was a tradition that emphasized
the importance of the financial autonomy of the union and the autonomy of the branch or
local structure over the head office, or national union.15 With few exceptions, however, the
emergent unions had since their inception relied heavily on donor funding and had no
tradition of financial self-sufficiency. Partly as a consequence, most unions favored a highly
centralized structure, in which the branch or local structure was allocated funds (and hence
controlled) by the head office. This "top-down" approach prevailed.

Informalization from above, informalization from below

The trade unions' reward for their support during the struggle was to institutionalize a
political role for themselves and to enact supportive labor legislation. The former took the
form of the establishment of a political structure, the National Economic, Development and
Labour Council (NEDLAC), in terms of which organized labor and organized business
would be consulted about the introduction of socio-economic policy. But for this corporatist
project to be credible, it was necessary for government's "social partners" to be seen as
representative of those affected by social and economic policy.
Well before 1994, it was already evident that business had embarked on a process of
restructuring that was to have a significant impact on trade unions. There had already been
significant numbers of unskilled workers retrenched in a number of sectors, notably in
manufacturing, where the "new" unionism had been based. From now on, the typical union
member was less likely to be an "ordinary worker" than to be skilled or semi-skilled. In part
this process of restructuring can be seen as an endeavor, endorsed by the new democratic
government, to "modernize" the economy and integrate it into the global economy. This
required protectionist measures to be dismantled and tariffs to be liberalized. In part it
appears that restructuring was motivated by an aversion to employment as it was then


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Information from Above, Informalization from Below: The Options for Organization I 91


structured, with the workplace as a locus of organization, and the risks this entailed for
employers. As a consequence employment was increasingly externalized.16
The first consequence of externalization is that, increasingly, the workplace has ceased
to comprise a community of workers with different skills, working in the same physical
locality for a single employer.17 Instead, the workplace has become a community of service
providers or intermediaries, each of which employs its own workforce, but which is
nevertheless subordinate to a core business. The core business determines not only the
parameters on which services are provided but also the parameters on which the service
provider or intermediary provides employment, whether by virtue of its control of the
workplace, or by virtue of its ownership of the intellectual property rights to what is
produced or sold there.
A second consequence of externalization flows from the first. If informalization is
regarded as a process whereby economic activity takes place outside the scope of formal
regulation, externalization has the effect of informalizing work in the formal workplace.
Workers employed by franchisees or temporary employment agencies or service providers
in the formal workplace are nominally employees, to whom labor legislation applies. But,
they are unable to avail themselves of the rights and protections labor legislation provides
insofar as the conditions under which they are employed are in fact determined by a person
that is legally not party to the employment relationship, namely the core business.8" This can
be described as "informalization from above."19
There is no empirical data as to the extent of this form of informalization, but sectoral
case studies suggest it is widespread.20 Moreover, all indications are that workers employed
by these subordinate employers earn substantially less than workers employed by the core-
business doing comparable work. Interviews with employers pursuant to a study of
temporary employment services suggest that the determinant of an appropriate level of
remuneration for such workers is what is perceived to be the going rate for "casual" labor.21
This would be what one would expect, in a situation where "casual" labor can be readily
hired and where there are sufficient "casuals" willing to take the going rate in order to
escape unemployment and survive. This, then, is the level at which informalization from
above merges with "informalization from below," representing the range of occupations
comprising what is more traditionally conceived of as the informal economy.22 These
include self employed workers, working on their own or with others (such as apprentices
and family members, whether paid or unpaid).
Informalization has had a profoundly debilitating effect on the level of organization in
poor and working class communities. In the case of "informalization from above," workers
in informalized employment are not able to associate, let alone exercise bargaining rights,
because their employer does not control the workplace where they work: hence their
employment is fundamentally insecure, and they are easily victimized. In the case of
"informalization from below," the difficulties in organizing workers relate to the practical
problems of linking-up isolated economic actor in different locations and in identifying how
it can be to their mutual benefit to associate.
This situation has not in any way been ameliorated by the creation of a third
constituency in NEDLAC, alongside organized labor and business, to represent the interests
of "the community." The only way the community could be represented at this level is
through federation(s) of membership-based organizations. But the claims of the federation
of civic associations to fulfill this role are not credible. Indeed, corporatist arrangements such


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92 I Theron


as NEDLAC do not encourage building such organization from the bottom up, as much as
lobbying in the corridors of power.
It is also important in this regard to differentiate membership-based organizations from
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the one hand and social movements, on the
other. NGOs form part of what (imprecisely) is sometimes referred to as the "non-profit" or
"voluntary sector." NGOs, of course, may play a supportive role in developing membership-
based organizations. The dynamic of an NGO, however, is quite different from a
membership-based organization: it is ultimately accountable to those that are the source of
its funding, rather than a membership. Social movements, absent a defined membership
base, are open to the same objection.

