Tasmi Quazi & Richard Dobson
Asiye eTafuleni (AeT) was invited to provide strategic input at a South-South learning exchange held in Maputo, Mozambique from 7 – 9 November 2012. This brought together development practitioners and mainly city government officials from the provincial capital cities of Mozambique, eThekwini Municipality in South Africa, Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre from Brazil. The purpose was to exchange experiences and ideas on how to improve the working conditions of informal traders, specifically from a health and hygiene point of view.
This event was organized by a range of partners including the United Cities and Local Governments, ANAMM Mozambique Association Local Authorities (akin to South African Local Government Association), and International Labour Organisation, to name some. For an insightful summary of the discussions, click here.
Based on AeT’s participation in this platform and the 2012 World Urban Forum, it is apparent that the development of markets is predominating thinking in urban policy and implementation in response to the infrastructure needs of informal traders. This is leading to the emergence of a number of markets that have been or are being implemented. Although it is positive that the role of infrastructure has been recognised as a strategy in enhancing the livelihoods of informal traders, it is important to understand what is meant and implied by the notion of markets. This is because of some challenges arising from the growing emphasis on markets.
Firstly, is the challenge of the un- or under-utilisation of built markets where they are not optimally located. This unfortunately arises from prejudices towards the informal economy and/or the lack of urban spaces released in optimal places which sees these activities located in peripheral environments. This is in stark difference to the historic origins of organic or natural markets that are well located in urban spaces which are more lucrative for business and accessible to customers.
Secondly, one of the primary motivations for developing markets is to control kerb side street trading by locating these as off-street, fenced-off and managed facilities (in terms of infrastructure and working hours). However, the successful examples of built markets have inadvertently attracted secondary economic energy on the periphery which reintroduces the initial challenge of kerb side trading. This is also as a consequence of the fact that the numbers that need to be accommodated are in excess of the trading spaces provided by the markets. An inadequate design resolution to these challenges can be seen in the case study of Machinga Business Complex in Tanzania.
Based on experience in Durban, a possible solution to the challenge that meets the diverse needs of informal traders and urban authorities is an integrated vision and multi-layered approach. For instance a mutli-layered approach could be adopted by incorporating a combination of urban typologies such as:
- Strips: that accommodate kerb side trading
- Nodes: that accommodate specialist facilities
- Natural markets: that accommodate specific large-scale activities
The opportunity is therefore to administer and integrate the various economic activities in creative ways that maximises urban spaces and thinking, other than relying on a single approach. In addition, shaping an integrated vision implies multi-stakeholder participation from city officials, politicians, built-environment professionals, non-profit organisations, formal businesses, and especially informal workers.
This was highlighted during Richard Dobson’s presentation on the case study of Warwick Junction Project which was held at a community hall with the purpose of including informal workers in the workshop programme. During the Q & A session, an informal worker stood up and announced that he was aware of the Project, having visited it in 2001 as part of a delegation. Richard’s immediate anxiety was whether the worker was going to raise some challenging observations!
However, the worker was affirming and particularly complementary that the Project had progressed with its commitments. What was significant about this moment is that it reinforced the importance of disseminating project work to informal workers so that they can also contribute to critique and learning.
A common challenge related to urban governance and the informal economy is the lack of critique of interventions carried out by various entities. Therefore along with the need to examine lessons that can be drawn from precedents, is the need to exchange these learnings with the relevant stakeholders as the Maputo Learning Exchange has sought to do; in order to fill the knowledge vacuum in the provision of support services to the informal economy. This will undoubtedly advance better practices of inclusive development worldwide, particularly in the global South.