Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1999


Massimo Repetti (1999) 'Token Salaries and Social Answers in Work Relations in Africa'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 2, <>

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Received: 29/01/99      Accepted: 29/04/99      Published: 30/6/99


In Dakar, faced with crisis and uncertainty, social answers begin to appear. Only those having a supportive social network could find a place in the labour's market.
The observation of the daily routine of any of Dakarís micro-businesses and its social aspects, reveals the wide area of interference that exists between waged worker and the relation networks with family and relatives, ethnic groups and Muslim brotherhoods. The urban economy is supported by a network of family, alliance, and client relations.
The overlap existing between waged and unwaged work can be understood only by looking closely at the network of social ties present outside the production site.
Switching from the analysis of urban work relationships in Africa to the analysis of social networks is almost spontaneous, because a system of relational actions and strategies grows around the figure of the worker.
The importance of the "strength of weak ties" in procuring employment is as a whole confirmed, but African sociability creates an intense inter-network relational interchange. Dakarís urban space feeds a "popular economy" where social networks and the gift-giving logic co-exist with market economy. This economy utilise different wage embryos or tokens salaries for each of the social players.

Informal Economy; Senegal; Social Networks; Urban Work; Weak Ties; Work Relations


Working for free is quite normal in Senegal. Production activities are carried out by unpaid workers pretty much everywhere. The observation of the daily routine of any of Dakar's micro-businesses reveals that tasks are shared according to gender and age, both in the city and in the countryside. Any given small business may very well employ a few apprentices, paid in kind with food prepared by the proprietor's wife and served by his daughter, a couple of friends doubling up at a second job, paid with a share of the product, the younger son peddling on the street, and the farmer relative who lends a hand in exchange for a place to sleep in the city during the idle season at the farm - a real mini-universe.

This economy is in fact impervious to any type of organised wage scheme, choosing instead to utilise different wage embryos or tokens for each of the social players.

From our European perspective, it appears to us that the wage is being "confiscated" by the owner of the business, but this is not actually the case. We must get used to and consider it "normal" that people should work for free in the morning, be paid with a percentage of the sales in the afternoon, and top up their income at a waged job or by running a small personal business in their spare time.

We could also try to give some sort of a low-level explanation to the phenomenon. And this is the direction in which we will move.

Background of the Study

I was able to undertake a field study in Dakar for seventeen months in 1995 and 1996 thanks to an agreement between Italy and Senegal. This research, focusing on urban work and its social aspects, took place in the working-class districts of Grand Medine and HLM Fass. I deliberately concentrated my observations to that intermediate social layer which, while often retaining strong ties to its rural origin and its migratory path, is firmly anchored to the city.

The research did not employ particularly original methodologies. Four data gathering procedures - documentary analysis (especially of the "grey literature" of the Conseil Economique et Social, the National Census and Land Registry Maps), a questionnaire, direct observation, and interviews - provided me with a good understanding of the urban environment and the prevailing economic situation in Senegal.

Let us look now at two of the steps of the research: the preparation of the questionnaire and of the interview outline.

The eighteen-point questionnaire tallied age, gender, activity, ethnic origin, religion, brotherhood affiliation, origin, and kinship status of 382 male and female workers (representing 3.4% of the 21-25 and 25-29 cohorts identified by the 1988 RGPH general census for the two sample districts) and analysed the type of economic activities, the role of women in the social allocation of work, the importance of social networks in the access to the work market and production relationships. A weighed selection (based on social status and roles) of 35 people interviewed in 19 workshops, allowed me to quantify both the annual budget of the entrepreneur, the waiting time before starting an activity, and the number of apprentices and workers employed by the workshop, as well as to gain an insight into issues such as the relation of the waged worker vis a vis with the entrepreneur, the relation networks with family and relatives, ethnic groups and Muslim brotherhoods, and finally the role of "resource-men" in providing access to credit and first job. Listed from the largest to the smallest, the interviews and the questionnaire interested the following professional groups: workshop proprietors and their waged workers, informal workers, merchants, clerical workers, domestic help, fishermen.

To paint a picture of the work relations in Dakar I mainly used the information provided by the life history of waged workers and entrepreneurs, the allocation of tasks and the organisational rules in workshops, power relationships and the obligations arising from social status. This article describes the findings relative to the social issues of the organisation of work relations.

