n Africa Insight - Issues in African informality - what is the relevance for regional or continental integration?

Volume 48 Number 1
  • ISSN : 0256-2804


This paper illuminates the disputed and often tainted reality of informality in Africa, focusing on two key components of the informal economy – employment and production. Simultaneously, it highlights three key issues in informality that bear on regional integration by the way they relate to spatial borders. The paper draws on a thorough review of the literature and documentary evidence on informality, borders and regional integration. The evidence shows that, though difficult to assess, the informal economy is a permanent African reality that dates back to the Iron Age. It is a source of employment for many, sustains livelihoods and contributes to local, national and regional economies, as well as to regional economic integration from the bottom up. On their part, nation-state borders in Africa posture as regulators of movement, presenting severe restrictions; especially to the movement of undocumented labour migrants and informal traders. With supportive policies, however, cross-border traders could become useful partners of the state and the collective goal of African integration. They could help deepen integration by participating in measures designed to reduce non-tariff barriers to trade. Since grassroots actors suffer abuse and are ill-treated at borders and in host countries, and lack access to social protection, African borders should be transformed into functional bridges that link communities straddling proximate states. A desirable outcome would be to establish amorphous borderlands that would enhance economic, social and cultural integration.

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