Late nights at the “market of the unsold”

This article by Guillaume Iyenda on the lives of street vendors in Kinshasa’s informal economy is nearly a decade old now, but it doesn’t seem like things have changed that much:

Our research showed that the highest diversity of sales took place between 10 and 12 in the morning. As many households consume only one meal a day, people prefer to do their shopping at this time and then cook a meal that is eaten between 4 and 5 p.m. In the late afternoon, sales are high in what is locally called the wenze ya bitula, the “market of the unsold”. Here, people generally sell all their perishable goods, which they are unable to keep from one day to the next because they lack freezers. As a result, these goods are sold at half price or less. Shoppers who most frequently use these markets are those who consume their one daily meal between 8 and 10 p.m.; most of them have to wait for the main income earner to return from work, bringing back the daily money for the food shopping.

Interesting throughout.  He also has a related paper [PDF] on how street food preparation is a primary source of income for many women in Kinshasa whose husbands are disabled or unemployed.

Globalization from below in wax print fabrics

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(Image source)

Globalization is often portrayed as something that is imposed on people in Africa, not as a process which they can seek to mediate or even actively participate in.  Nina Sylvanus has a piece on Togolese imports of Chinese-made wax print fabrics (gated) in the April edition of African Studies Review which challenges this narrative:

[Fabric trader Antoinette] Mensah’s first experiences with the Chinese were in 1995. She had brought a set of samples, mostly non–wax prints, to Bangkok, and she wished to reproduce them as economically as possible. She met a Thai entrepreneur who introduced her to a colleague in Hong Kong who was the head of several textile manufacturing units. She worked with this Chinese manufacturer in Hong Kong for several weeks, and recalls his many misconceptions about African tastes. She had to point out repeatedly, for example, that her concern for her profit margin did not mean that she would accept goods that were shoddy or cheap…  [The] fabrics met with immediate success [in Togo]… [However, by] 1996, she was confronted with a … challenge: a group of Togolese traders had her prints reproduced in India and copies of [her] fabrics entered the market.

Over at Living Anthropologically, Jason Antrosio makes a similar point that 21st-century globalization can only amaze us if we forget the past.

Links of the day

  1. Stability, the International Journal of Security and Development, is a new open-access journal which aims to quickly get relevant academic research to policymakers.
  2. Tom Murphy points out that cancer kills many more people in low income countries each year than does HIV, and Think Africa Press writes that the severe lack of opiates in Africa makes palliative care for cancer victims quite difficult.
  3. Must African presidential aspirants go to prison before they take higher office? (In French)
  4. Videos of cash transfer recipients in Kenya and Mozambique telling their stories in their own words.
  5. A new RCT questions the external validity of RCT-proven results (a political economy story about implementing organizations), and a study from Brazil finds that rainfall fluctuations during pregnancy are associated with changes in infant health outcomes, calling the use of rainfall as an instrument for just about everything into question.

A different look at global income inequality

Something that has long struck me about modern discourses on international development is the idea that poverty is somehow shocking, an aberrance in our age of wealth.  It’s not!  Plenty of people in the world live in the way that humans have lived for most of history.  If anything, it is the wealth of the developed West that is profoundly and ahistorically abnormal.

Worldmapper has some good maps of population and wealth through history that offer a bit of perspective on this topic.  Data for year 1 CE was taken from Angus Maddison’s historical estimates of the world economy.  Check out these maps of estimated population and wealth at this time:

Population, 1 CE (source)

Wealth, 1 CE (source)

You’ll note that the maps are virtually identical, reflecting the facts that per capita GDP (imputed to modern territories, as these states obviously didn’t exist in 1 CE) varied extremely little around the world.  Maddison has estimated it at an average of $445 annually per person.

Now check out population and wealth in 2000:

Population, 2000 CE (source)

Wealth, 2002 CE (source)

Hello disparities!  Latin America is the only region where wealth appears to have grown roughly commensurately with population.  The US, Europe and Japan, of course, are looking a bit bloated, whilst most of sub-Saharan Africa appears to be doing worse (relative to the rest of the world) than it was 2000 years ago.  Average global per capita GDP in 2000 was about $5200, meaning that even the massive population growth of the last two millennia has not prevented the world’s citizens from growing (on average) more than ten times as rich as they were in 1 CE.

Resources & the ease of doing business in Africa

Afrographique is well-worth checking out for its gorgeous representations of various African statistics.  Take a look at this graph of foreign investment in 2009 (original post here):

Investment levels seem strongly correlated with natural resources (no surprise there), but don’t appear to have much relation to the ease of doing business in a country.  Nigeria, Sudan, Angola, and the Republic of Congo are all major oil exporters, even though of the 46 African countries the World Bank included in its 2011 Doing Business rankings*, they were respectively rated #17, 25, 31 and 40.  Chad, at #46, had more investment than Botswana at #3. And Somalia, a failed state that didn’t even make it into the Doing Business rankings, had only a touch less investment than vaunted reformer Rwanda.  Fascinating stuff.

*Only the current year’s data are up on the Doing Business site, and some countries have shifted rankings between 2009 (for which we have investment data) and 2011 (the business rankings).  For instance, I know that the DRC went from 183 of 183 in the world in Doing Business 2009 to a less whopping 175 of 183 in 2011.  That said, with the exception of unusually rapid reformers such as Rwanda, I doubt the investment climate has changed that significantly (with the exception of political unrest) in most countries over the last two years.