Friday, June 10, 2011

sense and nonsense

Here's the sensible thing: E. T. Mensah, Ghana's Minister for Employment and Social Welfare and a newly installed member of the governing board of the International Labour Organization, has suggested that the UN group "recognise the potential of the huge informal economy in Africa and formulate strategies that would halt its marginalization." This is good news. The ILO is a crucially important organization for the world's workers, but it has participated in the demonization of the informal economy, and that has to stop.

Now here's the nonsense, also from Ghana: writing on the web site Ghanaweb, a commenter laments that "A white person arriving in Ghana for the first time will experience culture shock because what he will see is diametrically opposed to what he is used to in his country." Among the shocks he cites when people first arrive in Accra: "Existing pavements are often occupied by hawkers. People are, however, understanding that hawkers' need to earn a living but it becomes a culture shock for many foreign visitors. Soon visitors will no longer see hawkers trading in traffic and near pavements because the metropolitan councils, in their eagerness to beautify the city, no longer allow hawkers to trade in the streets." This raises an important series of questions: what is so ugly about street hawkers? Why does development and beautification have to be designed or dedicated to pleasing or mimicking outsiders? Why can't Africa develop its own market institutions that serve Africans? Why not a little culture shock among friends?

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