Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Informal Economies and Urban Governance in Nigeria: Popular Empowerment or Political Exclusion?


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.


Cet article examine la manière dont les stratégies populaires organisationelles et les mécanismes de gestion des problèmes impactent les trajectoires plus larges de la gouvernance urbaine en Afrique contemporaine. Est-ce que la prolifération de réseaux informels d'échanges et d'organisations dans les milieux urbains pauvres incitent à une prise de pouvoir économique et à une participation populaire ou bien est-ce qu'elles perturbent le dévelopement institutionnel et aménent la pauvreté, le conflit social et le chaos? Au delà des analyses circulaires reliant les stratégies populaires et la gouvernance urbaine, cet article explore le lien entre les stratégies populaires et les résultats structurels, se concentrant sur la manière dont le processus institutionnel et les relations de pouvoir façonnent l'accès des populations défavorisées aux ressources et aux structures décisionnelles dans les environnements urbains de l'Afrique. Les études de cas au Niger retracent le processus selon lequel la libéralisation a fragmenté les stratégies organisationnelles informelles en réseaux d'accumulation et de survie qui tendent à marginaliser les intérêts des pauvres à l'intérieur d'entreprises associatives informelles. Les stratégies politiques distinctes des associations parimoniales et modernistes sont analysées pour montrer comment le capital social des acteurs économiques informels est incapable de traverser les barrières de la marginalisation sociale et économique qui les enferment dans des formes clientèles politisées. Ainsi les niveaux élevés d'organisation informelle et de “capital social” pourraient etre la cause du manque de représentation politique et d'une gouvernance ineffective.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

J. Beall 2001. “From Social Networks to Public Action in Urban Governance: Where Does Benefit Accrue?Journal of International Development 13: 1015–21.

M. Davis , 2006. Planet of Slums. New York: Verso Books.

N. Devas 2001. “Does City Governance Matter for the Urban Poor?International Planning Studies 6 (4): 393408.

P. B. Evans 1996. “Government Action, Social Capital and Development: Reviewing the Evidence on Synergy.” World Development 24 (6): 1119–32.

F. Fukuyama 1995. Social Capital and the Global Economy. Foreign Affairs 74 (5): 89103.

M. Granovetter 1983. “The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited.” Sociological Theory 1: 201–33.

H. C. Haan 1999. “MSE Association and Enterprise Promotion in Africa.” In Enterprise, in Africa: Between Poverty and Growth, edited by K. King and S. McGrath , 156–68. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

E. A. Isichei 1976. A History of the Igbo People. London: Macmillan.

P. Knorringa 1999. “Agra: An Old Cluster Facing New Competition.” World Development 27 (9): 1587–604.

A. M. Larson , and F. Soto . 2008. “Decentralization of Natural Resource Governance Regimes.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 33: 213–39.

S. M. Martin 1988. Palm Oil and Protest: An Economic History of the Ngwa Region, South-Eastern Nigeria, 1800–1980. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

K. Meagher 2005. “Social Capital or Analytical Liability? Social Networks and African Informal Economies.” Global Networks 5 (3): 217–38.

K. Meagher 2006. “Social Capital, Social Liabilities, and Political Capital: Social Networks and Informal Manufacturing in Nigeria.” African Affairs 105 (421): 553–82.

K. Meagher . 2007a. “Hijacking Civil Society: The Inside Story of the Bakassi Boys Vigilante Group of South-Eastern Nigeria.” Journal of Modern African Studies 45 (1): 89115.

K. Meagher . 2007b. “Manufacturing Disorder: Liberalization, Informal Enterprise and Economic ‘Ungovernance’ in African Small Firm Clusters.” Development and Change 38 (3): 473503.

D. Mitlin 2001. “The Formal and Informal Worlds of State and Civil Society: What Do They Offer to the Urban Poor?International Planning Studies 6 (4): 377–92.

C. Moser 1996. “The Asset Vulnerability Framework: Reassessing Urban Poverty Reduction Strategies.” World Development 26 (1): 119.

D. C. North 1990. Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

A. O'Hear 1987. “Craft Industries in Ilorin: Dependency or Independence?African Affairs 86 (345): 505–21.

C. Rakodi 2001. “Urban Governance and Poverty—Addressing Needs, Asserting Claims: An Editorial Introduction.” International Planning Studies 6 (4): 343–56.

A. Simone , 2004a. For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

A. Simone . 2004b. “People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg.” Public Culture 16 (3): 407–29.

J. Tendler 2002. “Small Firms, the Informal Sector and the Devil's Deal.” IDS Bulletin 33 (3): 98104.

L. Villalon 1995. Islamic Society and Stale Power in Senegal: Disciples and Citizens in Fatick. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

J. S. Wunsch , and D. Olowu . 1997. “Regime Transformation from Below: Decentralization, Local Governance, and Democratic Reform in Nigeria.” Studies in Comparative International Development 31 (4): 6682.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

African Studies Review
  • ISSN: 0002-0206
  • EISSN: 1555-2462
  • URL: /core/journals/african-studies-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 126 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 281 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th July 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.