In consideration of the fact that the knowledge of the ethnologist is firmly anchored to the microsocial level, after an exploratory and analytical stage of the sample areas (the cluster of houses, the street, the market), I deemed it opportune to switch to a situational perspective and to resort to interviews, in order to understand the strategies of the actors and their relations that, even from my first field days - and because of the distance effect caused by my xonq nop[1] status - had appeared to me as a whole coherent with the practice of daily life in the urban territory. By the end of my survey, I myself also had formed a social network, modelled on the relational strategies of Dakar, that allowed me to access the information

Next to a main network formed by the family of my landlord and a group of waged workers and craftsmen, I used an auxiliary network formed by the minimal interactions re-created everyday, such as occasional meetings, neighbours, friends and relatives of the interviewed. I made use therefore of the "traffic" relations specific to a urban context (Hannerz, 1983). While this group of relations allowed me as a whole to impregnate (de Sardan, 1995) into the urban context and introduced me into the circuit of obligations specific to the field of survey, this field policy was not free from practical consequences.

Besides the important implications resulting from my status as a researcher in the development of the survey, I constantly also had to decrypt the position that the informants attributed to me as "researcher".

Work in Senegal - General Characteristics

Before being able to carry out an analysis of urban work in Africa, one must acknowledge that the classic production site centric model is insufficient.

The simple example I used to introduce the issue reveals the wide area of interference that exists between micro-business, family life, and all the other activities which are not part of so-called waged work. Moreover, with the notable exception of "cutting edge" productions (using imported technology and being, as a matter of fact, simple appendages of foreign production systems with a very low impact on the local work market), the first thing that can be seen in any African workshop is that it operates following patterns which have very little to do with the waged worker archetype, as it is perceived in a "classic" economy. Its operation resembles more a surprising anarchy than the implacable and alienating work hell found in a capitalistic relationship.

Even when wages are present, the traits that exist are more characteristic of unwaged work: unsteady production, subject to cash and stocking problems, low and irregular productivity, hiring and dismissals completely outside the free market, low returns on invested capitals, undetermined wages.

In African practice, there is an overlap between waged and unwaged work that can be understood only by looking closely at the network of social ties present outside the production site.

To better understand the underlying social dynamics and explain the apparent paradoxes, it would be helpful to reformulate the issue from a social and anthropological point of view, in terms of work relations politics.

This procedure is applied here, in relation to accessing the work market in the city of Dakar, a node of transformation that well represents what African capitals have become today.

Dakar's work market appears to be experiencing a deep crisis. Official unemployment figures indicate an increase from 18.6% in 1989 to 24.4%[2] in 1994.

According to ORSTOM[3], it is estimated that about a third of all Senegalese born after the independence will not be able to enter the work market before thirty years of age. As a direct result of the crisis, and by having to enter into an urban territory populated with patterns bearing little relation to the actual economic resources, they will experience difficulties in finding a job.

The number of first-job seekers is especially important. In 1989 they accounted for 67% of the total unemployed population and 14% of the available workforce[4]. My researches have found that in Dakar, 83% of the population between the ages of 20 and 24 do not currently receive wages (60% for the 25-29 years bracket). Even if the rate of unemployment for waged work is double the figures found for other sectors, self-employed work does not seem to attract the younger generation, and remains constant across age groups, accounting for about 1/5 of the first jobs in Dakar.

Paradoxically, the strains on the work market have led to more women finding jobs, resulting in changes to the structure of family occupations. As husbands and sons' jobs provide less purchasing power and become more and more uncertain, a greater number of married women have to find jobs, especially in the traditionally more accessible commercial sector (Islam looks favourable upon commerce by women, in memory of Mohammed's rich wife, Khadidja).

Subsistence work by selling food, vegetables and handicrafts, where women represent 36.7 % of the work force[5], cannot provide further capacity in terms of waged work, nor can it allow economic success to every woman.

Another paradox is that rural immigrants find jobs quicker.

Contrary to common conception, in Dakar - like in other cities of developing countries - unemployment hits the urbanised population harder. This is because of the selection that takes place at the start: Only those having a supportive social network in the city will invest in the migration. Another explanation is that immigrants will accept low-value occupations

This findings contradict a href="#todaro1970">Michael model. In his model - used until now in all literature on work in Africa - Todaro distinguishes between three sectors: A "rural" sector, consisting of small production units, a 'modern' sector, where waged work is the rule, and a transitional 'urban' sector (called 'informal') consisting of self-employed workers .

