This article examines how popular organizational strategies and coping mechanisms affect broader trajectories of urban governance in contemporary Africa. Does the proliferation of informal livelihood networks and associations foster economic empowerment and popular political participation, or do these informal processes breed poverty and organizational chaos? This article explores the link between popular organizational strategies and structural outcomes, focusing on how institutional process and power relations shape the access of the poor to resources and decision-making structures in decentralizing urban environments. Case studies from Nigeria trace how liberalization has fragmented informal organizational strategies into networks of accumulation and survival that tend to marginalize the interests of the poor within informal enterprise associations. Distinctive political strategies of informal enterprise associations are analyzed to show why dynamic informal organization is unable to break through the barriers of social and legal marginalization that trap the urban poor in cliental forms of political incorporation. This suggests that “social capital” within the informal economy may fail to improve popular political representation and governance outcomes even in contexts of decentralization.
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