Academic journal article Africa

Playing Pool along the Shores of Lake Victoria: Fishermen, Careers and Capital Accumulation in the Ugandan Nile Perch Business

Academic journal article Africa

Playing Pool along the Shores of Lake Victoria: Fishermen, Careers and Capital Accumulation in the Ugandan Nile Perch Business

Article excerpt


The 1990s saw the emergence of a thriving Nile perch export market from East Africa. This commercial table fish species is landed by migrant fishermen at villages that have sprung up along the shores of Lake Victoria, and then exported to overseas markets. By analysing the Ugandan perch fishery as a ser of careers, the article shows that, although some fishermen have benefited from the perch boom, most face an uncertain and marginal existence. Few of them, however, move away in response. Analysis of an anthropological case study reveals that this is because the fishermen value the urban culture characterizing prominent village landings, expressed in particular clothing and hairstyles, the prevalence of non-kin ties, and a prospering leisure industry epitomized by the proliferation of pool tables. Hence, a cultural preference for life at the landings, rather than a universal quest for economic opportunity, drives their economic decision making.


Les annees 1990 ont vu l'emergence d'un marche florissant en Afrique de l'Est: l'exportation de la perche du Nil. Cerre espece de poisson de table marchand est dechargee par des pecheurs migrants dans des villages qui ont surgi sur les rives du lac Victoria, avant d'etre exportee vers les marches etrangers. En analysant la peche de la perche en Ouganda en tant qu'ensemble de metiers, l'article montre que, bien que certains pecheurs aient profite de l'essor de la perche, la plupart des pecheurs connaissent une existence incertaine et marginale. Or, rares sont ceux qui partent face a cette situation. L'analyse d'une etude de cas anthropologique l'explique par le fait que les pecheurs apprecient la culture urbaine qui caracterise l'activite de dechargement dans les villages, qui s'exprime notamment par le style de vetement et de coiffure, la prevalence de liens non familiaux et une industrie des loisirs prospere caracterisee par la proliferation de tables de billard. C'est donc une preference culturelle pour la vitalite qui accompagne les dechargements, plutot qu'une quete universelle d'opportunite economique, qui determine la prise de decision economique de ces pecheurs.


'Nice shot!' cries my friend Soumani, a young fisherman, in encouragement to two men who are shooting pool on a used but well-maintained table. The expert shot signals the end of the game; Soumani quickly gets up from the makeshift bench under a corrugated iron roof where dozens of other men are waiting, and takes his turn. He puts a USh500 coin on the rim of the table as a token of admission, sizes up his opponent, a well-known local captain, bends over the pool table and takes aim over his expensive-looking sunglasses. After only a few minutes, the game is over; although Soumani is a regular player, he has to acknowledge defeat to the more seasoned captain. He looks at me in slight despair, heaves a deep sigh and returns to his seat. For the second time this morning Soumani has lost a game; he hopes to win at least once before he sets off to the lake later in the afternoon.

This scene was recently recorded in Lambu, a remote village landing along Lake Victoria in Masaka District, Uganda. Such landings are nowadays commonplace in the region; they are mostly new settlements that typically sprang up alongside the booming market for Nile perch that emerged about twenty years ago in East Africa. The economic history of this commercial table fish species is well documented: introduced into Lake Victoria in the 1950s, the perch was 'rediscovered' about three decades later by European fisheries experts and subsequently marketed to overseas (super)markets, mainly in the EU (Pringle 2005a). Nowadays tens of thousands of tonnes of fresh and frozen perch fillets per year are airlifted from around Lake Victoria, boosting foreign exchange reserves and economic growth in the countries around the lake, and generating mass employment in the East African region (Josupeit 2006; Schuurhuizen et al. …

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