The recently published report on Dar es Salaam’s environment, which was initiated by the Environment Division of the Vice President’s office, had more other findings apart from the revelation that the city is seriously polluted. For example what is also unearthed about the informal sector is too important to be taken lightly.
The data in the report show that about 46% of Dar residents are unemployed, while 95% of those working are in the informal sector. A mere 5% of those working are in formal employment.
Given the fact that much is being said about informal employment, most of us today understand what kind of people belong to this category. They include tailors, welders, small traders, food vendors, cobblers, freelance photographers, brick makers, saloon operators and musicians.
The list of informal sector activities which most urban dwellers engage in for the sake of survival is as long as it is interesting.
Informal employment is not just an urban practice. There are all sorts of self employed workers in rural areas, including primary and secondary school leavers who prefer petty trading to farming, and other informal sector undertakings. The rural informal sector seems to grow significantly year after year, as is the case in the urban environment.
What does this kind of scenario imply? To put it simply, all signs indicate that the sector has a unique role to play in the development of underdeveloped countries like ours. Research has established that the contribution of the informal sector to the total national wealth produced and services provided is substantial.
We are told that in Tanzania the sector contributes above 32% to the country’s GDP. The rising youth unemployment is still somehow manageable today, thanks to the informal sector window.
What would be happening in a city like Dar es Salaam or Mwanza today if thousands of youths who are earning a living by offering motorcycle passenger services, running kiosks, selling ‘mitumba’ in open markets etc., were completely idle?
Your guess on the above question is probably as good as mine, but chances are that the rate of urban crime in our midst would have been worse in the absence of the informal sector safety valve.
One would argue that this is another major reason why informal sector activities must be taken seriously, for the good of those who earn an income from it, those who benefit from the services provided, as well as the wider public which enjoy more security as an indirect benefit.
Yet more questions on the informal sector still arise, and beg urgent answers. Is the informal sector really recognised and appreciated? If it is, are adequate efforts being made to improve it in the interest of those engaged in it and society as a whole?
Admittedly, some research on its magnitude and impact to our society has been conducted by several institutions, including the Research on Poverty Alleviation Programme (REPOA), as well as academicians in other local universities. These deserve a pat on the back for taking time to study this vital area involving people determined to employ their energy and determination in order to survive or get out of poverty - if conditions allow.
Recommendations have been given on how to improve the sector but, unfortunately, there are no visible signs to show that it is improving appreciably. Most of those engaged in it are not making much progress and its potential to country’s development is not fully harnessed.
The informal sector continues to experience the same problems they have had for decades. Lack of capital continues to haunt small entrepreneurs, despite the fact that they are not normally asking for a big amount to promote their small businesses. It is due to this poor funding that the International Labour Organization (ILO) consider most informal sector activities as survival one with no future
Some face licensing setbacks when they decide to be more formal in their business approach. Being unnecessarily harassed is part of life for some citizens who depend on informal sector activities for their livelihood. The list is long.
You have those who suggest that may be there is need to have a full ministry to handle and promote the informal sector. Probably they have a point.
Henry Muhanika is a media consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org