Wednesday, September 30, 2009

fact and fancy in Nigeria

Two stories from Nigeria, one with spurious charges, the other with some significant thought.

1. The government of Edo state will prosecute street vendors because they are "miscreants who want to deface the city," The Vanguard newspaper reports. This is just more of the usual crazy talk. Street traders are too busy doing business to be defacing the city. They are the good guys.

2. The Daily Trust newspaper reports on the yam cartel in Jalingo, a small city in the Northeast of the country. The cartel apparently exploits women hawkers, giving them just 100 or 150 Naira per day to sell the tubers on the streets of the city. Hassana Audu, one the yam sellers, told the paper, "Everyday, I leave home as early as 7am to hawk yam tubers on the streets of Jalingo. Sometimes I make sales of between N5,000.00 to N7,000.00 per day. But by the end of the day I go home with only N150.00 as my commission." That's an income of little more than $1 a day.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

call central casting

The government of Nigeria's Oyo state has demolished the long-standing Bodija Market in Ibadan and plans to replace it with a parking lot, This Day reports. The market had at least 700 stores and a 2006 census listed 15,000 residents.

Why? Blame the usual suspects:

Ademola Omotoso, the chairman of the Ibadan North Local Government Council of Oyo State, told the newspaper that the government "decided to pull down illegal structures in the market to save residents from criminals" adding that people were "carrying out illegal businesses like prostitution, drug peddling and gun running in the area" and taht "the place served as hideout for hardened criminals who found it a safe haven after terrorising neighbouring areas."

And here's a real gem: "It was widely reported that a man called Dogo allegedly slashed the throat of a man in this particular area and took away his intestine for whatever purpose."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

hawkers fight back

Ivan D'Souza, who represents the 3500 street hawkers in Mangalore through the Goodangadi and Raste Badi Vyaparigala Okkuta (Petty shop and roadside vendors Federation) notes that there have been so many police actions against street vendors that his organization has "served criminal notices to the Mangalore City Corporation for destroying the sheds and vehicles that belonged to the vendors." Mangalorean has details.

Here's a wonderful stat from the article: according to D'Souza, there are 10 million street vendors in India. That means that one of every 100 people in the country is a street hawker.

He and others in Mangalore have suggested that the Indian constition has provisions allowing informal merchants to have a right to eke out a livelihood. They propose the creation of 'Hawking Zones' where both unorganized and organized shop keepers can do business in peace without trespassing into one another's interests.

Monday, September 21, 2009

informal sector better than the private sector?

Yes, it's true. The New York Times reports that Cairo, where garbage had been collected by informal workers and sorted so pigs could eat the organic waste, is much dirtier and less sanitary now that the government destroyed the informal system and handed contracts to private carters.

The Times reports that the government killed all the pigs in a misguided attempt to prevent swine flu. But the pigs were the key component in digesting (literally) the city's trash.
The government "failed to understand the ethos of the community. People do not take their garbage out. They are accustomed to seeing someone collecting it from the door. For more than half a century, those collectors were the zabaleen, a community of Egyptian Christians who live on the cliffs on the eastern edge of the city. They collected the trash, sold the recyclables and fed the organic waste to their pigs — which they then slaughtered and ate....The pigs used to eat tons of organic waste. Now the pigs are gone and the rotting food piles up on the streets"

Sunday, September 20, 2009

both sides of the mouth

Three recent news items from Africa.

1. Hawkers in Ghana are still on the street, just in a much more precarious position, after a government attempt to arrest all street vendors, The Ghanaian Chronicle (via Modern Ghana) reports.

2. The Standard reports that Kenyan street hawkers are now doing business in Botswana since the Nairobi City Council drove them out of the downtown area. At the same time, Capital News reports that the Kenyan government wants to provide health insurance for Kenya's 11 million members of the informal economy.

3. Nigeria, which has seen efforts to criminalize street selling in Lagos, is also talking of providing social protections to informal workers, according to the Business Day newspaper.

Why are these African countries so afraid of street sellers and other informal workers. The Nigerian article points out that 80 percent of the workforce is informal. So why are these governments criminalizing the work done by the majority of their population, while at the same time asserting that they want to provide incentives and social protections? That's called talking out of both sides of your mouth. What will the incentives and insurance be worth if people can no longer work?

Friday, September 18, 2009

immigration vs. informality

Britain's Independent newspaper, which ought to know better, seems to assert that illegal immigrants are the only ones working in the informal economy.
"The informal economy is comprised chiefly of those who came here illegally – often in terrifying circumstances – and those who applied for asylum but didn't get it, and haven't been deported yet. It grew particularly sharply between 1997 and 2002, when an economic boom enticed many people to Britain."
The article suggests that illegal migrants work mainly in construction, cleaning, catering, and hospitality services. Offering no proof, it asserts that "nationalities bind workers: Ghanaians pick litter; Nigerians clean toilets in the City; Romanians and Poles work in plumbing and maintenance."

Then the article goes on to suggest something sensible: an amnesty for illegal migrants to the UK.

Still, it is not only illegal arrivals who are working in the informal economy in the UK. Statistics I've seen suggest that the informal makes up approximately 12 percent of the UK's gross national product. The article suggests that there are about 600,000 illegal residents in the UK, out of a working population (courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency Factbook) of more than 31 million. That means illegal immigrants comprise about 2 percent of the working population. Either they're all earning high wages picking litter and cleaning toilets, or the Independent needs to re-educate itself about the number of British citizens working in the informal economy.

sales strategy from a street hawker.

