Academic journal article African Studies Review

"Hybrid Governance," Legitimacy, and (II)legality in the Informal Cross-Border Trade in Panyimur, Northwest Uganda

Academic journal article African Studies Review

"Hybrid Governance," Legitimacy, and (II)legality in the Informal Cross-Border Trade in Panyimur, Northwest Uganda

Article excerpt


By looking at a number of different commodities and how they are traded, this article shows how informal cross-border trade in West Nile and Panyimur, Uganda, is governed by a locally negotiated system of hybrid governance, in which neither state nor nonstate actors have a regulatory monopoly. Notions such as legality and illegality are secondary to the functioning of these hybrid institutions, which instead are the outcome of perceptions of the legitimacy of regulatory actions and trading practices and the power configurations of the actors involved. There are different "registers" at play about what constitutes legitimate economic action among different moral communities, but the actual impact of this system depends on the power of the strategic groups involved.

Résumé: En regardant un certain nombre de produits différents et la façon dont ils sont négociés, cet article montre comment le commerce informel transfrontalier dans la région du Nil occidental et le Panyimur est régi par un système négocié localement de gouvernance hybride, dans lequel les acteurs qui ont un monopole réglementaire ne proviennent ni de l'intérieur ni de l'extérieur du pouvoir d'Etat. Des notions telles que la légalité et l'illégalité sont secondaires pour le fonctionnement de ces institutions hybrides, qui sont plutôt le résultat de la perception de légitimité des mesures de réglementation, des pratiques commerciales et des configurations de puissance des acteurs impliqués. Il existe différents "registres" enjeu parmi les différentes communautés morales sur ce qui constitue la légitimité d'une action économique, mais l'impact réel de ce système dépend de la puissance des groupes stratégiques impliqués.

Key Words: Hybrid governance; illegality; legitimacy; informal economy; cross-border trade; smuggling; Uganda


The state in sub-Saharan Africa has difficulty regulating cross-border trade, with a large section of this trade avoiding state control and considered part of the "informal sector." Uganda is no exception. This is made clear by an ongoing study of the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics and Bank of Uganda that measures the formal and informal trade flows in and out of the country. As described in the table below, informal trade presents an important economic reality, and the difference between informal and formal trade flows is not always pronounced: for example, in 2008, informal exports out of Uganda were worth U.S.$1.35 billion, while formal exports were worth U.S.$1.7 billion (UBOS 2008, 2009, 2012). Moreover, these figures include only unrecorded trade at formal border points and do not include trade that bypasses formal border crossings altogether. In other words, these figures underestimate informal trade in Uganda.

This article analyzes, first, the consequences of informal trade in Uganda, the extralegal character of these activities for their governance and legitimacy, and the concomitant impact of these activities on the role of the state. A statecentric view would argue that, as these activities happen outside of the state regulatory framework, they are not only illegal, but also illegitimate. However, the fact that this trade escapes state regulation does not mean it is unregulated. As Meagher (2008) points out, economic informality is conventionally defined negatively, that is, as lacking state regulation. This creates a shallow understanding of the informal sector, neglecting the causes and internal dynamics at play (see Centeno 8c Portes 2006). This article addresses this limited understanding by analyzing the processes of regulation in the informal cross-border trade in Uganda, and responds to Meagher's statement that it is necessary to find an "approach that identifies the informal economy, not as an absence of regulation, but as alternative forms of regulation operating below and beyond the framework of the state" (2008:4; see also Meagher 2011; Meagher 8c Lindell 2013). Specifically, the article argues that the regulation of informal cross-border trade can best be described as a function of "hybrid governance," the result of interactions between state and nonstate actors. …

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