Significance and Function of the Informal Sector

Unlike the capital-hungry industrial economy, Dakar's urban economy is labour intensive: The 29,639 micro-businesses of Dakar employ 57,413 people (CES, 1994) and the flexibility of the informal sector is able to absorb workers that do not posses specific qualifications.

The "urban informal sector" consists of modern and traditional craftmaking, services, transportation and commerce, from the "microtrade" of cigarettes, sugar lumps and tea bags to international trading. As a result, even the social morphology of the informal sector includes different positions: The consumption patterns of entrepreneurs corresponds to that of the middle and upper echelons of the Public Sector, while the mass of "informal" traders lives lives of uncertainty, without perspectives for savings, investments, and social and economic improvements.

Three quarters of this "positionless population" consist of unskilled labourers, drivers, guards, workshop assistants, street peddlers with occasional low- or no-pay occupations such as shoe polishers, collective taxi fare collectors, cola nut sellers, etc.

Unfortunately, this type of economy does not change vertical mobility possibilities (both professional and residential). The roles in urban work are self-replicating and, more often than not, entry into the informal sector - which does not possess "passage" functions - is synonymous with marginalisation. Small is not always beautiful, and more importantly, the informal sector does not have the resources necessary to allow technological innovation and personnel training.

By "informal economy" we indicate all those activities that escape the regulatory control of the State. The Bureau International du Travail (Sethuraman, 1976) defines the "informal sector" as an economic sector that cannot be controlled with regulations and structures created according to the needs of public bodies, and is therefore unable to meet social requirements of job security, health care, safety on the workplace. Unreliability of income and absence of social security encourage "informal" workers to create alternative structures of mutual assistance.

Within the informal sector, the main types of activity revealed by the survey are the performance of services (especially maintenance and repair), the conversion of recovered products (glass, crates, tyres, etc.), home-based craft-type activities requiring minimal capital and low professional qualifications (woodcarving, tailoring, preparation and sale of food), the transportation of goods and people, and small-scale retail sales (itinerant peddlers of food and small items "mbathcek"). To this list we can add, but only for younger ages (12-13 years old) shining shoes and helping (ralou-mane or coxer) in collective taxis, as well as washing and guarding cars.

From the viewpoint of a neo-classic conception - where the city allows free play to forces of supply and demand, and where rural immigrants play a levelling role on the urban work market - the 'informal' sector acts as a labour pool in the wage depression dynamics.

The typical itinerary of the immigrant calls for leaving the countryside forced by demographic pressures and low profitability of agricultural work and a for stabilisation period in the city with a temporary job in the informal sector while waiting for the final settlement.

The case of Dakar's workers, however, puts the equation between immigration, unemployment and 'informal' work back to the discussion table. Both a joint ORSTOM-IFAN study[6] covering the period from 1989 to 1991, and research that I have conducted in 1995-1996 found that the growth of the city[7] has a significant inter-urban migratory component, as 44% of the urbanised youth in the 25-34 age range comes from smaller Senegalese urban centres. This findings effectively obsolete the assumption that sees the countryside as a labour reservoir. The questionnaire, filled in by 382 people resident in the two districts, reveals that the 'informal' sector of the economy provides work for about 59% of the male workforce and 76% of the female workforce (either domestic help or involved in commercial activities), neither its size nor its composition reflect the assumptions of the neo-classic model.

It appears also that immigrants are not particularly attracted to this sector either, as they represent only one fifth of the total. To conclude, Philippe Bocquier finds that, in spite of the crisis of the Eighties, immigrants do not find access to waged work any more difficult than before (Bocquier, 1994).

These considerations seem to call for a re-evaluation of the impact of immigration on the urban work market in West Africa, at least for what concerns the current situation.

What perspectives?

Although urbanisation induces undeniable problems, stopping rural immigration will not produce a decrease of jobless figures, because immigrants appear to have very little impact on unemployment.

It is likely that in the wake of growing unemployment and as a result of the changes in work legislation that took place at the beginning of the Nineties (creation of the "Groupements d'Intérêt Economique")[8], we will see that transient and insecure waged work will become more and more normal, increasing as a result the possibilities of access to this type of work.

