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Introduction

Kate Meagher, Ilda Lindell


African Studies Review, Volume 56, Number 3, December 2013, pp.
57-76 (Article)
Published by Cambridge University Press
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57
ASR FORUM: ENGAGING WITH
AFRICAN INFORMAL ECONOMIES:
SOCIAL INCLUSION OR ADVERSE
INCORPORATION?
Introduction
Kate Meagher and Ilda Lindell , Guest Editors
In academic as well as policy circles, attitudes toward African informal econ-
omies have shifted markedly in the past decade. Once viewed as transitional
or even inimical to development, the informal economy is increasingly
accorded a dynamic role in Africas economic growth and governance pro-
cesses. The foreword to the 2013 World Development Report (2013:xiii)
argues that some jobs do more for development than others. . . . Critically,
these job are not only found in the formal sector; depending on the country
context, informal jobs can also be transformational. The dramatic expan-
sion of the informal economy over the past forty years has certainly played
African Studies Review , Volume 56, Number 3 (December 2013), pp. 5776
Kate Meagher is an associate professor in the Department of International
Development at the London School of Economics . She has published widely on
African informal economies , including Identity Economics: Social Networks and the
Informal Economy in Nigeria (James Currey, 2010) and The Strength of Weak
States? Non-State Security Forces and Hybrid Governance in Africa ( Development
and Change 43 [5], 2012) . E-mail: k.meagher@lse.ac.uk
Ilda Lindell is an associate professor in the Department of Human Geography at
Stockholm University . Her work has focused mainly on the politics of informality
in urban Africa . Her publications include the edited book Africas Informal
Workers: Collective Agency, Alliances and Transnational Organizing in Urban Africa
(Zed, 2010) and articles in Urban Studies , Global Networks , the Third World Quarterly ,
the Journal of Southern African Studies , and Geografiska Annaler . E-mail: ilda.lindell@
humangeo.su.se
African Studies Association, 2013
doi:10.1017/asr.2013.79
58 African Studies Review
a role in attracting renewed policy attention. Instead of shrinking in the
face of liberalization and globalization, informal economic activity has bur-
geoned across the developing world, particularly in Africa.
1
According to
the ILO (2002), sub-Saharan Africa is the most informalized region in the
world, with 73 percent of the nonagricultural labor force working infor-
mally, rising to over 90 percent in parts of West Africa. Far from eliminating
incentives for informality as predicted by neoliberal policy advisers, decades
of market reforms have turned the informal economy into a central feature of
popular livelihoods, urban service provision, and associational life (Meagher
2003 , 2010 ; Lindell 2010 ; Hansen & Vaa 2004 ; Tostensen et al. 2001 ).
In the past few years, the challenges of the global financial crisis and disil-
lusionment with the maximalist good governance agenda have contributed
to a further rethinking of the role of the informal economy in contem-
porary development processes (CFS 2010; Guha Kasnobis et al. 2006). The
combination of informal expansion, weakened state capacity, and declining
opportunity in the global economy has given rise to a proliferation of books
and articles with titles like Reconsidering Informality (Hansen & Vaa 2004 ),
Rethinking the Informal Economy (Chen 2006 ), and Informality Revisited
(Maloney 2004 ). A growing interest in second best approaches to gover-
nance has spawned a flurry of research on informal institutions, informal
systems of service provision, and prospects for taxing the informal economy
(CFS 2010; Allen et al. 2006; Joshi & Ayee 2008 ; Wilson et al. 2006 ). In the
scramble to participate in the African growth renaissance, corporate inves-
tors have also revised their assessments of the informal economy, now seen
as part of the solution to market failure rather than part of the problem
(UNDP 2008; London & Hart 2011 ). Policy thinking has followed suit,
moving away from an emphasis on eliminating or absorbing the informal
economy toward policy discourses of collaborative interaction, expressed in
such terms as hybrid governance, coproduction, and formalinformal
linkages (CFS 2010; Joshi & Moore 2004 ; Guha-Khasnobis et al. 2006).
Instead of being seen as backward or dysfunctional, informal economic
systems are increasingly viewed as arrangements that work, and there
are growing calls for working with the grain of African societies by incor-
porating informal economic practices (Kelsall 2008 ). In the process, stan-
dard policy approaches based on formalization of the informal economy
seem to be shifting to a new ethos of normalization, opening new but
largely unexplored possibilities for the social, fiscal, and political integra-
tion of Africas vast informal economies into the very heart of mainstream
development processes (Jutting & de Laiglesia 2009).
At the same time, increasingly organized and confident informal actors
have been forging their own channels of inclusion. During the long, hard
years of structural adjustment, expanding shares of African populations
were left to fend for themselves amid declining public services, diminishing
real incomes, and mounting unemployment. Instead of withdrawing into
subsistence activities, workers, traders, and small entrepreneurs have been
tapping into value chains, insinuating themselves into urban service and
ASR Forum: Engaging with African Informal Economies 59
housing provision, taking an active role in job creation, and hacking into
the global economy through organized trading networks that reach as far
as the United States and China (Meagher 2010 ; Neuwirth 2012 ; Hansen &
Vaa 2004; Tostensen et al. 2001 ). Large numbers of active and increasingly
globalized informal trading and occupational associations have fought
their way into local and even national policy spaces, resisting agendas that
threaten popular livelihoods and demanding a place at the policy table
(Lindell 2010a , 2010b ; Devenish & Skinner 2009). Does this represent a
convergence of inclusive agendas from above and below? Are corporate
investors and new models of coproduced service provision pushing for
the same kind of inclusion as informal trading networks and enterprise
associations? Are states and policymakers finally responding to the needs
of Africas real economies with systems of real governance (Olivier
de Sardan 2008)?
