Regardless of continent, it is now high time we accepted the informal economy (unformal or unrecognised or unorganized sectors) as a commercial operating environment in its own right.
The continued oversight is rapidly coalescing into a gaping void of hiccups and failures, by large companies, non profit institutions, and startups, alike. This issue goes far beyond “understanding the informal” or recognizing the fulltime professional status of the service providers that I’ve written about before.
It’s about the problems created by continuing to assume every individual is poverty stricken and struggling to make a livelihood simply because a significant portion of their commercial activity operates outside what is rarely defined but is assumed to be the formal, structured economy held up as the pinnacle of economic development.
It’s why academics can barely conceal their flabbergasted surprise that a person has a better quality of life, and a reasonably viable revenue stream in [gasp] informal market trading, or even agricultural work.
It’s why @pesa_africa questions the continued transplantation of e-commerce business models directly from Seattle to subSahara given that they’ve tended to wither on the vines.
It’s why market women and traders pay the price of daily harassment and abuse by those given authority over their peace of mind.
And, it’s also why the freshest produce gets to you first thing in the morning in Nairobi or Cotonou or Kinshasa.
This is not meant to be a paean to the hardworking women and men who keep the engines of commerce and trade humming in the harshest of environments with scarce resources and inadequate infrastructure.
It’s the first step in acknowledging yet another holdover from a colonial past that decades later still hampers and hinders the social and economic development that should have happened by now, by all rights.
It’s also the necessary counterpart to the recognition of agency required for design interventions to succeed once donor funding ends.