It appears sensible to expect also an increase of the presence of women on the work market, encouraged by current cultural modernisation dynamics. In 1989, the rate of participation to economic activities by women in Dakar[9] was 33.4%. The comparison with the nearest Sahel's capital, Bamako, (20% according to Kantiebo, 1991) and with other urban situations[10], demonstrate its importance.

Having said that, the majority of urban micro-businesses does not have a sufficient capacity of production to encourage employment, while the decrease of spending power by family groups accentuated competition and made the creation of new enterprises more difficult. While waiting for an hypothetical recovery of the Senegalese economy, the challenge for the next decade is undoubtedly curbing unemployment among urbanised youths.

The crisis that began at the beginning of the 1980s' has a significant impact on jobs in all cities in the Sahel: activities of 'small urban producers' lag, the public sector can offer two third fewer jobs to the generation born between 1955 and 1964 than to the previous 1945-1954 generation, while the informal sector is unable to accommodate the excess refused by the structured sector.

The current situation has further increased mobility on the waged work market. Considering that mobility is synonymous with job uncertainty in Dakar, it is very much likely that the persistent effect of the crisis, compounded by the significant pull back by the State from the work market under the impulse of the Structural Adjustment measures, will result in an increase of unemployment[11].

Faced with crisis and uncertainty, social answers begin to appear.

Social Relations in Lieu of Capital

Dakar's urban space feeds - at a microsocial level - numerous territorial, ethnic, and religious entities which weave more or less dense networks of relations.

A Wolof proverb[12] underlines that the wealth of a man is to be found in his relations: "Raffe del nêkk yeré, waaye ki rafle mmoy ki amul nit", that can be translated as: "He is not poor who is without clothes. He is poor who does not have anybody".

Wolof mentality sees the bulk of social relations as a form of social wealth, and virtually everyone in Dakar acknowledges belonging to one or more Associations aiming to increase "social support" and foster access to urban resources of work, housing, and social improvement.

Tontines and mbootay mutual aid societies, the neo-tribalism of A.V.D.'s[13] and the Islamic associationism (Islamic brotherhoods) implement relations of material co-operation and mutual solidarity, by binding workers with the structural ties of belonging to a same family, ethic group, religion, business.

Although the immigrant has left at the village community ties (family and lineage)[14], in the city, significant help to access the work market can be found in ethnic and religious brotherhood associations.

In particular, the Mourida Islamic Brotherhood, far from remaining dedicated to agricultural activities as propounded by its founder Amadou Bamba, has been able to integrate deeply into the Senegalese urban fabric. Thetaalibe, the members associated in dahira[15], are the most visible force of the small-scale economy of every city in Senegal: in Dakar they have a monopolistic hold on public transport, and are present in every commercial sector, creating a series of contacts which allow the domination of the Brotherhood on the work market.

The marabout[16] is aware of his role as an entrepreneur using his powers as a spiritual guide in a capitalistic economy: taalibe are required to pay the marabout a hadiya, a donation, either monetary or, as more common for unemployed, unwaged work, in exchange for benefits such as mediation with the institutions, protection, access to work at one of the innumerable informal microbusiness affiliated to the brotherhood, etc. of which Van Dijk (1986) counted 227 examples out of 467 businesses surveyed.

Work market, informal sector and religious brotherhood networks overlap in ways which appear almost matter of fact.

This urban economy in particular is supported by a network of family, alliance, and client relations.

While the ductility of the informal system is an attraction both for employers and employees, it requires the activation of caste-type ties[17] and familiar mutual support networks. This in turn illustrates the political mechanisms controlling access to work, as economic initiative operates out of a substantial social conservativism.

Some castes ("trade castes") organise work in specific sectors and show conversion abilities in urban situations. The ironmonger caste, for example, was able to preserve a professional monopoly in metal work, while acquiring new spaces in "imported" jobs such as mechanics and welding.

The single most active resource in the search for a job is the wider family, the mbokk. It is possible to speak of family strategies operating in the social and economic integration process of the youth in the urban environment.

My research found that the wider family was instrumental in finding jobs for 61.8% of the youth surveyed, by taking the role of a pressure group, and encouraging the hiring of apprentices from the craftsman's inner circle of acquaintances. Under these conditions, the role of the master craftsman shifts from the simple transmission of professional knowledge, to a formative and character-making relation.