While the formal and informal realms have always been linked in various
ways, rapid informalization, contracting states, globalization, and the global
financial crisis have importantly altered the nature of that relationship. The
new strategies emerging among governments, development agencies, and
global business to tap the energies of the informal economy through collab-
oration with informal networks and organizations are giving rise to new
approaches to governance and economic development. These include novel
business models based on creating a fortune at the bottom of the pyramid,
innovative strategies of extending social policy and urban service provision
to informal actors and slum dwellers, and initiatives to draw the informal
economy into the tax net with a view to rebuilding the social contract that
was demolished under structural adjustment. Does this flurry of policy mea-
sures signal the reversal of decades of social and institutional exclusion for
the African poor, or does it represent new attempts to harness the strengths
of the informal economy in the interest of more powerful actors? Does
incorporating the informal economy into global business models and par-
ticipatory systems of service provision empower Africas informal entre-
preneurs and workers, or does it capture their energies to cut costs and
increase profits for others? How does seeking to normalize rather than
formalize the informal economy affect citizenship rights and public account-
ability? This ASR Forum explores current trends in the deepening incor-
poration of the informal economy into mainstream economic development
and governance processes, and considers what these new models of infor-
mal economic inclusion really offer to Africas informal workers.
Changing Perspectives on African Informal Economies
The articles in this ASR Forum are the product of a workshop titled
Re-integrating African Informal Economies: Social Inclusion or Bargain
Basement Citizenship? held at the Department of International
Development, London School of Economics, on December 1213, 2011,
with supportive funding from the Nordic Africa Institutes Poverty, Inequality
60 African Studies Review
and Social Exclusion program (sponsored by the Swedish International
Development Cooperation) and the London School of Economics Seed
Fund. The workshop brought together committed scholars of African infor-
mal economies from Europe and Africa to reflect on the new discourses
and underlying processes of informal economic inclusion. A key objective
of the workshop was to explore these processes in a variety of domains (ser-
vice provision, markets, taxation, and political organization) from above
and from below, and from African as well as Western perspectives. These
issues span a range of disciplinary domains, thematic areas, and ideological
perspectives that rarely come together. Research on inclusive markets has
been the purview of business and management schools; the coproduction
of urban services and the politics of the informal economy tend to remain
within the realm of geography and urban studies; while issues of taxation,
security, and hybrid governance are more strongly associated with devel-
opment studies, politics, international relations, and peace and security
programs. More recently, anthropologists, connoisseurs of indirect rule,
and originators of the conceptual tools for analyzing institutional hybridity
and bricolage have begun weighing in on issues of inclusive markets and
hybrid governance. Bringing this range of perspectives on inclusive
approaches to the informal economy together under one roof unleashed
a serendipity of interdisciplinary synergies and insights. While a number of
excellent papers were committed elsewhere, or fell victim to multiple aca-
demic commitments, this ASR Forum showcases the incisive analysis and
wide-ranging debates that emerged from the workshop.
Based on original fieldwork, this collection of articles focuses on informal
economic inclusion in a range of African countries and economic domains.
They examine how the incorporation of informal economies is reshaping
markets, restructuring economic opportunity, and transforming governance
and political voice among entrepreneurs, traders, and workers marginal-
ized by the formal economy. The first two articles, by Michal Lyons, Alison
Brown, and Zhigang Li (77100), and by Ebbe Prag (10121), explore
how global trading networks between Africa and China are transforming
economic opportunity among African informal traders. Lyons et al. use
a global value-chain perspective to examine the space for advancement
and accumulation among African traders operating in Guangzhou. Focusing
on the impact of these networks in Benin, Prag considers how textile smug-
gling from China has generated struggles between competing womens
trading networks within the country, revealing that global inclusion creates
winners and losers within the informal economy. Shifting the focus from
global players to micro-entrepreneurs, Catherine Dolan and Kate Roll
(12146), and Mary Kinyanjui (14764) consider how processes of infor-
mal economic inclusion affect poor African women. Dolan and Roll focus
on processes of informal economic inclusion initiated from above by
analyzing the techniques of governance used by global corporations to
engage the entrepreneurial energies of poor women at the bottom of the
pyramid in a number of African countries. By contrast, Mary Kinyanjuis
ASR Forum: Engaging with African Informal Economies 61
article argues that informal economic inclusion is a result of popular agency
rather than corporate initiatives, demonstrating how marginalized Kenyan
women have drawn on indigenous business practices to gain access to male,
formal sector spaces in the central business district of Nairobi.
The contribution by Frances Cleaver, Tom Franks, Faustin Maganga, and
Kurt Hall (16589) questions perceptions of subaltern agency by exploring
the role of power in structuring processes of informal inclusion. They draw
on fieldwork in rural Tanzania to trace how power and authority shape the
selective incorporation of informal security and resource governance insti-
tutions into formal systems of service provision and natural resource man-
agement. This sets the scene for a focus on the politics of informal economic
inclusion in the final two contributions. Gunilla Andrae and Bjorn Beckman
(191208) explore the role of informal enterprise associations and labor
unions in empowering Nigerian tailors to claim their economic and citizenship
rights. Kate Meagher (20934) examines how informal enterprise associa-
tions and ethnic business systems influence social and economic integration
in the context of severe religious conflict in northern Nigeria. Across a variety
of disciplinary perspectives and empirical contexts, the articles in this
ASR Forum explore how strategies of informal inclusion from above
and from below are transforming economic participation and political
accountability, and whose interests they serve.
