Friday, February 27, 2009

Mumbai open for hawking

Under a new policy, "hawkers will be either given fixed or squatting stalls or permission for mobile hawking," Mumbai chief minister Ashok Chavan told The Times of India.

But dna india thinks that when the new policy is inaugurated "the hawker menace is likely to escalate." The article, of course, never establishes that there actually is a menace.

seeing hawkers as positive

Seems to be true in Malaysia, according to this article from Bernama, the Malaysian National News Agency. Money quote: "Hawkers and petty traders are important because their existence keeps the city lively. From early in the morning to late at night, they work hard to make a living. This is their source of income," says Kuala Lumpur Federal Territories Minister Datuk Zulhasnan Rafique. "It is time for us to care about their welfare and future."

Monday, February 23, 2009

creating a problem...

...where no problem exists. Police in Mombasa, Kenya have fired teargas at hawkers, the Kenya Broadcasting Company reports, as they work to enforce a ban on hawking in the Central Business District.

There's an easy question here: why go after hawkers? They're just trying to make a living, and they're often the most vibrant part of the economy in the developing world.

Why is it that the elites of the developing world hate the street sellers, who are more important to the economic survival of their countries than all the elites put together?

UPDATE, one day later:

Abuja's doing the same thing, according to this article from The Daily Trust, via Essentially, the city was laid out in the 70s by American planners and Japanese architects working for the Nigerian government. Authorities in what's called the Federal Capital Territory crusade against non-conforming uses every couple of years. Right now it's the hawkers turn to suffer. And the city suffers because each time the government destroys these spontaneous markets, they reduce the excitement and fun and diminish the livability of the city.

Friday, February 20, 2009

killing the informal economy = killing the people

Kano, the leading city in Northern Nigeria, seems committed to wiping out informal businesses. The city brags that it has demolished 3,000 illegal stores and is planning to wipe out 7,000 more by the fall. The UN's exemplary IRIN News has details. Kano authorities say it's "more important to clean up Kano than keep some small business owners employed."

Lagos, too, has been following the same policy, demolishing longstanding markets and criminalizing street hawking.

Nigerian officials seem convinced that the dynamic urban commercial cacophony is an evil. They don't understand that they are destroying the most creative sector of the economy, and missing an opportunity for truly revolutionary urban planning.

(thanks to Mohamed for his eagle eye, and for sending the clip my way)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

a solution to e-waste... the informal sector

HP has announced the results of a new study, conducted in partnership with the Global Digital Solidarity Fund and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (
.) The conclusion: by working cooperatively with the informal sector, a recycling plant set up in South Africa processed approximately 60 tonnes of electronic equipment, generated an income of around $14,000 from February to November 2008 and created direct employment for 19 people. The project also seeks to incorporate informal processing activities that have proved highly effective in dealing with waste, by transforming them into sustainable and environmentally sound operations.

"Our research has shown that a solution is at hand and demonstrated some of the incredible entrepreneurial skills we can tap into in the informal sector in Africa," said Project Manager and Empa researcher Mathias Schluep. "By providing tools and training we have removed potential environmental and health problems that can be caused by handling e-waste incorrectly. What’s more, we have created a channel to full employment for creative minds in the informal sector."

Monday, February 16, 2009

hawkers wanted

Street hawkers lead to safe roads and a growing economy. That's the conclusion of Dinesh Mohan, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, according to Sakaal Times.

"Hawkers have to be there on roads," he said at a recent conference on urban transportation. "They are the most enterprising entrepreneurs who are doing business every day by occupying little space, consuming very little energy and generating reasonable revenue. They are contributing to the economic growth. It is because of them that the Indian roads are comparatively safer from mischief doers."

guess who's rebuilding New Orleans...

...workers in the informal economy, that's who.

The New York Times reports on the dangers of being a day-laborer in the city. The laborers, most from Central and South America, are paid in cash, which makes them targets for robbers. Indeed, they are colloquially known as "walking A.T.M.’s," for the quick dollars thieves can take from them.

Here is the dispiriting nut graf: "It is an under-the-radar crime epidemic: unarmed Hispanic workers are regularly mugged, beaten, chased, stabbed or shot, the police and the workers themselves say. The ruined homes they sometimes squat in, doubling- or quadrupling-up at night, are broken into, and they have been made to lie face down while being robbed. They are shot when, not understanding a mugger’s command, they fail to hand over their cash quickly enough, shot while they are working on houses, and shot when they go home for the day. Some have been killed, their bodies flown home to families who had been dependent on their remittances."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

they don't want to leave the street

More proof that hawkers do better on the street than in new digs that are constructed for them. Back in 2001, authorities in Mumbai spent 300 million rupees ($6.1 million) to create the Dadar Hawkers Plaza. Eight years on, The Times of India reports, the 750-shop space is almost deserted.

