DEADLINE EXTENDED: CALL FOR PAPERS: Urbanization and Street Vendors


Urbanization and Street Vendors

International Conference

Nairobi, November 9-10, 2016

IFRA-Nairobi, in collaboration with Institut Français, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, University of Nairobi, Jomo Kenyatta University and BIEA are pleased to invite submission of paper proposals.

The paper proposals should be sent to


Abstract in English: 500 to 600 words

5 to 7 keywords

Proposal with Title, Author(s) and affiliation(s), Internet address of the author(s)

Abstract should present the research questions, the context, methodology, field and main results.

The paper will be evaluated by the Scientific Committee

Deadline: June 10, 2016

Decision will be sent by E-mail



This conference will take place after a series of public forums held within Kenya. The Forums are aimed at bringing street vendors together with NGO civics, local authorities in charge of urban management and academics with an aim of understanding the dynamics of Street Vending. The conference will allow for the presentation of information acquired during the forums, and will put into perspective Kenyan case studies in comparison to other African examples.

Nairobi, in the mid-2000s: some 500 000 street vendors wear themselves out almost every day, selling often cheap goods to their urban clientele. Even though the number of proper shops and shopping malls has greatly increased, informal hawking persists and grows, allowing for the occurrence of innumerable exchanges in the daily life for a large segment of the urban population. While this movement does not seem to be halting within African cities, the local authorities consider street hawking a problem for urban management and planning even though this activity is a source of income for a large number of city-dwellers. The misunderstanding of and the lack of formal recognition for street vending puts this sector in a precarious position and perpetuates the existence of a conflictual environment, as seen in the numerous forced evacuations or even the everyday corruption of municipal agents. Informal trade also characterises a large part of urban-rural commercial linkages. Hawkers, either from urban or rural areas connect towns and villages through their commercial activity. These mobile vendors organise commercial movements which are not well documented with regards to informality and a large part of these flows evade State regulation. Moreover, informal vending, both in rural and urban areas, particularly the one of imported items, is integrated into global networks.

The conference will bring academics from multiple disciplines, approaches and regions, with an aim to address informal vending as an individual and a collective resource. It will address issues like the spatial dynamics of street vending, the landscape of actors and politics of street vending, the urban governance and the public space, the circulations and urban-rural linkages of informal vending and the insertion of informal vending to transnational networks.


Main Line of Argument and Conference Objectives

The concentration of people and activities within cities, in a context of urban mismanagement, exemplifies the tensions between the people and the authorities, the latter being hardly able to enforce order as well as the growing number of citizens excluded from formal employment. Whether in the administrative sector or within the formal private sector, the prospect of professional employment appears bleak at best for a large number of city-dwellers. As a result, the informal sector remains an important alternative in the urban setting. The informal sector is difficult to quantify because it eludes normative, statistic, administrative or fiscal study. UN-Habitat estimates that between 20 and 60% of urban employment in developing countries is within the informal sector, and that this figure is 35% in Nairobi (UN-Habitat, 2006).The main difficulty is in the identification and the definition of this flexible sector, as informal activities are often closely intertwined with formal economic activities.

Street vending is inserted into the backdrop of the city, the street sales are integrated into the revenue systems of numerous urban households. However, despite its scale, its role in the reduction of economic and social exclusion, street hawking is little understood and not well recognised by the local authorities. Street traders operate, most of the time, without urban infrastructures or urban services, thus casting doubts on the responsibility of the State and the right to the city.

If economic crises and the political effects of structural adjustments had been the pretexts of tolerance relating to the occupation of urban space by street vendors, efforts to restore the urban order are regularly carried out and sometimes lead to the quasi-military expulsions of street hawkers from precariously-occupied zones. Yet, during elections, street vendors’ support is actively sought. Those relegated to the side-lines also find themselves at the heart of rivalries between political figures.  Overwhelmingly however, the environment in which street hawking operates is often qualified as being hostile and conflicts over the use of urban space are frequent. Indeed, street hawkers are also the objects of harassment, of violence, of extortion and of the confiscation of goods by authorities.

Hawking activities and informality are often associated with the city although goods sold in informal trade move from towns to rural areas and vice versa. Indeed, there are flows of commercial food crops from rural areas to towns and flows of imported items from towns to rural areas. Agricultural commercial networks and the supplying of the rural markets with imported goods have connected rural areas with urban areas for decades, but from the 2000s, Cheap Chinese items have flooded rural markets and the development of the Cheap Chinese items sector intensifies the relations between rural areas and urban areas. Hawkers, either from urban or rural areas, connect towns and villages through their commercial activities. These mobile vendors linking towns and the country side organise some commercial movements which are not well documented with regards to informality as a large part of these flows evade State regulation.

Moreover, informal vending of imported goods, both in urban and rural areas is connected to transnational networks. Metropolis such as Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Kampala, etc. are the most visible aspect of the transnational commercial networks, especially in regards to Chinese imported items. In these international trading posts, Chinese goods acquire singular commercial centrality and they contribute to new spatial differentiation and results from a combination of local and extra-local forces. Mobility of rural hawkers and street peddlers, and informal petty trade are complementary with transnational circulation as they are part of the same commercial road.

During the Conference, participants will reflect on a series of key questions: how informal vending is organised, how can it be better understood and recognised in order to diminish the precarious situation it is in? How can street hawking, a common practice structurally anchored in the city, be integrated into urban planning policies? How should a participative approach to urban planning be conceived? What are the spatial dynamics of street vending? How can street vending and urban-rural hawking explain the notion of “informality” and the linkages between formal and informal activities? What is the daily local governance and the socio-political space of street vending?  What are the connections between informal vendors, both in rural and urban areas, with transnational networks? How do urban-rural hawkers contribute to new connections between the towns and the country side?

The conference will also be the occasion for putting into perspective Francophone and Anglophone literature, approaches and experiences.


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