At the center of all of these articles are two questions: (1) How do we
understand the informal economy in contexts of inclusive relations with
the formal economy? and (2) Do linkages across the formalinformal divide
create genuine processes of inclusion, or more exploitative processes of
adverse incorporation? With regard to the first question, this opens a new
dimension in ongoing debates about the analytical value of the informal
economy which have plagued the concept since it was coined by Keith Hart
( 1973 ) in the early 1970s. While definitional concerns dominated the debate
in the 1970s and 1980s, these were largely resolved by the end of the 1980s
(De Soto 1989; Castells & Portes 1989 ; Tokman 1992 ; Feige 1990 ). Informal
economy scholars across disciplinary and ideological divides have reached
a consensus, represented by Castells and Portess (1989:12) widely cited
definition: the informal economy refers to income generating activities
outside the regulatory framework of the state. During the following decade,
debates turned to the question of whether liberalization, economic crisis,
and weak states have made the informal economy concept obsolete (Hart
1995 , 2006 ; Portes 1994 ; Klein 2002). In the past few years, the concep-
tual terrain is being transformed by a new shift from a dualist to a more
institutional understanding of informal economies (Meagher 2010 , 2008 ;
Guha-Khasnobis et al. 2006). The focus is now on the distinctive regulatory
capacities operating within informal economic networks, associations, and
communities, and how they can be activated for more inclusive forms of
governance and economic development.
Far from ending conceptual debates about the informal economy, the
shift to institutional perspectives and inclusive arrangements has opened
62 African Studies Review
up a range of new considerations, as the articles in this ASR Forum demon-
strate. Some of the authors represent informality as involving the exclusion
of small entrepreneurs from global markets or formal institutions of labor
protection, and focus attention on the mechanisms and terms of inclusion
(Dolan and Roll, Andrae and Beckman). Others represent the informal
economy as a distinctive sphere of indigenous business institutions and
strategies operating outside the legal regulatory framework through which
marginalized actors attempt to renegotiate their relationship with the state
and the global market economy (Kinyanjui, Lyons et al., Meagher). From
this perspective, informal economies are not defined by exclusion from
formal institutions, but represent alternative organizational systems of
legitimized regulation (Cleaver et al.), referred to as networks (Meagher
2005 , 2010 ), informal institutions (Helmke & Levitsky 2004 ; Meagher
2008 ), or twilight institutions (Lund 2007 ) that offer new possibilities for
filling gaps in social or economic provision in weak or downsizing states.
Still others approach informality as a continuum rather than a dichotomy
between alternative institutional systems, arguing that informal institutions
do not represent alternative forms of organizing economic life, but have
historically been intertwined in African economic and political organization
(Cleaver et al., Prag). Prag harkens back to Janet Roitmans (1990:685) obser-
vation that the extent to which [formal and informal] relationships form
a system rather than a set of alternatives from which one chooses, is often
overlooked. This moves beyond conventional notions of linkages based on
straddling between the formal and informal economies to a consider-
ation of how the two economic systems constitute interdependent forms of
economic organization. Across these various perspectiveswhether inclu-
sion takes the form of increased recognition by formal institutions, an insti-
tutional patch on faltering formal economies, or a historical process of
bricolage between formal and informal ways of doing thingsthe dis-
tinction between the formal and informal economic organization remains
salient, even in the context of inclusive economies.
Amid new perspectives on informal economies, debates are no longer
preoccupied with whether the concept of an informal economy can survive
liberalization, downsizing states, and inclusion into mainstream development
processes, but on what terms it will do so. Understanding this issue calls for
closer attention to the historical logic of formalinformal linkages in specific
contexts, as well as their contemporary capacity to foster agency or capture
among informal actors. Equally important are questions about the kinds of
incorporation particular categories of informal actors seek, be it the simple
freedom to operate, greater access to public services and social protection,
integration into global markets, or meaningful political voice. To what extent
do these correspond to the inclusive relations sought by formal actors, who
speak more of tapping the potential of the informal economy through taxa-
tion, market penetration, and labor mobilization (see Meagher 2013)?
The concept of adverse incorporation has gained currency in efforts
to analyze processes of social and economic inclusion of marginalized
ASR Forum: Engaging with African Informal Economies 63
groups (Hickey & du Toit 2007). As du Toit and Neves (2007:31) explain,
We may do well to replace the narratives of mere exclusion with the
notion that poverty persists also because of the disadvantageous ways in
which people are incorporated into economic and social life. . . . Attention
is focused on the terms rather than the fact of inclusion. How do the spe-
cific networks through which formalinformal linkages take placeincluding
ties of gender, ethnicity, religion, occupation, or political affiliation
affect the extent and benefits of inclusion? Do the nature and interests
of formal sector partnersranging from global corporations to NGOs,
local government officials and labor unionsinfluence the prospects for
empowering linkages? With a view to building theory rather than leaning
on it, these complex and often liminal processes are explored in this
ASR Forum through original empirical research on informal economic
inclusion across a variety of sectors, social groups, and national settings.
