Reflections on Kate Meagher’s work

By | May 12, 2021

Meagher’s work (1990) clearly demonstrates that what I would go on to see 25 years later at the borderland of Uganda and Kenya, she had already seen at the borderland of Uganda and then Zaire (now DRC). Possibly the only difference in our interpretation and narratives is due to our own positional frame of reference and the existence or non existence of a body of literature or scholarly work within which to situate our interpretations.

Like with Martha Alter Chen’s work, I have come to consider the work of Kate Meagher as providing one of the foundations on which to build upon my own. Initially, in professional practice, where the role of literature simply served to ensure that I wasn’t going off track or that what I was seeing wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.

Now, as I enter academia at this late stage in life, it serves as waymarkers or guideposts to build my confidence that the direction in which I’m proceeding has been trodden down before me. I cannot deny, as a woman well into middle age (55 at last count), that the existence of these women scholars and their work has been emboldening on many levels.

More so than Chen, Meagher’s forays into research spaces has overlapped with my own over the years. I drew upon her work in Nigeria’s cross border currency trade (Hashim & Meagher, 1999; Meagher, 1997; 2003; 2009; for a fintech project based on desk research and synthesis of numerous reports to inform the design planning for cross border payments.

Her detailed insights on the functioning of Hausa currency networks provided an understanding of the difference in the way West African trade networks operated as opposed to the East African ones I was more familiar with myself. And her paper on frugal innovation’s subversion of the informal sector’s existing commercial systems to their own profitable ends, albeit in the guise of wellmeaning and altruistic statements gave me the confidence necessary to situate my own research mapping the landscape of this operating environment in Africa – the informal economic system.

Mention in one of her recent publications (Meagher, 2020) on the late Thandika Mkandawire’s analysis leading to “varieties of informal economies in Africa” based on their administrative legacies and colonial agendas now makes me wonder whether a) informal economies can be disaggregated on a position map according to Mwangire’s approach to distinguishing between them, and then b) evaluated from my own work on the way characteristics of the operating environment influence management of working capital and cash flows, particularly for the informal trade sector1, to see how and where the confluence of the two perspectives allow us to refine our understanding of Africa’s informal commercial system.

How might this sort of analysis might benefit the ongoing work of the recently launched African Continental Free Trade Area. That is, we’ve long known that one size doesn’t fit all in policy and programming – could this approach provide segmentation necessary for improving design ?

Chen provided me with early waymarkers when I first began my exploratory research on rural household financial management behaviour more than 12 years ago. The later discovery that she’d attended school in Kody and her brother was good old Tom from Bollywood only added credibility in my eyes, as a third culture kid growing up between cultures myself. I knew we possess the skills to dance in between and bring a local sensibility to our global sensemaking of vast and complicated spaces.

This is the same quality that I perceive in some of Meagher’s recent works and it makes me wonder whether if she too has a global nomad’s background of growing up outside her passport country during her developmental years? Women scholars need more wikipedia pages, in my not so humble opinion.



1 My qualitative research applying exploratory user research methodology from the discipline of design on rural household financial management behaviour at the bottom of the pyramid sampled residents in rural India, rural Philippines, and rural Malawi, thus from the start I’ve been able to see the commonalities cutting across continents and cultures when it came to why the mobile phone’s prepaid model worked so well for those on irregular and unpredictable cash flows.

Hashim, Y., & Meagher, K. (1999). Cross-border trade and the parallel currency market: trade and finance in the context of structural adjustment: a case study from Kano, Nigeria (Vol. 113). Nordic Africa Institute.<

Meagher, K. (1990). The hidden economy: informal and parallel trade in Northwestern Uganda. Review of African Political Economy, 17(47), 64-83.

Meagher, K. (1997). Informal Integration or Economic Subvention: The Development and Organization of Parallel Trade in Sub-Saharan Africa’. Regional Integration and Cooperation in West Africa, 165-188.

Meagher, K. (2003). A back door to globalisation? Structural adjustment, globalisation & transborder trade in West Africa. Review of African Political Economy, 30(95), 57-75.

Meagher, K., (2009) The Informalization of Belonging: Igbo Informal Enterprise and National Cohesion from Below, CODESRIA, Africa Development, Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, 2009, pp. 31–46

Meagher, K. (2020). Deciphering African informal economies. In The Informal Economy Revisited (pp. 233-238). Routledge.

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