African Governments Should Learn from Street Traders

By Oluwafemi Ogunjobi Trade and Markets are not new to […]

By Oluwafemi Ogunjobi

Trade and Markets are not new to the African set-up. In many African countries like Nigeria, hawking and street trading are old-age tradition of trade –a widely spread practice for children, youth and adults. Most street vendors are between 10 and 27 years of age. They are energetic, profit-driven and value-oriented.

Back then,  in ancient  times, street shouts about products or a melodious tune would let potential buyers know what wares traders had to offer as they made their way from street to street. This manner of trading makes goods available at the door steps of buyers and this has not in any way faded into oblivion as civilization crept in. These resourceful youngsters count their profit at the end of the day and channel the money towards their upkeep, perhaps towards their education.

The trading activity, for some, does not in any way disturb them from going to school or alter their dreams. Our people see nothing bad in it since it is an integral part of our culture. In fact, so many great men in Nigeria have stories to tell on how they have traded in the street beat the odds to survive. Without mincing words, street trading is a commercial part of our tradition.

A visit to one of Nigeria’s markets tells a lot about the entrepreneurial nature of our people. The freely chosen activities of farmers, fishermen – who have come to trade products for money; of textile knitters —who have come to showcase their handiwork to passers-by; of young college students who eke out a living from their creativity—are responsible for economic advancement.

African governments should recognize that trade and production of goods are ethical. Lode Cossaer and Maarten Wegge, in their article; ‘Market Institutions: Exchange and Price’ argues that ‘the mere act of buying and selling in a market creates prices which communicate important knowledge: a price signals that someone somewhere was willing to pay that specific price.’’ Trade is based on voluntary exchange for mutual benefit.

Some buyers prefer to get their needs from street traders not because of their busy schedules, but because these traders sell at cheaper rates, and create a friendly relationship with their customers for long-term transactions.

Governments need to understand that free exchange creates mass flourishing; they raise the living standards of the poor far more than the rich. The congregation of thousands of people from all walks of life, and from many different cultures, and faiths, communicates peace, cooperation and productive effort. Free-market interaction is about creating value for people, not merely maximizing profits.

Governments should prioritize economic freedoms. Entrepreneurs should be free to compete, to develop, to create. Economic exchange should be left to voluntary activity between individuals. Government should not tell people where to work, how to save, what to build, what to produce. This should be left to voluntary interaction by people. Producers should be entitled to the fruits of their labour. It is what Murray Rothbard pointed out in his “The Liberty Manifesto’’ that ‘whoever owns a resource will decide on how that resource is to be used.’’

Governments should instead look with open minds on the great system of social cooperation that exists in the market economy. The marvelous cooperation of hundreds of strangers working cooperatively and productively in ways that greatly enrich each other’s lives is the key to economic advancement. The creativity of a young college student – who derives joy and satisfaction in his talent, is the genesis of beauty and splendor. The satisfaction for ordinary people to trade without fear will pave way to life-sustaining flourishing.

Free competition and free exchange are keys to Prosperity. Market women and artisans are the testimony of what free trade can accomplish; when people are free to trade, they achieve their own purposes by finding out what others want and try to offer it.

If a Government takes a cue from street traders, and ensures free market, then it has set its soles on prosperity and unending richness.


The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.

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