In the rest of this introduction, key issues raised by these articles will be
discussed according to four broad themes: (1) new channels of inclu-
sion; (2) inclusive economic restructuring; (3) inclusive economies and
governance transformations, and (4) the politics of informal economic
inclusion.
New Channels of Inclusion
The articles in this ASR Forum reflect on the implications of new mecha-
nisms of informal economic inclusion, including Bottom of the Pyramid
(BoP) initiatives, incorporation of informal actors in national labor union
structures, informal engagement in the global economy, and incorporation
into formal tax nets and central business districts. A central concern revolves
around whether new modes of incorporation come from above or from
below, and the implications this may have for the empowerment of infor-
mal actors. Are inclusive arrangements designed from above as empower-
ing as those won from below? Do popular incursions into urban centers
or global economic spaces represent the gains of popular struggles, or are
the poor simply being left to fill gaps from which states and formal busi-
ness have withdrawn? The articles by Dolan and Roll, and Andrae and
Beckman, examine the empowering potential of top-down forms of inclu-
sion. Dolan and Roll highlight the philanthropic ethos of BoP models,
which claim to offer a radical reorientation of business in the twenty-
first century, inaugurating a new era of humane capitalism. Yet they
join other anthropologists in showing that these top-down initiatives often
blur the line between making business work for the poor and making the
poor work for business (Cross & Street 2009 ; Dolan et al. 2012 ). Andrae
and Beckman suggest that top-down initiatives of labor unions to incor-
porate informal workers into national workers struggles may produce more
benevolent outcomes. However, their account reveals that the potential
empowerment offered by incorporation into national struggles for workers
rights and social protection must be weighed against the risks that informal
64 African Studies Review
entrepreneurs distinct political priorities will be marginalized in favor of
the political agenda of formal workers and labor union politics.
Other contributors consider whether bottom-up struggles for inclusion
offer better prospects for genuine empowerment. The articles by Kinyanjui
and Lyons et al. represent inclusion as a product of popular agency, through
which traders excluded from the formal economy conquer new urban
spaces or engage in a process of globalization from below (Lyons et al., 96).
Kinyanjui argues that the penetration of informal women traders into
the male, formal sector spaces of Nairobis central business district is an
insurgent act of class struggle, based on militancy and protest rather than
benevolent capitalism. Informal insurgency is seen as the true source of an
alternative capitalism in which economic advancement is based on social
capital rather than corporate capital. Similarly, Lyons et al. highlight the
complex networks and strategies of African traders in Guangzhou in their
efforts to make it in the global economy. Inclusion is not handed down to
them from above, but won through creative business tactics and painful
struggles with the strict regulatory regime of the Chinese state. While these
ChinaAfrica networks are represented as the product of creative individual
agency, Meagher and Prag draw attention to the role of informal business
institutions that structure successful engagement with national and global
economies, particularly in West Africa. Collective arrangements from below,
such as enterprise associations, credit systems, and supply and distribution
networks play a critical role in facilitating economic success, social inclusion,
and engagement with the state. Indeed, the more complex institutional
structure of many West African informal economic systems seems to dove-
tail with the greater success of West Africans in the ChinaAfrica trade.
Yet these contributions also show that while popular initiatives from
below may facilitate livelihoods and even accumulation, they do not always
ensure economic inclusion. Kinyanjui notes that while women traders cross
spatial border from peripheral informal markets into the formal central
business district, they are also crossing economic borders in the opposite
direction. Nearly one-quarter of the women were entering microtrading
from the formal sector, and more than one-third have postsecondary edu-
cation, suggesting that as women cross borders into formal sector spaces,
some are also moving from formal into informal livelihoods. Similarly, con-
tributions by Meagher and Prag show that amid highly coordinated efforts
by informal actors to forge formalinformal linkages from below, corpora-
tions and state officials retain the prerogative to engage with them only
selectively, or to ignore them altogether.
Taking a wider historical perspective, Prag and Cleaver et al. argue that
inclusive initiatives, whether coming from above or from below, are nothing
new. Prag demonstrates that in Benin, as in many parts of West Africa, link-
ages between formal European trading houses and informal traders have
existed at least since the nineteenth century, and in many cases even pre-
date colonialism (see also Baier 1980 ; Bauer 1954; Hopkins 1973 ). He and
others show that integration of informal traders into formal taxation systems
ASR Forum: Engaging with African Informal Economies 65
and into the distribution and market intelligence networks of foreign cor-
porations such as CFAO and the United Africa Company has been common
practice in Benin, Nigeria, and a number of other West African countries
since colonial times (see also Meagher 1991 , 2010 ). Cleaver et al. indicate
that similar processes of intertwining between formal and informal regula-
tory and legal systems also has a long history in East Africa. They argue that
the incorporation of Sungusungu vigilante systems into the recognized
security apparatus of rural Tanzania is part of wider processes of institu-
tional bricolage that have been standard practice in African state-building,
extending back to the incorporation of customary and sometimes Islamic
law into the legal systems of modern African nation-states. Engagement
between formal regulatory systems and the rich array of informal organi-
zation emanating from African societies is not just a twenty-first century
phenomenon, but a reprise of older strategies associated with concession
economies, indirect rule, and earlier phases of African state-building in
which top-down regulatory agendas met the rich repertoire of bottom-up
institutional arrangements as well as grassroots strategies of institutional
adaptation and resistance (see Reno 2004 ; Cleaver 2001).