The need for a different paradigm

What, then, should be the organizational response to informalization? Trade unions are the
dominant form of organization in the formal workplace. The obvious response to
"informalization from above," and the segmentation and polarization described, seems to be
to organize workers into one union. But this has not happened in South Africa, although
there are cases where it has been attempted. Rather, where unions have succeeded in
organizing workers employed by service providers it has been into separate unions.23 This
implies an acceptance that they belong to a separate sector from their fellow workers in the
workplace of the core business. This is problematic.
It is thus an unresolved question as to what form a trade union response to
"informalization from above" should take. At the same time it is clear that the historical
ascendance of trade unions as a form of membership-based organization in poor and
working class communities is a thing of the past and that other forms of organization need
to be considered. This is no less clear in respect of "informalization from below."
In South Africa, the Self-Employed Women's Union (SEWU) is the only example of a
trade union response to "informalization from below." SEWU in turn modeled itself on the
Self-Employed Women's Association of India (SEWA).24 But it is debatable whether SEWU
was truly a trade union. From its inception SEWU defined its membership constituency as
the self-employed.25 In so doing it broke with a conception of trade unionism that holds that
its members must be workers in an employment relationship. The self-employed were
defined as those who earn their living by their own effort (as opposed to those who earn a
regular wage or salary) including a person who employs not more than three others to assist
her.
The SEWU had initial success in bargaining with the local authority for facilities and
services for street traders. It seems more appropriate, however, to conceive of this kind of
bargaining within an entrepreneurial paradigm, in which it is one of a number of strategies
the association devises to promote each member's economic interests. As it happened, it was
not able to consolidate on the gains achieved by bargaining, and it then began to focus on
other strategies to empower its members economically, such as entrepreneurial education
and training and the introduction of a micro-credit facility for its members.26 This raises the
question whether the use of the trade union form of organization is compatible with the
function of creating entrepreneurs out of its members.
Regrettably, SEWU was not allowed to resolve this question for itself. It was forced to
dissolve in 2004 rather than comply with a court order compelling it to reinstate two
dismissed (and so far as it was concerned, discredited) officials. SEWU could simply not


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Information from Above, Informalization from Below: The Options for Organization I 93


afford the cost of the accumulated back pay this decision entailed and was liquidated. Yet
the need it fulfilled still exists: at the time of writing some members of SEWU are in the
process of reviving the organization under a different name.
The SA Owner-Driver Empowerment Federation is another example of an organization
faced with an identity crisis. This is a Johannesburg-based voluntary association
representing owner-drivers.27 As its name implies, it regards the owner-drivers as
entrepreneurs, rather than workers in a relation of dependence on the firms they service. For
the owner-drivers who joined and paid their membership fees, however, the burning issue
was that they were being exploited. Many found themselves economically worse off than
when they had been formally employed.28
There were two possible ways in which this association could have responded to a
situation of exploitation. The first was to adopt the strategies of a trade union. But the
association, as we have seen, was conceived within an entrepreneurial paradigm in which
owner-drivers were seen as economic agents in their own right rather than workers. So this
option was excluded from the outset. The other response was to become an enterprise that
was able to advance the members' economic interests.29 However it did not pursue this
course either. Instead the Association lingers on, with a declining membership. In fact, the
only form of enterprise that this association could have become, within the confines of the
law, was a cooperative. That is because in South Africa, as with other countries that have
adopted the English corporate model, an association for gain is not permitted unless it is
registered.30 But that, of course, is not the primary reason for advocating cooperatives here.
Rather it is because, in the current context, today's "ordinary worker" is as likely as not to be
someone working on his or her own or with others, with no identifiable employer. The
"ordinary worker" in this situation can benefit from association no less than formerly, when
employed in a formal workplace. However, to do so effectively such an association needs to
operate as an enterprise, and that is what a cooperative is.
The appropriate conceptual framework for developing a cooperative response to
informalization is that of the 'social economy' : the notion that alongside the private and
public sector there exists a third sector, of which cooperatives and other forms of association
are an integral part.31 Clearly this third sector assumes increasing significance in a context in
which, as a consequence of externalization, direct employment in both the private and
public sector has been diminishing and public services have increasingly been cut-back.
In the context of the global financial crisis that broke towards the end of 2008,
arguments that cooperatives and mutual societies were outmoded business types have come
back to haunt some of those that converted to companies in the United Kingdom and
elsewhere. According to Birchall, there is now a countertrend. Indeed cooperatives world-
wide, and specifically financial cooperatives, are in a comparatively healthy position, and in
some instances flourishing, notwithstanding the global financial crisis.32
But cooperatives are of course not the "magic bullet" that will kill the vampire of
market fundamentalism. A cooperative that is not clear about the needs it aims to meet, or is
not able to meet these needs, or does not operate reasonably efficiently, will not be
sustainable. Also, as with any form of entity, cooperatives are open to abuse. Further, like all
forms of membership-based organizations, and particularly those catering for the
disadvantaged, cooperatives are also vulnerable to capture by elites seeking to utilise the
cooperative to their own advantage.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel. For this reason it is also appropriate to propose a
different rather than a new paradigm. The strength of the cooperative tradition, as embodied


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