Monday, November 23, 2009

smart strategy

In the India's West Bengal, itinerant street vendors are pushing the State government to implement a proposed national rule to protect street hawkers and marketeers.

This is an important move. In countries like India, where so many people are dependent on street vending for their livelihoods, it is crucial to organize and direct their energies towards political and policy changes.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

real or fake improvements

I just got back from a few days in Lagos, Nigeria, and the visit left me greatly concerned.

The so-called 'Kick Against Indiscipline' program (KAI) through which the government criminalized street trading has led to 5,000 arrests over the past three months, reports 234next.

The has led to better traffic flow on some major streets, but the city seems somehow stunted. Gone are some of the dreaded and violent area boys, but the police action has also pushed out tens of thousands of merchants: women who braided hair at the roadside in their communities....young men who sold telephone recharge cards....families that earned enough to eat by selling yam or suya (grilled meat) mechanics with roadside stalls.

The government argues that the street vendors created a threatening environment in which criminals could operate. But it is not criminal to braid hair or fix cars. And the enforcement exercise seems unfairly targeted against independent entrepreneurs. The kids hawking Gala (a sausage roll manufactured by the massive UAC Foods conglomerate) are still doing business openly. Perhaps the government doesn't want to tangle with the business methods of this major corporation.

People who work for Governor Babatunde Fashola point to rising real estate prices in Oshodi, which has been stripped of much of the street vending that used to characterize the area (the photo at the very top of this blog is of Oshodi in 2007.) But rising land values and rent costs does not help the mass of people. Once again, it seems, a thriving community of lower income entrepreneurs gets the boot and the rich get a boost.

Now the government reports (see this article from the Vanguard newspaper) that it is convening a meeting with market women, artisans, representatives of trade associations and other participants of the informal sector. Here's the description of the purpose of the get-together: According to the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Opeyemi Bamidele, the programme with the theme: “Increasing the efficiency of the informal sector: For a vibrant economy,” would avail them the opportunity of knowing what the administration had done to improve their well-being.

It doesn't seem to me that the KIA program has increased anyone's well-being. And, at least in this description, the Governor's meeting seems more like a political ploy than a chance to work cooperatively towards a better future for Lagos.

Back in 2007 and 2008, Administration officials told me that it was likely that 80 percent of the working people in Lagos are active in the informal economy.

The informal is, indeed, the economic strength of Lagos. And the way forward for the people of Lagos would seem to be for the government to create lasting and strong partnerships with informal workers and their associations, rather than simply criminalizing street trading and driving these businesses further underground.

A good example of this type of policy of working together actually exists right in Lagos: a year ago or so, the Governor decided to require motorcycle taxi drivers to have helmets. His policy gave drivers a phase-in period to acquire them, and his administration promised to pull drivers who didn't have helmets off the street. The result: 99.9 percent of the okada drivers acquired 2 helmets each--one for them to wear and one to give to the passenger. Similarly, the government has another rule limiting each okada to one passenger (previously it was common to see two or three people crowding on the back of one bike.) For the most part, the drivers have complied.

Why not take a similar cooperative approach with street vendors--perhaps through a licensing program. Working together is always better than burning people's kiosks and arresting them for the crime of trying to make a living in tough economic times.

a union of informal workers

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions is organizing workers in the informal sector, Scoop reports in an interview with the vice president of the ZCTU, Vimbai Zinyama.

The idea is to reach out to workers where they are actually working, instead of being locked into a factory-based organizing model.
"A salesperson working inside a building by no means shares the same status as the salesperson laying out vegetables on the street in front of the same building. Yet both of them make the economy work and pay taxes. Informal economy workers have to cope with red tape and harassment from the police authorities, who often drive them out of their workplaces. They are pushed to the sidelines of the system, without any rights. Our aim is to integrate them within the system....The ZCTU has 1.8 million members in the informal economy nationwide, and 60% of them are women. Companies are closing down every day with the failure of the economy. Overall economic activity is running 20% below capacity. This is driving many men and women to work in the informal economy to survive. Not to mention all those that have a salaried job they cannot live off and have to supplement with another activity in the informal economy. Public service employees, for example, do not earn enough to make ends meet, so at the same time as holding on to their office jobs, one goes back and forth to South Africa to sell chickens whilst another sells shoes... it's a very common state of affairs."

Monday, November 2, 2009

"I'm shocked, shocked..."

The Lagos State government has banned street selling, but vendors are still out there, The Daily Champion (via reports.

"Items on display include vehicle parts, shoes, soft drinks, sachet and bottled water, confectioneries and household items like cutleries and beddings," the paper reports.

"I and my children must eat," one street trader told the paper. "I have to pay their school fees and also pay house rent."

It is truly outrageous that, with all the issues facing Lagos, Governor Babatunde Fashola has chosen to wage war against hawkers and street vendors. These street sellers are not criminals. They are hard working citizens. Just what does the governor think this misguided policy will achieve? How about working with street traders to achieve rational objectives, like lessening traffic jams, while allowing people who need to make a living to keep working.

I will be in Lagos later this week (this will be my 4th trip to Nigeria's commercial is the place I've been in most over the past two years, aside from my home town of New York) and will blog more about this once I am on the ground.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

who's afraid of the informal economy?

An interesting fact, courtesy of The Malaysian Insider: "The type of work available has increasingly been in the informal sector, with menial or temporary jobs on offer. Currently, 70 per cent of Indonesian workers — or 71 million people — work as drivers, food-sellers, labourers and small traders, among others."

If 70 percent of the people work informally, doesn't that make the informal economy the economy of full employment? And if so, why not work with the informal to make these jobs more plentiful and more permanent?

e-waste in India

Goripalya, one scrap market in Bangalore takes in 10 tons of junk PCs and other e-waste every day, India's Economic Times newspaper reports.

"Only 6% of the companies in India have an e-waste policy. The rest are still supplying their electronic waste to the informal sector," the paper reports. "Why should the informal sector convert when none of the companies are interested in giving their waste to formal recyclers?"