The training of a minor with a business is formally a work relation, ruled by the provisions of the Code du Travail. In actual practise, however, this appears to be more like a habitual alliance between the family of the apprentice and the family of the owner of the business "replacing the insurance contract of you Europeans" and "joining the two parties" so that the "the master is certain that the father has brought somebody who is seriously willing to learn, and the boy is aware of that, and works".

The three forms of retribution - bed, meals and clothing - witness to the fact that the apprentice is treated "as a son". Unsurprisingly, apprentices are "screened" based on age and morality criteria, germane to the in-loco-parentis function conferred to the head of the business.

It is nowadays rare, however, for an apprentice to get more than the midday meal. This in turn requires the apprentice to meet his needs of food and shelter by relying on his parents when present, or on the resources of his own personal network.

The apprentice relationship manifests the persistence of the role of the family, not only in the hiring mechanism, as much as in the social support towards the youth and his difficulties, and represents, in the context of a same ethnic or caste group, the elder/younger relation proper of a lineage system.

Since urban life does not match exactly the relationships found in a rural environment, it is possible for the employer to circumvent the usual rewards (because they are very expensive in a city or because the abundance of labour allows him to do it) and the situation of the apprentice may turn to simple exploitation.

The interview with Ousmane, a young wood carver (age 16) of the lawbé caste who is working with a friend of his father, confirms the hypothesis that the youth has a very low political profile at his job: Ousmane receives no wages and must peddle his wares on the street. According to tradition, his father will donate him the tools at the end of the training period (about four years on average), but this is all that is left of the former lawbé solidarity.

The African urban work marker, characterised by the mobilisation of all available resources in a context subjected to both demographic and cultural constraints (population not proportionate to the available resources, and importance of family ties), demonstrates the validity of an approach which pays attention to the social implication of economic matters, and to the political dimension of African work relations, in which weights and counterweights are constantly negotiated, received or refused, as shown also by the following case study, which delineates a contrast, common in the informal sector, between the youths starting with their first job and the apprentices, with their control function that at times may become exploitative.

A Work Relation in Grand Medine

Jibi and Ibhraima are friends. They belong to the same dahira mourida and work together in the informal sector. Because of necessity, Jibi had to leave university and started work as an "apprentice driver" (ralou-mane) of a collective taxi. The owner of the vehicle (boroom) is the baay u jiitle (adoptive father) of the brother in law, and Ibhraima is the nephew of the owner on the mother's side (jarbaat). In a framework in which supply and demand are not balanced, employment becomes a function of family lineage and social network. Work organisation is family-based and patriarchal. Retributions are not based on productivity. Ibrahima's uncle does not distribute retributions according to a waged work logic, but based instead on his own needs and the position of the dependants within the extended family mbokk, such as age, gender, and marriage status. He controls the work directly or through his nephew, pays his personnel little, but, when he has money, donates to the poor. For this reason, Jibi considers him a jatigi, a benevolent friend, in the al-pulaar meaning of this term. Unfortunately for Jibi, his contractual position as a ralou-mane is weak: He claims to have by now "earned" his apprenticeship, and is unhappy of the pay but, at any rate, he prefers this situation to unemployment. He is grateful to the boroom to whom he owes his job, and considers that the authority of Ibhraima over his job is legitimate. This solidarity may be interpreted as a confirmation of the "customary" relations that Jibi refuses to change through trade-unionist associations.

In Jibi's case, the difference of treatment can be ascribed more to the cultural apportionment of work than to the fluctuation of the work market. His condition as an outsider to the family affects Jibi's work status, and while his belonging to a social network provided the job, it cannot provide its safety.

Ibrahima does little for his friend Jibi because, as the assistant to the boroom and a member of the family, he holds a different social position that requires, in any case, a mediation between the work relation and the comradery between nawlè, "peers". Age solidarity is subordinated to the law of family profit. Ibrahima attempts to reconcile the two opposite positions, but at the same time he takes advantage of the occasions to confirm his position. I learned from my neighbourhood relations that he often pays Jibi's small debts. This is a socially-related and non-economic investment that corresponds to the socially expected behaviour of persons having a higher social status, and that allows Ibrahima to strengthen friendship ties that might become useful in the future.

In the micro-business activities, the mobilisation of the social capital is almost mandatory, and the recourse to a third party constitutes the dominant model since every social player has, and must have, a protector.