Why? Well try this: "There is no proper entrance to the plaza, no signboard or publicity," one store-owner told the newspaper. Other hawkers said that they resisted moving to the upper floors of the structure.

In retailing, it's location, location, location. And a haphazard presence on the street is a far better location than an official stall far from pedestrian traffic.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

the classic misunderstanding

In an article titled, "Work on the black market--losses for the budget," the Romanian News Agency ACTMEDIA reports that the informal economy in the country has grown dramatically:
The share of the unobserved economy in the GDP went up by almost one third over the last four years, increasing from 14.5% in 2004 to over 21% in 2008. Thus, potential income in the economy which were not collected for the budget reached 58.1 billion lei over the first nine months of 2008, with 11.3% of GDP.
The news agency notes that most of the informal is quite mundane: "tailors, auto mechanics, barbers, decorators, plumbers, teachers with private lessons or people who hire their house for the summer."

But the biggest example of lost revenue, accordign to the article, is this: "the share of collection from construction taxes in the GDP, which was kept the same over the last five years, although the sector recorded an annual rate of growth of 17-20%."

Unlicensed and unauthorized construction comes about as a result of lax enforcement and corruption. Instead of blaming the 'black market,' the Romanian government should look to its own failings.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

a real economic stimulus

Arjun Sengupta, who heads India's National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, writes in the Economic Times newspaper that India's financial stimulus package should be a 'push' package--with 400 billion rupees ($8.2 billion) invested in the informal sector. "The idea is to introduce a fiscal stimulus programme in the form of public investment and expenditure specifically aimed at the informal economy, on which 880 million people depend, for their livelihood and purchasing power," he writes.

Friday, February 6, 2009

wanted for hawking

These kids are among Lagos's most-wanted criminals, according to the private company that controls the roads in one of the wealthiest areas of Nigeria's biggest city. Here are the details, courtesy of Timbuktu Media's

The idea, according to the article, is this: Lagos is trying to recreate itself as a model city, and therefore the Lekki Concession Company, which is building the arterial expressway on the Lekki Peninsula, the quick-growing rich area of the city, has determined that "street trading, begging, hawking, and dumping of refuse along the completed part of the road, is prohibited."

Of course, this road probably has the richest drivers in the city....which explains why the hawkers might be there: it's where the money is.

And anyway, just what is so bad about hawkers: they're just making a living. Or is it that wealthy Nigerians just want them out of sight, and out of mind?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

3 takes on India's future

Three recent articles offer perspectives on the financial downtown and the informal economy in the world's second largest country. The articles all involve ways in which the informal is actually at the heart of the formal economy.

An Oxford Analytica article published by the International Herald Tribune suggests that India's economic boom has been built on a vast and informal labor pool:
Informal sector strain. India's economic boom relied heavily on poorer workers in sectors such as construction, labor-intensive manufacturing (such as textiles, leather goods, gems and jewelery), and labor-intensive service sectors such as cleaning, maintenance and private security. Their services met the requirements of the expanding corporate sector for a cheap and flexible external labor force. However, these workers' options will be severely limited as such jobs are shed.
Another article, also from the IHT notes that "the proportion of India's urban poor halved in the 30 years to 2005 but absolute numbers rose from 60 to 81 million during the period." The article cites a United Nations report as saying that "urban workers are increasingly being pushed into the informal sector."
The report said such exclusion is pushing a large number of urban workers such as street vendors and rickshaw pullers further into poverty. Mass slum clearances have driven workers, such as those in domestic service, away from their place of work and pushed many into crime, the report said. "When the urban poor are pushed away from the place of his/her livelihood, the result is complete loss of livelihood. As a result, many of the poor are pushed into crime."
Finally, in Surfing the Slum, Express India reveals that 92 percent of the workers in the country are employed in the informal sector.

Monday, February 2, 2009

informal economy may cut poverty

A short article in The Daily Star, of Dhaka, Bangladesh, offers this simple, sensible insight: "since the informal economy is playing a vital role in poverty reduction in South Asia, this economy should be nourished."