Collective Organisation among Informal Workers in African Cities

Researcher: Ilda Lindell
Project established in January 2004, finalized 2011

Collective Organisation among Informal Workers in African Cities
Informal economies in African cities have expanded rapidly in recent decades. Incomes and conditions have however declined for large numbers of urban informal workers. In addition, these workers experience a persistent lack of rights, as authorities in many cities continue to be hostile towards them.

This project addresses the ways by which informal workers in urban Africa organise collectively to defend their rights and livelihoods. Existing perspectives on the dynamics and politics of informal economies have been blind to this issue. The so-called 'informal sector' has been seen as devoid of collective organisation, which has been considered to be an exclusive capacity of the 'formal' wage sector. But as the latter shrinks and reliance on informal income activities increases in African cities, new forms of collective organisation are also emerging.

Agendas, alliances and strategies
The general aim of the project is to uncover the agendas, the alliances and strategies being used by associations and unions of informal workers, particularly urban vendors. The study considers both the internal relations of associations and their wider social and political context.

On the one hand, the internal distribution of power is analysed and in this context gender relations are given particular attention since women constitute a significant share of informal workers and are often over-represented at the lowest income levels of the informal economy.

On the other hand, the wider social and political context will be addressed by exploring the nature of the relations that associations entertain with other bodies in society. This includes relations with the local state (and other political institutions) and how these shape urban politics. Relations with other groups in 'civil society' are also explored, particularly emerging alliances between groups of informal workers and trade unions, conven-tionally considered as holding opposing interests.

Global actors
The space for action of these associations does not necessarily end at city limits or domestic borders. An increasing number of groups are establishing international linkages and joining global networks of informal workers. This places African cities in the wider context of global resistance, rather than simply in a passive marginal position to 'globalisation' processes.

The study adopts a comparative approach by pursuing these research issues in different urban settings in Africa. Empirical data has been collected in Maputo, Kampala and Accra.

Ilda Lourenço-Lindell holds a PhD in Human Geography from Stockholm University, Sweden.

Walking the Tight Rope. Informal Livelihoods and Social Networks in a West African City. Stockholm, Sweden: Almqvist & Wiksell international, 2002. Dissertation.

Iida Lindell
Infromal sector
Urban communities
Voluntary organizations
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