When forming a G.I.E. (Groupement d'intérêt économique), for example, it is very common for a number of go-betweens or brokers to convene in order to complete the financial resources, obtain a credit, sell a good, obtain a workshop, obtain permits, etc.

All the influential persons of a neighbourhood or a social network are activated in the brokerage process, from the marabout to the political director, to the lawyer. Conversely, politicians intervene with the public administration to defend the interests of their client base. The "mandatory" interventions show how social networks span through the entire urban fabric of Dakar. They cross social and professional classes and, at the same time, supersede them. If we see that urban producer "cross" the society we have reason to think of their autonomy in an anthropological context, especially if we look at it in relation to work market dynamics.

The penetration of social relations revolving around urban micro-business is evident. All activities (small manufacturing, transportation, retail, telephone kiosks) are supported and expand on a wide range of social relations, influenced but not determined by the type of production and by the technology employed: This is the essential feature of the African work landscape.

The implications between social life and economics can be seen by looking back at the social position of Mouridi business men, which is indissolubly related to their status as redistributors of wealth: In addition to the symbolic investment of the hadiya, they are required to offer part of their profits to the members of the family, "Doomu ndey del nul mel na baraamu benn loxo" ("Womb brothers and sisters are like the fingers of one hand") and to the Brotherhood.

This practice all but prevents the accumulation of capital and, as a consequence, hinders economically productive investments.

The need for low-cost labour is an integral part of a mechanism in which economic production and social role are merged together.

The vague and irregular payment of wages is not a perverse effect of capitalist development. It is instead an intrinsic and durable phenomenon that has roots in the social and economic culture of the region: The persistence of family-based production relationships requires the profits to be redistributed among the extended family circle, and creates a system of personal rights and duties among the economic players. The paternalistic relations that are created between employer and employees require in turn compliance to existing social values.

If on one hand the recognition of the resulting personal status strengthens the position of the unwaged - as his rights are guaranteed by rules enforced by social consensus - on the other hand it keeps alive (and prosperous) the subordination of women to men and the younger to the elders.

Subordination and paternalism are not the prerogative of families. They are found also in the alliances and in the client networks surrounding businesses, and they allow the overlapping between the structured and the unwaged sectors which characterises this urban economy.

In African practice, where the apprentice is "a son" and the worker can be "a brother" to the employer, social relations become a sort of organic cement that ties together the various economic components and determines a political system full of variables, such as for example the civil servant that grants a sales permit to a craftsman who will in turn employ his nephew, the foreign sales network guaranteed by the Brotherhood, the marriage between the daughter of a farmer and a merchant. These are some of the re-combination games through which power over human and material resources is redefined by the services rendered by and to the different actors.

The workers that we have seen at the beginning do receive a wage indeed. Their wage is a tessera within a complex social tessellation. Their wage is "just" not hard currency: it is social currency. This wage, which is ultimately not "confiscated" at all, reveals the typically Western habit of seeing in the wage, if not the ultimate form, at least the reference frame for work.

By creating a space full of mutual favours and assistance, relation networks become a palliative to the crisis. In spite of this, more and more people from the community are marginalised by the selectivity of support mechanisms, exacerbated by the current situation, while the shrinking of their social capital continually increases their vulnerability.


These observations allow us to offer some conclusions.

Switching from the analysis of urban work relationships in Africa to the analysis of social networks is almost spontaneous, because a system of relational actions and strategies grows around the figure of the worker, allowing the establishment and the reproduction of work relations.

The importance of the "strength of weak ties" in procuring employment (Granovetter 1982) is as a whole confirmed by the data I collected, yet some peculiarities of the Senegalese context would suggest further and careful evaluation of the importance of strong ties and weak ties.

Let us not forget that, unlike ethnology that often privileged strong ties between ego and close friends and/or kin, Granovetter demonstrated the importance of weak ties (the relationship between ego and his/her "acquaintance network") in the operation of the social system, for their greater capacity to provide information unknown to members of ego's dense network. This has been verified today in Dakar, where the current crisis has re-dimensioned the support capacity of the kinship group, and where the mouridyia brotherhood hegemonises all economic sectors. In actuality, the tie provided by the belonging to a common brotherhood (strictly a weak tie) is more effective than kinship networks.