Inclusive Economic Restructuring
A second underlying theme in this ASR Forum relates to the ways in which
informal economic inclusion restructures both the formal and the informal
economies. This calls for a clearer focus on how informal economic net-
works and formal economic institutions are reorganized through new link-
ages between the formal and informal economies. From this perspective,
inclusive initiatives involve processes of connecting, and also of discon-
necting, as informal economic linkages are spliced into state and corporate
arrangements. Such inclusive restructuring serves to fill institutional gaps
in the formal economy but also bypasses certain segments of formal as well
as informal economic organization, such as informal middlemen in local
value chains or formal trade regulations in African countries (Dolan and
Roll, Lyons et al., Prag). Recognizing the effect of inclusive initiatives on
economies as a whole, rather than just on specific groups, invites a consid-
eration of the wider structural outcomes of inclusive markets, highlighting
their impact on structures of economic opportunity in the formal as well as
the informal economies.
The articles in this ASR Forum are full of examples of new kinds of mar-
ket connections through which poor and marginalized groups gain access
to formal economic arenas in the national and global economy. Kinyanjui
highlights how Kenyan microtraders connect with national as well as global
supply and consumer markets in Nairobis central business district. Similarly,
accounts of BoP initiatives and ChinaAfrica trading networks highlight the
increased access of excluded actors to global markets, opening up new
opportunities for livelihoods, accumulation, and improved access to con-
sumer goods (Lyons et al., Dolan and Roll, Prag).
66 African Studies Review
Yet the emphasis on the inclusive role of formalinformal connections
has tended to distract attention from the potentially negative aspects of
direct connections between weak and powerful economic actors, as well as
glossing over the realities of accompanying disconnections. BoP models dis-
regard concerns that linkages with multinational corporations, and with
markets more generally, have historically been as much a cause of as a solu-
tion to the exploitation and impoverishment of African societies. As Dolan
and Roll point out, celebrating the miracle of global connections ignores
the potential downsides of the direct exposure of the very poor to the mar-
ket power of global firms (see also Elyachar 2012 ; Hickey & du Toit 2007).
Moreover, BoP narratives make it clear that connecting the poor involves
bypassing exploitative middlemen within the informal economy (UNDP
2008; London & Hart 2011 ). However, in this issue we see a different
face of informal middlemen and middlewomen in the accounts of suc-
cessful women textile traders in Benin (Prag) and Africans involved in the
ChinaAfrica trade (Prag, Brown et al.). We encounter them as grassroots
intermediaries between local and global markets who have moved up from
survivalist to more lucrative dimensions of the informal economy with some
potential for accumulation. Lyons et al. emphasize the important role of
these intermediaries in accessing spaces of accumulation in global networks
and reveal how pressures to bypass them in the ChinaAfrica trade repre-
sent a constant threat to the livelihoods of traders struggling to rise above
the subsistence level. It is not clear that BoP models of cutting out the mid-
dlemen offer any comparable paths of accumulation for microtraders at
the bottom of the pyramid.
The recognition of disconnections as well as connections in the creation
of inclusive markets draws attention to the fact that these formalinformal
arrangements are not all win-win, as BoP models tend to claim. As Prag
points out, new local and global connections produce winners and losers
within the informal economy. Among the losers are Africas celebrated
Mama Benz, once seen as icons of African womens agency and business
success (see also Sylvanus 2013 ). Lyons et al. also note that informal women
traders are more disadvantaged in the new ChinaAfrica trade networks
owing to the costs and constraints of long-distance travel, and along with
other weaker traders they risk being squeezed out by rising costs, more
rigorous Chinese immigration regulations, and competition by better
resourced civil servants and large-scale business operators. The articles by
Cleaver et al. and Meagher also suggest that migrants and marginalized social
groups within African societies tend to be losers in new inclusive economies
owing to their limited ability to form effective linkages with the state,
even when they form highly organized associations and community defense
groups. In other work, Lindell and Ihalainen (forthcoming) draw attention
to other losers at the bottom of the pyramid, the poorest street vendors
who are disadvantaged by efforts of urban authorities to incorporate them
into stable markets in the city center because they are unable to pay rents
or taxes, or to buy branded consumer goods, even in small packages.
ASR Forum: Engaging with African Informal Economies 67
Consideration of connections and disconnections, winners and losers,
invites analyses that look beyond immediate individual opportunities to the
wider structural outcomes of inclusive arrangements. References to the gar-
ment sector that run through a number of the contributions cast some light
on these wider structural implications. Lyons et al. point out the impor-
tance of the ChinaAfrica textile trade as an easy-entry option for informal
traders trying to get a foothold in the global economy, while also noting
its negative impact on African textile industries. Similarly, Prag shows that
older womens textile trading networks were compatible with local textile
production, while new womens textile networks engaging in trade to China
are creating pressures for a more liberalized trade regime and contributing
to the demise of national textile industries. These and other contributions
detail massive job losses and factory closures in local African textile indus-
tries which are driving more and more African workers into the informal
economy (Andrae and Beckman). Indeed, despite their view of China
Africa trading networks as a source of opportunity for the economically
excluded, Lyons et al. are forced to conclude that this form of inclusion
in the global economy is not a path to poverty reduction. They note that
the trade as a whole undermines manufacturing and this is clearly counter-
developmental. . . . Labor-intensive manufacturing for local consumption
and export would clearly create moreand more stablejobs (97).
