Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Informal Sector in Jinja, Uganda: Implications of Formalization and Regulation

Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Informal Sector in Jinja, Uganda: Implications of Formalization and Regulation

Article excerpt


This article examines two policies targeting the informal open-air market and fishing sectors in Jinja, Uganda. The informal sector has grown to become a significant source of livelihood for people in growing cities such as Jinja. At the same time, development policies have become increasingly concerned with encouraging formalization as well as the participation of local stakeholders in governance and decision-making. While there has been much debate about the potential impacts of formalizing previously informal, unregulated, unpermitted activities, the implications of these policies for informal vendors and fishers have received less attention. Despite their promises of addressing previous marginalization, the patterns of participation and formalization enforced by these two policies in Uganda have reduced the control of these individuals over their own livelihoods, as well as intensifying contestations of local authority and jurisdiction over resources.

Résumé: Cet essai examine deux mesures ciblant le marché ouvert informel et les secteurs de la pêche à Jinja, en Ouganda. Le secteur informel est devenu une source importante de revenus pour les gens dans les villes en croissance comme Jinja. Simultanément, les efforts de régulation ainsi que la participation d'actionnaires locaux sont devenus une priorité de développement et de planification politique. Bien qu'il y ait eu beaucoup de débats concernant les conséquences potentielles sur le marché de la régulation d'activités au préalable non régulées ou autorisées, les implications pour les commerçants et les pêcheurs non régulés n'ont pas été considérées avec autant d'intérêt. En dépit des promesses de prise en compte des problèmes antérieurs de la marginalisation, les modes de formalisation et de participation régulés par ces mesures ont réduit le contrôle que ces individus peuvent avoir sur leurs moyens d'existence et leur futur. Ces mesures ont aussi fait augmenter les contestations de l'autorité locale et de la juridiction des ressources.

Informal sector activity has consistendy accelerated in Uganda since the era of colonial rule, and now accounts for 90 percent of nonagricultural labor (World Bank 2009). Over the last hundred years unregulated, unpermitted open-air market vending and small-scale fishing activities have been important to Jinja's economic life, but they also have been consistendy criminalized, therefore marginalizing vendors and fishers and excluding them from formal governance processes. More recendy, "participatory" policies such as the open-air market formalization scheme and the 2004 National Fisheries Policy in Uganda have been aimed at increasing formal inclusion and political participation of open-air market vendors and fishers engaged in the informal sector. Despite promises of addressing previous marginalization, these two policies targeting informal sectors in Jinja have contributed to undesirable outcomes for vendors and fishers such as reduced control of their own livelihoods, and they have also intensified conflict over local authority and jurisdiction over resources.

Located on the northern shore of Lake Victoria, Jinja has become the second largest urban area in Uganda and a major hub for agriculture and fish trade. The city's streets, marketplaces, and small harbors are filled with people earning a livelihood from self-initiated, unregulated, often illegal strategies. They have been drawn to the informal sector because it often offers economic flexibility in the context of volatile agrifood markets, direct bargaining power, less vulnerability in the global commodity chains, and better returns from their invesünents in productive resources such as fishing gear and market stalls as well as personal investments of time and labor.

The open-air markets formalization scheme and the 2004 National Fisheries Policy (NFP) were promoted as ventures that would contribute to the prosperity and well-being of vendors and fishers by increasing their participation in the formal economy and giving them increased representation in local governance. …

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