Global development is an aspect that is at the centre of programs that are aimed at improving the quality of life of people around the world. Africa and Latin America are home to most of the world’s developing and third world economies where poverty is rife. In this sense, they are constricted in their growth by socio-economic dynamics that revolve around health, education, income and occupation among other factors. A majority of the societies that comprise the populations of these nations earn a living through the informal economy.
Hernando de Soto is a Peruvian economist who has for a long time been a champion of the informal economy. He has authored books on how governments should best interact with this crucial sector of the economy with the aim of harnessing its power and formalising their operations, with special reference to Latin American economies. In a review of his book ‘The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution In The Third World’, published in the New York Times, de Soto argues that Latin Americans need to look as much at their own societies as to the outside world for the causes of their poverty and insists that they are caught up in policy regulations that deliberately inhibit innovation and initiative.
He proposes that the way out of the situation lies in the region’s informal sector. Backed by research that he conducted in urban areas of Peru, he concludes that despite decades of effort to stamp it out, the informal sector is the most dynamic part of the informal economy for it accounted for more than half of the country’s production. In other countries in the region such as Argentina, Mexico and Columbia, he said the figure is at least one third of production.
The situation in Africa is not far from that in Latin America in as far as the size and dynamics of the informal economy. Estimates from the International Labour Organization put the average size of this sector in Sub-Saharan Africa as a percentage of gross domestic product at 41%. In Kenya, this sector contributes 35% of GDP and accounts for 89.7% of employment outside agriculture. Over the past decade, there have been interventions by governments in the region to address issues that the sector is grappling with such as access to finance and upskilling.
The establishment of programs such as the Women Enterprise Fund and the Uwezo Fund in Kenya were set up to target women and youth, who form the bulk of informal business operators in the country. Such interventions need to be backed by policy amendments that facilitate the business environment in which the informal sector operates in a way that allows them to grow in the long term.
By releasing the creativity and energies of millions of would-be entrepreneurs, Mr. de Soto believes that national economies in Latin America can be strengthened and the region can enjoy a spurt of growth. The same can be said for Africa. Entrepreneurs, he concludes, would join the mainstream economy, thereby improving their material status and gaining new opportunities, were they not prevented from doing so by a legal system designed to thwart them.
Informal Economy Analyst