Conversely, new opportunities created through inclusive markets, whether
in global trading networks or among poor women at the bottom of the
pyramid, seem to be dominated by insecure informal work (Kinyanjui,
Dolan and Roll, Lyons et al., Prag).
Inclusion and Governance Transformations
In addition to restructuring economies, inclusive approaches to informality are
also seen as a vehicle for transforming governance. Not long ago the incursion
of informal arrangements into formal governance processes in African coun-
tries was seen as a recipe for disorder and the criminalization of the state
(Bayart et al. 1999 ). In recent years it has been widely claimed that greater
incorporation of informal networks and institutions can actually help to
rebuild the legitimacy and accountability of the state (Joshi & Ayee 2008 ; CFS
2010). The articles in this ASR Forum explore the various ways in which inte-
gration of informal economies reshapes governance in a variety of contexts.
Does the incorporation of vigilante groups into crumbling rural security provi-
sion in Tanzania pose a threat to state sovereignty, or help to rebuild the legiti-
macy of the state? Does taxing informal traders strengthen public accountability,
or just create new avenues of predation? Moving beyond rationalist notions of
institutional design, these articles examine the real implications of integrating
formal and informal regulatory systems, which may involve very different
norms and practices, as well as widely varying relations of power.
The contribution by Cleaver et al. questions the conventional views
of informal institutional inclusion as a practical process of harnessing
68 African Studies Review
arrangements that work. Drawing on the concept of bricolage, the
authors call for greater sensitivity to how this hybridization process is shaped
by relations of power. In the context of weak states, they note, Africas
complex informal networks and associations constitute an increasingly
valuable regulatory resource. The question is, a resource for whom? Noting
that some bricoleurs are more powerful than others, they highlight the
need to consider whose norms [and interests] become prominent in the
piecing together of institutional arrangementswhich bricoleurs com-
mand . . . the most authoritative resources . . . (181). Along with other contri-
butions, they point to the way in which power is demonstrated by the
selective character of institutional inclusion: microtraders, but not larger
intermediaries, are targeted for incorporation into BoP arrangements
(Dolan and Roll); migrants, rather than indigenes, are subjected to aggres-
sive incorporation into the tax net in northern Nigeria (Meagher). As Dolan
and Roll point out, this selectivity goes along with an increasing interest in
making the informal economy more legible (128) to corporate actors and
policymakers. They speak of a growing focus by corporate actors and inter-
national donors on mapping and tapping the informal economy with a
view to identifying useful informal institutions and practices to be harnessed
for corporate profit or political capital (see also Meagher 2013). In the
African context, identifying an important resource is no guarantee that it will
be mined in the interest of local development.
Conversely, contributions by Prag and Lyons et al. highlight processes
of selective incorporation from below. Prag demonstrates considerable
straddling between formal and informal fields among Benins women textile
traders, who selectively engage with the state to influence formal regulations
and mold market advantage. Both Prag and Lyons et al. draw attention to
the straddling activities of ChinaAfrica traders, many of whom use civil
service jobs to access information and leverage connections to maximize
their advantage in informal trading activities. This ability to keep one foot
strategically planted in both sectors is unevenly distributed, biasing oppor-
tunities for reshaping formal regulatory systems from below toward certain
groups. Situated analyses of the who , the where , and the when of formal
informal engagement are central to understanding the selective character
of incorporation and the interests served.
A further dimension of governance transformations often overlooked
in analyses of informal inclusion relates to the penetration of formal gover-
nance processes into informal networks and practices. While notions of
inclusion tend to emphasize the penetration of informal practices into
the sphere of formal economic organization, Cleaver et al. and Dolan and
Roll highlight the ways in which inclusion allows formal governance agendas
and priorities to penetrate into the informal economy. This occurs not only
through selectivity, but also through powerful actors extending their reach
into newly incorporated informal networks and institutions. Cleaver et al.
look at how state officials reshaped Sungusungu vigilante arrangements
to suit the needs of rural security and resource management, while Dolan
ASR Forum: Engaging with African Informal Economies 69
and Roll focus attention on more Foucauldian processes through which
corporations and NGOs repurpose the legions of informal and nonstan-
dard workers through a range of disciplinary techniques including mar-
ket technologies, practices, and discourses designed to harness African
informal actors to the needs of corporate capitalism (125). Similarly, as
Lyons et al. and Prag reveal, accounts of ChinaAfrica trade indicate that
the immigration regimes of the Chinese state are serving to harness African
traders to the needs of Chinese export growth. However, a more two-way
process also exists, as demonstrated by Prag, Meagher, and Andrae and
Beckman, in which wealthy textile traders in Benin, or medium as well as
poor informal operators in Nigeria, do not simply succumb to the machi-
nations of corporations and states, but develop their own leverage in the
form of enterprise associations, ethnoreligious networks, political connec-
tions, and even alliances with labor unions to push their own agenda, with
varied implications for governance outcomes.
