Changing Youth Dynamics in Lusaka’s Information Economy in the Context of Economic Liberation

by Karen Tranberg Hansen


The paper examines the consequences of changes in economic regime on the self-employed in Lusaka and attendant political dynamics. The focus is on urban vendors, particularly youth. The paper discusses how economic restructuring involves new regimes of spatial regulation and new strategies of urban management that have resulted in intensified political tensions and struggles. These struggles arise from the interaction between externally driven agendas and local political dynamics. The paper argues that the relationships between the state and vendors, while long-standing, are today more antagonistic than ever before, in the context of economic liberalization, structural adjustment programs (SAP), poverty strategy reduction programs (PSRP), and highly indebted poor countries initiative (HIPC). This is demonstrated, firstly, with reference to recurrent controversies between urban regulatory authorities and vendors over access to, control over, and use of market and public space. Occurrences of state imposed removals and relocations of vendors and their responses are discussed. Secondly, political tensions have also emerged from shifts in (state and donor driven) strategies for market management. Tracing the history of market management forms in Lusaka and the legacy of political party influence in the markets, the paper describes how the decentralization of market management has increased conflicts between different interests within the markets and reinforced the role of political interest groups, rather than democratizing social relations in the markets. Such top-down shifts in forms of market management have sometimes triggered major clashes in the markets.

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Karen Tranberg Hansen is a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University in the United States. She has conducted urban research in Zambia since the early 1970s on several issues related to the informal economy, including housing, gender, and youth. Her most recent publications are Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia (2000), Hansen and Vaa (eds) Reconsidering Informality: Perspectives from Urban Africa (2004), and Hansen et al. Youth and the City in the Global South (2008). She continues her research on markets, youth, and consumption.