Who Owns the City? Political Leverage for Informal Workers in Urban Africa
Date and Start Time 30 June, 2017 at 09:00
This panel welcomes papers on collective actions by workers in African urban informal economies that contribute to a better understanding of their emergence, their organization, and their strategies and coalitions to attain political leverage on livelihood issues in the urban political arena.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 80 per cent of the workforce is found in the informal economy. The lack of economic transformation and the rise of new forms of employment through outsourcing and casualization have caused a further rise in informal jobs, often characterised by precarious working conditions. Because of this precariousness and the fact that informal workers are not officially represented in social dialogue platforms, they are often considered as a marginal and powerless category. Their sheer numbers, however, make them a group to reckon with - as is recognized by the many African trade unions starting to reach out to the informal economy, and by the politicians who know where to find informal workers, particularly in election time. This raises the question as to how and when informal workers are able to capitalize on their power.
In urban settings, working conditions are influenced by local authorities as well as municipal, sector and national policies and trends. In this context, informal workers' collective action may range from sector specific initiatives to improve working conditions at a specific locality (e.g, motor-taxi parking lot) to broader coalitions of informal workers' associations to protest against rising prices or corruption. This panel welcomes papers, in particular those based on empirical research, which contribute to a better understanding of 1) why and under which conditions urban based collective actions by informal workers arise; 2) how these are organized (strategies and coalitions); and 3) what these collective actions yield in terms of political leverage, and for whom.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Fraught with Friction: informal workers and (their) organizations
Why is it challenging for informal workers to defend their rights and interests in urban Ghana? We examine this question by scrutinizing the socioeconomic and political dynamics that shape and are shaped by informal workers’ engagements with each other, local government and external partners.
It is estimated that around 90% of Ghana's workforce is active in the informal economy. The immense diversity among people and activities constituting the informal sector makes coming to collective action difficult: diverse socio-economic positions equal diverging (and often conflicting) interests. How do informal workers then defend their rights and interests in challenging urban and economic spaces?
In this paper we explore this question by analysing two case studies which concern planned relocations of large groups of informal workers in two of Ghana's biggest cities. The first case is that of Makola's 31st December market, one of Accra's oldest markets. The second case pertains to an informal industrial cluster focusing on vehicle repair, better known as Suame Magazine in Kumasi. In both cases a number of external partners, ranging from trade unions to international donor agencies, have become (in)directly involved with informal workers' organizations in an attempt to increase their political leverage and assist them in defending their rights and interests.
We draw on qualitative data gathered during two months of ethnographic fieldwork among informal workers and (their) organizations in each location to show how and why this external involvement often does not accomplish what it intended to do. More specifically, we scrutinize the socioeconomic and political dynamics that shape and are shaped by informal workers' engagements with each other, local government and external partners and argue that these relationships are fraught with friction (Tsing 2005, 2015). While friction often causes initiatives to implode, it is also potentially productive.
Mobilizing vendors from below in Zambia: How vendors use the platforms of a vendors' association to create networks with other vendors
This paper explores connections that have emerged between vendors who participated in the activities of a vendors association in Zambia. These semi-autonomous functioning networks have been created through initiatives of individual vendors, who used the association's activities to connect with vendors from other parts in Zambia and beyond, and they use these contacts in their everyday lives. Data has been collected through conducting interviews with vendors who are affiliated to this association. The paper theorizes these connections between vendors through the concept of assemblage. Besides the activities of this association, which facilitated the creation of these connections, a central role is fulfilled by modern communication technologies, which primarily enabled flows of information between vendors, thereby allowing vendors to shape new spaces for self-organization. Results also show the ephemerality of these networks and how they relate to the businesses of vendors.
'Arewa Gari Yawaye': Identity Politics and Marginalization amongst informal workers
This paper draws on empirical data to discuss the emergence of ‘Arewa Gari Yawaye' an association for Hausa-speaking communities in Lagos, Nigeria. The association is increasing its mobilisation efforts in an attempt to increase their political bargaining power in light of perceived marginalization.
This paper discusses the emergence of 'Arewa Gari Yawaye', an association that seeks to become the voice for internal migrants from the Northern states of Nigeria in Lagos. High unemployment rates in the North have attracted young people to seek for better lives in Lagos. However, low education means that these migrants often find themselves entering the informal sector, by taking up jobs as petty traders or motorcycle ('okada') drivers. While commodity markets in Lagos are governed by the more formal trader's associations according to products sold, linguistic barriers often exclude the least educated migrants. This has lead to instances of police harassment of these groups to be reported to 'Arewa Gari Yawaye', which then replaces the occupational associations largely because hausa is the language of communication.
The association currently operates with individual leaders across town, but efforts are being made at unifying all the communities under one leadership. While it opens up the possibility for the association to present a united front in confrontations with the state, it may also be a tactic employed to increase the number of association members, and thus political bargaining power. However, this does not center the informal workers, but merely uses them to create power for the leaders of the association.
This paper basis its analysis on empirical data and points to how it is imperative to consider potential pitfalls of identity politics as they may provide short-term support for vulnerable groups, but may lead to long-term self-segregation along ethnolinguistic lines.
Le développement inclusif vécu par les travailleurs de l'économie informelle: une étude de cas des stratégies d'adaptation des commerçants du marché Dantokpa au Bénin
Cette communication est une contribution au débat général sur le développement inclusif au profit des travailleurs de l’économie en Afrique à partir de l’étude de cas des commerçants du marché Dantokpa au Bénin
Le «développement inclusif» est devenu un concept d'actualité et un objectif très recherché dans le contexte de la croissance économique de l'Afrique. Des axes tels que la participation des travailleurs au cadre de dialogue, leur protection sociale dans ses différents aspects et l'emploi décent pour tous sont des priorités sur lesquelles les gouvernements devraient adopter des politiques ou les changements de politiques pour permettre un développement inclusif. Les débats sont moins focalisés sur la façon dont ces changements devraient se produire. Les bonnes politiques conduiront naturellement à un développement inclusif, semble t-il.
Sur le terrain et loin de ces débats, les acteurs informels individuels ou collectifs mobilisent des stratégies pour faire face aux difficultés d'inclusivité au quotidien. En effet, la loi excluant les travailleurs informels du cadre national de dialogue social est toujours en vigueur au Bénin. Mais, il n'en demeure pas moins que les organisations des commerçants du marché Dantokpa sont parvenus à instaurer un cadre permanent de discussion avec les autorités en charge de la gestion du marché. De même, la question de sécurité sociale du commerçant pour lui garantir une pension de retraite semble trouver une alternative dans de multiples formes d'investissement sur le long terme. Les protestations fréquentes des commerçants pour obtenir de meilleures prestations en échange des redevances qu'ils paient représentent des moyens de pression pour la prise en compte de leurs aspirations.
Cette contribution du point de vue théorique met en exergue le Popular Agency des travailleurs informels dans sa variété (Lindell 2010).
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.