Tanzania's Informal Economy

The Micro-politics of Street Vending

Alexis Malefakis


An in-depth study of street trading in Dar es Salaam, revealing the hidden dimensions of the city’s thriving informal economy.

The market places and street corners of Dar es Salaam are home to a thriving informal economy of street vendors selling secondhand clothing and other goods. These street vendors often live a precarious existence, under pressure from state authorities and international markets. In addition to these external pressures, the experiences of such vendors are also shaped by a complex interplay of internal tensions, rivalries and conflicting communal ties. Such internal dynamics are a common part of informal economies around the world, but have largely gone unrecognised and unexamined by academic scholarship.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork and extensive interviews with vendors living and working in Dar es Salaam, Malefakis’s book offers a nuanced portrait of those trying to carve out a livelihood in a major African city, one in which ties of kinship and ethnicity are often viewed as a barrier, rather than an aid, to success. In the process, Malefakis provides an invaluable new perspective on the way in which co-operation, or lack thereof, functions in an informal economy, as well as insight into the lived experiences of those who depend on such economies.

Author Bio

Alexis Malefakis is Africa curator of the Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich, where he also works as an academic researcher. He previously lectured at the University of Konstanz, Germany. His previous works include Making a Living from Old Shoes: Tanzanian Street Vendors as Urban Experts (2016) and Auto Didaktika: Wire Models from Burundi (2017), both of which are based on exhibitions he curated at the museum.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • 1. Street Vending in Dar es Salaam
  • 2. Urban Perspectives on Rural Pasts: A Narrative of ‘being Wayao’ in Dar es Salaam
  • 3. The Micro-politics of Sociality among Wayao Street Vendors
  • 4. Too Familiar to Trust: A Paradox of Social Proximity
  • 5. The Creative Potential of Shoe Vending: Practices and Emerging Sociality
  • 6. Carrying Knowledge through the Streets: Old Shoes as Meaningful Objects
  • 7. Sharing is Daring: Cooperation at the Kijiweni
  • 8. Creating a Market where there is none: The Spatial Practices of Street Vending
  • Conclusion: Stuck in an Extended Present


Publication Date: 17 June 2021
192 pages


Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781786994516

In Print

Product ISBNs: Hardback: 9781786994509
eBook ePub: 9781786994530
eBook PDF: 9781786994523
eBook Kindle: 9781786994547

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