Wednesday, June 11, 2014

what's a little irrationality among friends?

An interesting essay about Pakistan's near-total informality, from Harris Khalique. Money quote:
Some friends celebrate the informal and underground economy. Maybe they are right to the extent that the poor are at least able to survive as formal institutional arrangements of our national economy are not only limited, they are also exclusionary and pro-rich. But who is actually making the real buck from the informal economy? The same idle rich class, isn’t it? This class absolves itself of any duty of care for its workers when economic activity takes place in the informal sector.
True. The rich have a way of profiting from every kind of economic relationship. But there's nothing less devious or more caring about the formal economy. Being part of the formal economy doesn't automatically mean owners feel a 'duty of care' for those laboring under them. And, indeed, formalization often takes away some elements of control that workers in System D have over their labor and their lives. Things that are irrational and inefficient in economic terms can also be positive and creative in social and political terms.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Kenya's essential economic engine

Let's unpack this article from Nairobi's Standard newspaper.

Government statistics show that Kenya created 724,800 new jobs last year.

  • 26,300 were government jobs
  • 89,700 in the private sector
  • 626,800 in System D

Meaning that 86.5 percent of the new jobs in the East African nation were off-the-books and informal. That's some economic engine.

As the Standard says, "Despite being essential in employment creation, the informal sector has largely operated with little support from the government, which to a large extent failed to offer a conducive environment."

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Brazil wages war against 20% of its population

How long can a country pretend to be a democracy and treat 1/5 of its population like criminals. That's my thought after reading this article, about continuing violence in Rio's favelas. Since when is supposed safety on the highways an excuse for moving tanks into a working class community? Since when should police not care that the drug dealers are a minority in these self-built communities that are home to more than 1 million people in Rio and tens of millions across the country?

What would you feel if a major sporting event came to your city and, in preparation, the police moved tanks and guys with assault weapons in front of your home?

Yes, the drug gangs are heavily rooted in the favelas. But they are an opportunistic infection. They made merry in the self-built squatter areas because the government pretended those communities didn't exist and treated all the people there as lower than 2nd class citizens. The police are not people's friends. In my time in Rio --  a dozen years ago now -- I was only harassed or threatened with guns by the cops. The police represent an alien unwanted occupying force doing no one no good.

Even calling this program pacification is sick. There's obviously nothing peaceful about it.

Monday, April 21, 2014

everything from self-development; nothing from the government

Buried in this article from the InterPress Service is this fascinating factoid:

In Harare, there are now 18,500 people working in informal carpentry, up from 7,000 five years ago. During the same time period, formal carpentry jobs fell by almost the same amount, declining from from 22,000 to 13,000.

Conclusion: the jobs have moved off the books. As Tracy Chikwari, a 36-year-old single mother and System D entrepreneur told the news service, "I bought two houses here in Harare by trading in furniture that I guy from the informal market and I have no doubt this feat is taking me to greater heights."

An anonymous official complained to IPS that the carpentry business is so strong that the government is losing $32 million a month in unpaid taxes. But, as one sensible carpenter noted, taxation is a social contract: "Paying the government tax for our activities depends on what we also get from them. But we are getting nothing."

Monday, March 24, 2014

a little 'urban disorder' among friends

This article, from the Cameroon Tribune, unfortunately demonstrates the insanity and inanity of most writing about System D.

As a symptom of persistent "urban disorder," the newspaper in the Cameroonian capital presents this scenario: "It's 10 am and the weather is bright. Pauline Mangne, 27, a Yaounde inhabitant who works as a housemaid, was seen buying some food items in a small market or 'petit marcher.'"

The article continues: "A market normally is constructed and well planned in any city. But that is not the case in Yaounde. These unplanned markets are found mostly in main junctions, entrance into some schools and institutions of higher learning, financial institutions and beside motor parks. The items that are commonly sold in these markets are vegetables, fruits, palm nuts and maize among other perishable foods." Martine Messina, a roadside merchant who journeys from her farm to the city and back every day, told the paper, "Anything I harvest in the farm I come and sell in Yaounde." She insisted that it was the only way for her family to survive.

It's astonishing to read articles that assert that a farmer selling produce at the side of the road is pernicious. Just what is so disgraceful about a farmers market?

No matter where you go in Africa and Asia and South and Central America, city-built markets don't work for small-scale merchants and farmers. The obvious conclusion: the planners who keep planning these unsuccessful markets are wrong. And the folks who sell at the side of the road are right. Let's hear it for a little 'urban disorder' among friends.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

are street vendors terrorists?

Is this man part of a terrorist network? A retired Tunisian military man sure thinks so. Mokhtar Ben Nasser, a retired colonel and former spokesperson for the Tunisian military, is the sole source for this International Business Times article asking the question.


“There is a confirmed relationship between smuggling and terrorism,” Ben Nasser told the paper, arguing that militants offer the smugglers protection, sometimes in the form of extortion, in addition to demand for their supplies, while smugglers provide food, equipment, untraceable cash and knowledge of unguarded routes in the country’s interior and across borders. “Militants and smugglers have shared interests."
But, at a conference at Stanford ten days ago, a respected security analyst came to the exact opposite conclusion. I asked Niklas Swanström, head of the Institute for Security and Development Policy, who spends a lot of time in criminal havens like North Korea, Tajikistan, and Dagestan and is an expert in transnational crime, about this exact issue.
He insisted that most smugglers and informal wholesalers and retailers don't need or want to work with terrorists. He said that, by their nature, terrorist organizations are slow and cumbersome -- more worried about ideology and furtive spycraft than rapid action. Smugglers, by contrast, have little use for ideology. They simply need to move their goods -- and getting in bed with terrorist networks doesn't make good business sense.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

the tshukudeur

On a seriously good day, Biamungu, who lives in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, makes 10 euros, transporting goods on his handmade wooden bicycle, called a tshukudu.

"I make sure to bring home the basic necessities: flour for the fufu [cassava paste], cooking oil and salt. If I have some money left, we feast on tomato sauce or meat," he tells Radio Netherlands (via allAfrica).

Being a tshukudeur is incredibly taxing work -- requiring brawn and energy. And his work has been made harder by the rebellion and conflict in that region of the DRC.

Two caveats about this report, though:

first, I cringe when any reporter, no matter how sympathetic, says, "Riding his large wooden bicycle, Biamungu, with his muscular, sweaty body, looks like a character from a novel." 

second, in many African countries, fufu, sometimes called garri, is the staple food. I ate vast quantities of it every day in Nigeria. When I was in Kenya, I ate massive amounts of ugali -- a similar starchy sponge concoction made with corn. Though I am sure Biamungu's family's limited diet is nutritionally lacking (I most often had some vegetable stew and a small piece of boiled meat with my plate of fufu), a messload of starch and carbs was, to me, the perfect way to eat in that climate.