The Politics of Informal Inclusion
A focus on the politics of informal inclusion draws attention to the kinds of
mobilization, resistance, divisions, and alliances that arise from an inclusive
approach to informal economies in the context of African societies. The
notion of inclusive economies gives the impression of a process that is
consensual and uncontroversial, obscuring the role of struggles for or
against inclusion, and divisions or alliances unleashed by it. Do efforts to
incorporate informal economies create divisions among informal actors?
How do winners and losers shape political responses to economic inclusion?
To what extent do inclusive initiatives consolidate or fragment informal
associations and other forms of political organization? Taken together, the
articles in this ASR Forum indicate a diverse range of political modalities
at work. These include practices of encroachment (Kinyanjui), political
networking (Prag), associational representation (Meagher), and organized
protest (Andrae and Beckman), as well as the practices of invisibility exem-
plified by African traders in Guangzhou (Lyons et al.) (see also Lindell
2010a , 2010b ). This diversity suggests the need for caution in ascribing a
particular or distinct type of political agency to informal actors, as Roy (2011)
alerts us in her critique of ontological readings of subaltern subjects.
In contrast to the depoliticized character of BoP perspectives (Dolan
and Roll), informal agents actively pursue or resist specific forms of incor-
poration. The articles show that relations with powerful actors such as
states or corporations are highly varied, ranging from mutual distrust and
antagonism to tolerance and collaboration. Mistrust is evident in relations
between African traders and the rigorous Chinese state (Lyons et al.), as
well as in the interaction of some groups of informal operators (such as
poor Muslim youth and Christian minorities) with the negligent and reli-
giously polarized state in northern Nigeria (Andrae and Beckman, Meagher).
Deep-seated grievances have occasionally provided the grounds for large-scale
70 African Studies Review
mobilization of informal operators into organized protest against the state,
as in the 2012 uprising documented by Andrae and Beckman. Such antag-
onisms stand in contrast to the more collaborative relations discussed by
Prag that are nurtured by influential women traders with state and interna-
tional corporate actors in Benin. Frequently, elements of both antago-
nism and collaboration are present, as in the relations between politically
vulnerable women microtraders in Kenya or pastoralists in Tanzania, who
mix resistance with cooperation in an effort to gain a more secure eco-
nomic footing (Kinyanjui, Cleaver et al.). The political subjectivities of
informal actors are more complex than is often acknowledged.
Just as the politics of inclusion can create new tensions between formal
and informal actors, it can also generate new divisions within the informal
economy. Informal economies across Africa are highly differentiated along
lines of gender, age, ethnic and religious belonging, class, or political affili-
ation. While informed by local histories, these divisions are reshaped by the
global and local processes unleashed by inclusive markets. The link between
economic inclusion and subaltern solidarity among the women microtraders
of central Nairobi (Kinyanjui) contrasts with the divisive effects of greater
global inclusion on women textile traders in Benin, who split into two rival
networks struggling for access to the state and economic supremacy (Prag).
Similarly, efforts of northern Nigerian state governments to tax the infor-
mal economy have contributed to divisive processes of religious polarization
(Meagher). These case studies highlight the fact that the state is far from
a neutral actor. In both Benin and Nigeria, inclusive initiatives are shaped
by ethnic, religious, and political biases within the state, as well as interna-
tional pressures by foreign governments and corporate actors.
Inclusive initiatives between informal actors and formal labor unions
have also generated divisive pressures between migrants and indigenes
in the Nigerian informal economy. The articles by Meagher and by Andrae
and Beckman document the tendency of migrants to gravitate toward the
discourse of rights in the national textile labor union, while indigenes in
both Lagos and Kaduna State have tended to opt for the state branch of
the federated tailors union (National Union of Tailors), which adopts a
discourse of indigeneity to build political channels of access to resources,
state contracts, and other forms of economic advantage. The result has been
the generating of new organizational divisions among tailors, although the
effect on their capacity for collective political voice is still unclear.
As evidenced by these countervailing tendencies of resistance and
collaboration, internal solidarity and division, the politics of informal
inclusion is far from smooth. The identification of diverse political ten-
dencies calls once again for a consideration of the organizational outcomes
within the informal economy. Are informal organizations becoming more
or less fragmented? Under what conditions do struggles to improve the
terms of inclusion lead to the upscaling of informal organization through
interorganizational alliances or federations of associations? The articles by
Meagher and by Andrae and Beckman highlight processes of organizational
ASR Forum: Engaging with African Informal Economies 71
cooperation and even federation in Nigerian urban informal economies
despite high levels of occupational specialization and ethnoreligious diver-
sity. Meagher highlights integrative processes from below, including col-
laborative relations between informal enterprise associations across religious
lines, and national federations of some local occupational associations,
despite an environment of intense market competition and ethnoreligious
tension. She suggests that these integrative tendencies within the informal
economy are weakened by inequitable state efforts at inclusion, which
undermine integrative tendencies emanating from within the informal
economy.
Conversely, Andrae and Beckman see informal enterprise associations
as a fragmenting force that limits political horizons to narrow occupational
interests and disrupts meaningful political voice. They emphasize the impor-
tance of integration into national labor unions and nationally federated asso-
ciations that combine members with diverse ethnic and religious identities.
This scaling up of organizations, and cooperation between national labor
unions and tailors associations, has facilitated engagement with the state at
the national level to lobby for social protection and other labor rights for
workers in the informal economy. The resulting engagement of informal
sector workers in a nationwide protest in 2012, alongside formal labor
unions and other civil organizations, was hailed as a landmark of political
as well as economic integration of informal actors, enhancing their polit-
ical voice and enlarging tailors horizons of action beyond narrow occupa-
tional issues.