"If you can’t yell loudly, you’ll starve," a Beijing street recycler tells The New York Times. "No one really knows what I’m yelling, but they remember my song and this brings them out of their house."

Great marketing advice!

But the government is making life tough for the vendors.
Stringent laws and urban management officials, known as chengguan, keep them on the run with fines and harassment. “The best time to be out is lunchtime, when the chengguan are on break,” said Meng Xiandong, 54, a vendor of dried sweet potatoes, as he nervously scanned the crowds.


Zambian riot police have occupied Lusaka to prevent street vendors from selling goods, The Nation reports.
Almost all streets of the Zambian capital, Lusaka, have a multitude of vendors selling all sorts of goods making it difficult for people to move on the streets or enter shops. The vendors have even covered some lanes on main streets with their commodities. The vendors also sell their goods on the pathways, corridors of shops even entrances to shops. Some shop owners are believed to be giving some of their goods to street vendors to be selling for them outside their shops because buyers opt to purchase goods from the streets instead of shops because the entrances are blocked by vendors.

Just wondering what is so objectionable about street sellers that they have to be met with such force, and treated as if they were violent gangbangers.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

night hawks and night hawkers in Karnataka

The Dekkan Herald interviews street vendors who sell "coffee, tea, biscuits, buns, dosa, rice bath, omelette and cigarettes" throughout the night. "Every night, I earn about Rs 2000," one hawker tells the paper. That's $41.50 at today's exchange rate. Not a bad haul.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

the travels of a plastic cup in Indonesia

The Jakarta Post offers an excellent chronicle of the recycling supply chain in Indonesia, as a plastic cup, once thrown away, moves through layers of the informal economy into the formal economy.

Moh. Darmadi, a self-employed plastic-waste collector, roams the streets of South Jakarta’s Setiabudi neighborhood equipped with a metal picker and a plastic sack on his back. He sells his takings to a lapak — a term for businesses that buy waste material from trash collectors. The price: Rp 900 for a kilogram of plastic cups and bottles; half that amount for plastic bags.

The lapak, which employs laborers to clean, sort, and prepare the plastic, earns perhaps Rp 10 million a week per truckload of recycled materials.

The purchaser more carefully sorts the plastics, and then runs them through a shredder which chops the raw material into fine pellets. This business sells to formal sector manufacturers, for a weekly turnover of Rp 45 million.

Only about half of the plastic waste produced annually is being recycled. While plastic accounts for 13.9 percent of the waste in Greater Jakarta, only 6.5 percent is recycled, according to a World Bank pilot project on waste identification.

To increase this amount, it is necessary to work with the informal sector.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

so this is progress?

Authorities in Kumasi, Ghana have torn down and burnt two thousand informal stalls in the central business district. Police started the action at 4:30 am, so when the business people arrived around 6, their stalls were already ablaze. Daily Guide Ghana reports.

Sticks, stones, and soap phones

At the same time, authorities in Accra have warned that hawkers are the big problem in the capital's Nkrumah Circle. "Walking on that pavement is very difficult, for the reason that these hawkers are overcrowded on the pavements, while they chase and pursue pedestrians to buy their phones. When passers-by try to ignore them, they turn to rain insults on these people calling them all them all sorts of names," Modern Ghana suggests, adding that some "hawkers design toilet soap to look like a mobile phone, cover it with a cell phone covering, and sell it, saying that the battery had run down so it could not be turned on."

This is absurd.

1. Burn down their markets and banish all hawkers simply because they are persistent and successful businesspeople. Whatever happened to due process?

2. I have been in many markets in Africa. In Lagos, Nigeria, many touts outside the market will grab your shirt or your hand and attempt to pull you into their stalls. When you make it clear you don't want to buy, they understand.

3. And ask yourself: would you buy a mobile phone from a guy on the street without opening it up and making sure it works?

The spurious arguments offered in these newspapers are designed to make people fear street markets. But crowds actually increase commerce and heighten public safety. And the street sellers are providing a service. If there were no customers, there would be no street vendors.

the informality of the global economy

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), along with the Inclusive Cities Project, have issued a study that shows how informal workers--more than half the workers of the world--are impacted by the global economic meltdown.
the formal and informal economies are not entirely distinct. In global value chains, production, distribution and employment can fall at different points on a continuum between pure ‘formal’ relations (i.e. regulated and protected) at one pole and pure ‘informal’ relations (i.e. unregulated and unprotected) at the other, with many intermediate categories in between. Workers and units can also move across the formal-informal continuum and/or operate simultaneously at different points along it. These dynamic linkages of the formal and informal economies highlight the importance of understanding the ‘informality’ of the global economy and recession.
According to the report, decreased demand and crashes in commodity prices have made life vastly more difficult for informal workers: 85 percent of recyclers/waste pickers and 62 percent of street vendors have reported losing business in recent months. Three quarters of all informal workers surveyed said that their profits dropped between January and June 2009.

Rather than the traditional prescriptions of 'formalizing the informal,' the report suggests that workers support a more nuanced approach in which government would, among other things:

--support their work
--offer wage protections
--encourage participation in a social safety net
--recognise they are here to stay and stop harassing them

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

so what if everyone's in the informal economy?

Every man, woman, and child in Pakistan is a tax cheat. That's the conclusion of a World Bank study disclosed by The News, a Pakistani paper. This means that all businesspeople in the country are, in a way, part of the informal economy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

a pension fund for informal workers

More on this great idea, from Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. As the article notes, 9 million workers in Ghana might ultimately buy into the pension fund, which would then provide social protections to those informal workers. And the money collected could be invested in the informal sector, too. Social protection and venture capital investment. A potentially great combination.