Forces for Change: informal economy organisations in Africa
Source: War on Want

Forces for Change: informal economy organisations in Africa

May 2006

A joint research report by War on Want, the Workers Education Association Zambia (WEAZ) and the Alliance for Zambia Informal Economy Associations (AZIEA)

Structural adjustment policies in the late 1980s and early 1990s have significantly contributed towards a rapid growth of the informal economy in many African countries. These policies encouraged governments to liberalise trade, to privatise state-owned enterprises and to reduce the size of the public sector. This led to a sharp decrease in employment in the formal sector and forced many to survive in highly precarious and insecure conditions in the informal economy.

A joint research report by War on Want, the Workers Education Association Zambia (WEAZ) and the Alliance for Zambia Informal Economy Associations (AZIEA) shows that in the past decades different organisations have been established in Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, with the purpose of representing the views of street traders, market vendors and other informal economy workers. National alliances of different informal economy organisations have been formed in e.g. Ghana and Zambia. Despite these developments, this research report shows that these organisations have not been sufficiently consulted by local and central governments.

Summary of research findings:

  • While the informal economy is estimated to contribute between 38 and 49 percent towards the GNP of the four countries included in this study, workers in the informal economy have only gradually been acknowledged as stakeholders in policy formulation processes.


  • Although the informal economy provides employment to between 70 and 90 percent of the labour force in Africa, none of the informal economy organisations part of our research project were involved in the consultation process leading up to the formulation of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP).


  • Governments have not adequately addressed the needs of informal economy workers in local and central government policies.


  • This report recommends:

  • trade union federations to include representatives from informal economy organisations in their official delegation to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Annual Conference in Geneva;


  • trade union federations to promote supportive relations between trade unions and informal economy organisations;


  • trade union federations and central governments to include informal economy organisations into tripartite negotiation platforms;


  • central and local governments to establish legal institutions that will compel government to a dialogue with informal economy organisations;


  • central governments to engage informal economy organisations into policy formulation processes such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) consultation;


  • the International Labour Organisation - Bureau for Workers' Activities (ILO-ACTRAV) to invite representatives from informal economy organisations whenever organising activities on the informal economy;


  • informal economy organisations to consider investing into research capacity building in order to enable organisations to analyse policy changes and to provide an analytical response to these changes.


  • War on Want fights poverty in developing countries in partnership and solidarity with people affected by globalisation. We campaign for workers' rights and against the root causes of global poverty, inequality and injustice.

    Alliance of Zambian Informal Economy Associations (AZIEA) was formed in October 2002 with the assistance of the Workers' Education Association of Zambia (WEAZ), supported by Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). It aims to promote the full recognition and protection of informal economy workers in community and national development.

    Workers Education Association Zambia (WEAZ) was created to attend to the needs of education and traing of trade unions and their affiliates due to the high unemployment in Zambia and the growing informal sector.

    Download the report here




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