The burgeoning mobility to cities allows Africa to qualify as having “the fastest urban growth in the world,” notes the conference theme. These “(c)ity dwellers often demonstrate unrivaled economic ingenuity in the quest,” it continues, to contain economic challenges in “making a living within the spatially diverse and economically unequal realities of contemporary (African) urban areas,” despite the challenge posed by the “paucity of public transportation.” The panel will focus on a group of Africans, who upon migrating to the city, continue a daily mobility routine as part of that unorganized and unequal economic group, the informal economy. Despite multifaceted challenges facing them they continue to contribute to urban economic development, and these are our familiar marketplace traders.

Panel discussion Question
Is the marketplace institution an overlooked and neglected indigenous resource for promoting (West) African urban (transport or mobility) development when it is populated by market stall traders who are rapidly becoming middle income earners? The mobility of these “residents” outside the marketplace is linked to the character of urban transport, and contribute to the persistent diurnal traffic congestion prevalent in many African cities with large urban marketplaces. Incidentally, their un-patterned intra-urban mobility behavior is merely a reflection of Africa’s un-patterned or informal economic and societal organizations in motion. In other words, the prevailing mobility regime created in part by marketplace stall traders mirrors the differently-structured, and the unstructured urban African economic frameworks manifested in a physical form.

The Context
The book analyzes urban development prospects in (West) Africa based on a Marketplace Oriented Development Strategy, MODEST, where governments, international development/aid agencies and marketplace traders have different roles to play within an Urban Marketplace Development District. As we know, informal economy traders and the marketplace institution dominate the local economy in African cities. According to the World Bank, being an African reduces the probability that an individual is an entrepreneur in the manufacturing sector by more than 95 percent. Exporting unprocessed strategic raw materials and importing large volumes of finished goods stagnate Africa’s informal sector while creating formal jobs overseas. This suggests employment increases in distributive trade and persistence of the marketplace institution in reducing urban unemployment and income inequality which promotes urban development. Irrespective of being major actors in distribute trade, there is limited knowledge of the men and women with permanent stalls in large urban marketplaces that function as a temporary city within a city. More important traders’ daily out-of-stall mobility ecology that determines their family, business and urban economic viability are generally unexplored and largely unknown, but have significant unintended consequences on the urban mobility space. The contacts result from maintaining necessary complex social and economic survivalist relationships characteristic of the institution’s subculture.

The Debate
Incidentally, researchers, planners, development practitioners and policymakers have not focused their attention and considered the impacts of this strategic economic and influential institution – marketplaces and traders – in framing and re-imagining intra-urban mobility planning processes and urban development policies, and that is the paradox surrounding marketplace trade and urban development in (West) Africa. As a city within a city, large urban marketplaces need (operational) infrastructure, too; therefore, will addressing the internal marketplace infrastructure needs that support traders’ operation contribute to addressing urban mobility problems in areas with large urban marketplaces? This author believes it would. Moreover, the author posits that large urban marketplaces should serve as the major data source for intra-urban mobility development planning and improvement in (West) Africa (and for that matter in the Global South), contrary to prevailing orthodoxy of relying on mobility morphology of home-based peak-hour travel of drivers, as that concept may be a misnomer in these areas.

*Book was published in January 2022 by Palgrave Macmillan. Additional information is available at

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