The Untamed Politics of Urban Informality: “Gray Space” and Struggles for Recognition in an African City

Ilda Lindell, Christine Ampaire


This Article examines the ways in which market vendors in Kampala, Uganda, responded to plans to redevelop their markets through the concession of long-term leases to private investors. These plans met with massive resistance from the marketers, with significant outcomes. The Article uncovers how the marketers actively negotiated a “gray space” between legality and illegality and creatively used the law, with a view to asserting themselves as the legitimate rulers of their markets. It shows how the marketers engaged in highly diverse modalities of struggle, stretching across the legal/illegal boundary. They organized in multiple configurations which were flexible, hybrid and mutant in character, rather than being fixed in particular organizational categories. In their struggles, the marketers engaged in shifting alliances and with a disparate range of political allies. Their politics were fluid, untamed and pragmatic, but also contradictory and fractured. This flexibility and pragmatism enabled them to navigate a complex political landscape and to make instrumental use of a generally unfavorable legal environment. 

Full Text: