II-4. Popular Economies and Mutual Aid in Africa in the Era of Uncertainty

Convener: Daria A. Zelenova (Institute for African Studies, Moscow, Russia); e-mail: d.zelenova@gmail.com, Vladislav Kruchinsky (Institute for African Studies, Moscow, Russia); e-mail: vladislav.kruchinsky@gmail.com

Over the course of the 20th century, unregulated economic activities in forms of various mutual aid groups served as the main economic safety cushion for the African urban poor. In the last twenty years, after the introduction of economic practices and ideologies of neo-liberalism in many African countries, the idea of “self-help” and economic empowerment associated with social uplifting of the poor has become a dominant concept and essentially the backbone of many state policies. In the academic literature a popular vision of contemporary African urban poor as “heroic entrepreneurs” (de Soto 2000) which should take their destiny in their own hands is challenged from the left and Marxist thinkers who find it unfair to place responsibility on the poor to solve the problems of structural unemployment, exploitation and inequality which were caused by neoliberal policies (Ballard 2016). At this panel we would like to foster the debate which looks closer at this dilemma and discuss informal and semi-formal money making practices of the urban poor in different African contexts. We encourage ethnographically and theoretically informed contributions dealing with the contemporary popular economic practices in the African cities. Key issues to be discussed at the panel:
- Informal money making (ponzi schemes, gambling, multi-level marketing schemes): between economic opportunism and survival strategy;
- Risk-taking as an economic strategy: survival or enrichment?
- The changing role of the ‘classical’ mutual aid schemes and Rotating Credit and Savings Associations in the context of the global financialization, precarization and uncertainty;
- The role of the state in economic mutuality practices of the poor;
- The dichotomy of formal (visible) and informal (invisible) in considering everyday economic activities of the urban poor.