Taking a longer-term perspective, Prags analysis of the Mama Benz
in Benin details the decline of an earlier federation of women traders
associations, UNACOBE, under the pressures of Asian import competition
and the politicizing effects of democratization. Instead of orchestrating a
collective response to the economic pressures on the textile trade, the asso-
ciation fragmented into rival economic and personal patronage networks
competing for the attention of the state to defend their own private business
advantage. Possibilities for broader collaboration between these different
networks and associations currently appears remote, even if some straddling
between networks is occurring.
This suggests that organizations and alliances to facilitate equitable
forms of inclusion are not without challenges. Linkages between informal
enterprise associations and the state can disrupt rather than foster internal
cohesion and political leverage. Yet as Andrae and Beckman suggest, the
many constraints to organizing and upscaling in the informal economy
indicate the need for strong allies in the struggle for inclusion on better
terms (see also Bonner & Spooner 2011 ). Recent research has focused
on organizational linkages beyond the state, with formal civil society
organization at the national or transnational level, though it is recog-
nized that these, too, may be permeated by asymmetries, conditionalities,
and practices of mediation and gate-keeping (Lindell 20101, 2011b;
Mitullah 2010; Scheld 2010 ). The articles by Dolan and Roll and by Andrae
72 African Studies Review
and Beckman examine the extent to which corporations or labor unions
offer effective alternative allies in the struggles for more equitable modes
of informal economic incorporation. Dolan and Roll suggest that BoP models
of informalcorporate alliances are unlikely to reverse tendencies toward
adverse incorporation, qualifying the enthusiasm for transnational alliances.
Andrae and Beckman are more sanguine about the prospects of linkages
with labor unions and international NGOs for the facilitation of more equi-
table political as well as economic inclusion, notwithstanding the possible
pitfalls of such arrangements. While in many cases the actors involved find
pragmatic ways of working together, sustainable alliances with expanded
benefits for both formal and informal constituencies require a consider-
ation of divergences in interests and identity, as well as unequal power
relations between the organizations (see Lindell 2011a ).
Conclusion
Amid the trumpeting of new, more inclusive approaches to African infor-
mal economies, it behooves us to reflect critically on the novelty of what is
taking place and to consider whether, in the past or in the present, inclusive
initiatives are fostering equitable or adverse forms of incorporation. In a
continent marked by a history of concession economies, indirect rule, post-
colonial engagements in state-building, and intense experiences of neoco-
lonialism, processes of bricolage and hybridity between formal and informal
institutions have always been a part of development. The question is whose
interests are driving these processes and what kinds of economic and political
leverage are available to disadvantaged groups to help them garner decent
terms of inclusion. This ASR Forum highlights the need to look beyond the
celebratory rhetoric of inclusive economies to consider the diverse processes
of economic restructuring, governance transformation, and informal polit-
ical reorganization that are under way in various national and subnational
contexts. It calls for a clearer focus on disconnections as well as connections
between formal and informal economies, losers as well as winners within
the informal economy, and the nature of power relations expressed through
tactics of selectivity, discipline, and capture in the means by which informal
institutions are insinuated into wider governance structures. The impact of
these various processes on the terms of inclusion continues to be shaped by
processes of political collaboration and contestation, both between formal
and informal actors and organizations, and within the informal economy
itself. These contributions explore the various ways in which inclusive eco-
nomic initiatives from above as well as from below empower or disempower,
divide or unite, and rebuild or fragment informal political agency.
The evidence presented here demonstrates that there is no single tra-
jectory of economic and governance transformations arising from more
inclusive approaches to African informal economies. However, even diverse
trajectories produce structural outcomes that reshape the terms on which
Africas informal workers are incorporated into national as well as global
ASR Forum: Engaging with African Informal Economies 73
economies. The challenge is to trace these new processes of economic and
governance restructuring operating across the formal and informal spheres,
and to examine whose interests are served in the process. As Cleaver et al. point
out, If both designing new institutions and working with the grain of socially
embedded institutions serves to reproduce inequalities of power, then what are
the possibilities of fashioning more socially just and effective . . . [forms of]
governance . . . (184)? Mere inclusion is meaningless without a deep
understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of informal economic insti-
tutions, combined with policy approaches that strengthen mutually benefi-
cial collaboration and improve the political leverage of marginalized actors
in determining the terms of their economic incorporation. This ASR Forum
invites critical reflection on whether current efforts at informal economic
inclusion are advancing African societies toward this goal.
Acknowledgments
We would like to thank numerous reviewers for their insights and com-
ments, and Ella Kusnetz for her editorial wizardry and tireless coordination
during the process of bringing this all together. During the preparation of
this ASR Forum, we were saddened by the passing of one of our contrib-
utors, Michal Lyons. She was a prolific scholar who contributed much to
the field of informality in urban Africa, as well as a generous and supportive
colleague and friend. She will be warmly remembered.
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Note
1. While some now question the statistical evidence behind claims of informal eco-
nomic expansion, it is widely recognized that amid the contraction of the public
and formal private sector, the vast majority of new jobs across the developing
world, especially in Africa, have been created in the informal economy, making
informal economic expansion an unavoidable conclusion (ILO 2002; Blunch
et al. 2001 :10; Becker 2004:5).