Yet, the new "groupements d'intérêt economique" are mainly formed on the basis of traditional kinship relationships and common groups of origin (ethnic and age). This is only a seeming contradiction if we consider, still with Granovetter (1982), that in the case of access to jobs, the strength of weak ties is less important among lower socioeconomic groups because these encounter more difficulties in reaching the high status individuals who can offer them jobs. This is indeed the case of migrants and unemployed in Dakar, and- I would say - of the African citified population in general. Nevertheless, where Granovetter (1982) sees that among the poor networks become encapsulating and members tend to have few weak ties to other networks, African sociability creates a lively and intense inter-network relational interchange.

In fact, the current crisis is creating a "popular economy" that escapes State control, and supports itself by its own profit circulation and redistribution rules. Within this neoclanic oikonomie (this expression was used by Serge Latouche, 1996, and Emmanuel Seyni Ndione, 1992), social networks and the gift-giving logic co-exist with market economy. All income is immediately invested within the social network. The Gift/Countergift or the Service that initiates a relation of reciprocity operates side by side with mercantile relations and "buffers" the effects of the crisis by incorporating in the social life and its rules the economic exchanges proper of a market society. An important percentage of the population circulates wealth by the manipulation of social ties towards the development of support networks that overlap kinship relations - either original or prescribed - to conglomerate a larger majority of acquired relationships.

It is the traditional rules of reciprocity and redistribution of wealth - motivated by the conception that "the others" constitute a source of safety - that impose the constant recirculation of goods, money and services which characterises an economy born out of the hybridisation between a market economy (what circulates is a tool) and the traditional form of reciprocity of gift/countergift (what circulates serves the social tie). This in turn transforms the social and cultural capital in economic capital and vice-versa, operating, in the long term, in the measure in which the offsprings of the deceased inherit both his social capital and his debts. In the face of the economic and political difficulties of nation-building in Africa, as seen also by the statistics, the current development of this novel balance between gifts and market presents itself as an original solution to the problems posed by economic globalisation to the African context.


1The "red ears" that characterize Europeans recently arrived under the sun of the Senegal

2Commission des Affaires Financières et du Commerce, La place et le rôle du secteur informel dans l'économie nationale. Dakar, CES- Conseil Economique et Social. 1994

3Survey Ménages e dynamiques familiales. ORSTOM (Institut français de recherche scientifique pour le développement en coopération) is a French research institute for cooperation and development.

4Survey IFAN-ORSTOM 1991. L'insertion des migrants dans l'agglomèration dakaroise. Survey base of 472,281 men and women out of an estimated 1,310,000 population.

5Survey IFAN-ORSTOM, op. cit.

6IFAN (Institut Fondamental d'Afrique noire) is a Senegalese research institute.

7The National Census of 1988 indicated a population of 1,310,000 in Dakar. The Census of 1978 indicated a population of 1,065,000. Senegal Government 1988, Recensement Général de la Population et Habitat.

8Law no. 34/1984 "G.I.E." allows the constitution of "Economic Interest Groups" with a minimal capital and through simplified administrative procedures.

9From a survey by ORSTOM 1989.

10Two other developing countries in other continents show 22% in 1986 in Coimbatore (India) (Harris et al, 1990) and 35.6% in the urban areas of Brazil (Jatoba, 1989).

11Together with other measures, the Plan d'Ajustement Structurel wanted by the Senegalese Government in 1994, acting on the advice of the IMF, included a 50% devaluation of the currency, new price caps, cuts to public spending. These measures resulted in a decrease in the purchasing power of family units and in increased competition amongst companies.

12The Wolof ethnic group is the largest in Dakar (43 %).

13The Associations Villageoises pour le Développement (A.V.D.), ethnic associations organising people from a same village or region arose spontaneously out of the ethnic fragmentation of the city, and were recognised legally by law 1971/67.

14The lineage, fundamental element of elementary African family relations, is the group of descendents from a common known forefather.

15A dahira is the group of disciples (taalibes) of a marabout.

16A marabout is a Coranic spiritual guide.

17In Senegal, the wolof, al-Pulareen, Soninke and toucouleur ethnic groups have a caste -like social system. The term "caste" indicates a group of individuals having the same functions, distinguished on the basis of their professional specialisation, their hereditary caste and endogamy. The article refers to the castes of the lawbé, woodcutters, and t'gg, ironworkers.


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