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Regulation, Cross-Border Trade and Practical Norms in West Nile, North-Western Uganda


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This article describes how cross-border trade in West Nile, north-western Uganda to a large extent takes place outside of the legal framework. This does not mean that this trade is unregulated. We make use of the concept of ‘practical norms’ to show the existence of regulation within this trade, which diverges both from official norms and social norms (‘moral economy’). The article describes how these practical norms emerged and how they are enforced. First, it is shown how the moral economy of cross-border trade plays an important role in their articulation. Second, we ask which practical concerns play a role in sustaining these norms and how deviations from them activate open power struggles. And third, we show how concrete events have played a role in their emergence.RÉSUMÉCet article décrit la manière dont le commerce transfrontalier se déroule dans une large mesure en dehors du cadre juridique dans la région du Nil occidental située au Nord-Ouest de l'Ouganda. Ceci ne veut pas dire que ce commerce n'est pas réglementé. L'article utilise le concept de « normes pratiques » pour montrer l'existence d'une réglementation, au sein de ce commerce, qui diverge à la fois des normes officielles et des normes sociales (« économie morale »). Il décrit l'émergence de ces normes pratiques et leur mise en oeuvre. Tout d'abord, il montre le rôle important que joue l'économie morale du commerce transfrontalier dans leur articulation. Ensuite, il étudie les préoccupations pratiques qui jouent un rôle dans le maintien de ces normes et les luttes de pouvoir ouvertes que déclenche le non-respect de ces normes. Enfin, il montre le rôle qu'ont joué des événements concrets dans leur émergence.
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Regulation, cross-border trade and practical norms in West Nile,
north-western Uganda
Kristof Titeca
Tom de Herdt
Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute, Volume 80,
Number 4, 2010, pp. 573-594 (Article)
Published by Cambridge University Press
DOI: 10.1353/afr.2010.0005
For additional information about this article
Access provided by Peking University (30 May 2013 18:38 GMT)
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
Africa 80 (4), 2010 DOI: 10.3366/E000197201000077X
Kristof Titeca and Tom de Herdt
In February 2008, one of the authors visited an official of the Ugandan
Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development in Kampala in order to
get some additional clarification on the different legal regulations with
regard to cross-border trade between north-western Uganda and two of
its neighbours, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)1and Sudan.
The official responded to the inquiry with an elaborate introduction
to the legal background of these rules. However, he suddenly cut that
explanation short and began to provide a very different one: how all
these regulations do not matter much, as they do not mean a lot in
the daily lives of the cross-border traders. He offered this summary:
‘People along the border have established their own regime of trade.
They regulate themselves by establishing rules and regulations which
are different from the ones the government tries to apply.’2The state
official’s comment vividly recalls Das and Poole’s comments on the
‘margins of the state’, when they argue that these are ‘sites of practice
on which law and other state practices are colonized by other forms
of regulation that emanate from the pressing needs of populations to
secure political and economic survival’ (Das and Poole 2004: 8).
This article aims to analyse the regulations which govern cross-
border trade in north-western Uganda. In doing so, it will demonstrate
that this trade is neither chaotic nor unstructured. Olivier de Sardan’s
(2009) exploratory concept of ‘practical norms’ is particularly useful
in exploring these ‘non-policy mechanisms’ (Ribot 1998: 344): it
allows one to make sense of the divergence between official laws and
regulations and actually enforced practices. In turn, actual practices of
government officials are also profoundly influenced by social norms and
perceptions of the state held by illegal traders and transporters. These
practical norms are the result, then, of a bricolage (Cleaver 2002) of
official and social norms, and are mediated through the power wielded
by the cross-border traders, who effectively dictate terms to government
officials. As will be shown, these practices do not necessarily challenge
the image of the state (Migdal 1994; Migdal and Schlichte 2005),
KRISTOF TITECA is a postdoctoral fellow of the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO),
based at the Institute of Development Policy and Management, University of Antwerp.
TOM DE HERDT is a lecturer at the Institute of Development Policy and Management,
University of Antwerp.
1In this article, the Democratic Republic of Congo will be referred to as ‘the DRC’ or
2Interview, official in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, Kampala,
27 February 2008.
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
but rather have to be seen as practical solutions to local enforcement
Research was conducted by the first author (Titeca) during
different phases of field research in 2008 (January–February
and September–October), 2009 (January–February) and 2010
(January–February), but also drew on data gathered during earlier
periods of field research between 2005 and 2007. Interviews were con-
ducted not only with active traders, but also with the relevant govern-
ment actors (such as customs officials, security agencies and others) and
with the general population (consumers). Research was mainly con-
ducted in north-western Uganda and the border town of Arua (which is
a central point in this trade), but the traders were also accompanied to
north-eastern Congo and the border with southern Sudan. Interviews
often dealt with sensitive issues such as bribes or the smuggling of
illegal goods. While doing research on cross-border trade in Arua for
some years (since 2005), the first author had managed to establish re-
lationships of trust with key actors in this trade, which gave him access
to crucial information and allowed him to tackle these sensitive issues.
He worked with two research assistants with whom he has collaborated
for several years while studying the informal economy of Arua. They
were (and are) still active in the informal economy and cross-border
trade. In this research context, traders were very open about their
activities and were eager to introduce colleagues who could provide
more information. Government officials were also very open about
their practices; again, trust had been established over several years. All
these factors helped in gaining access to the data we present here.
The major dynamics of the regional trade between north-western
Uganda, north-eastern Congo and southern Sudan can be summarized
as follows: manufactured goods are traded following more or less
standard legal procedures to Uganda, the DRC or Sudan from Kenya
(Mombasa/Nairobi), where they in turn have been imported from
foreign places such as Dubai and the Far East. Part of these goods,
having reached the DRC or Sudan, are smuggled back into Uganda
where they make higher profits than normally taxed goods The town
of Arua in north-western Uganda plays a particularly central role in
these trading dynamics: from this town, smuggled goods are dispatched
in different directions. A good example is sugar: daily, an estimated
40,000 kg of sugar is smuggled into Arua on bicycles by transporters
who ferry the sugar in 50 kg bags. From Arua, sugar is distributed
all over West Nile and northern Uganda: of the total, it is estimated
that only about a quarter is for local consumption, while the remaining
sugar is traded in the wider region. Other goods from Kenya stay in the
DRC or Sudan, where they remain to be sold. Foodstuffs and natural
resources originate from the DRC, from where they are exported to
Uganda, which in turn exports them to other countries. For example,
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FIGURE 1 Map of Uganda, showing the border regions
there is a major trade in timber, which is bought in the DRC, smuggled
into Uganda, and then smuggled again to Sudan.
Whereas the DRC and its border markets mainly have an entrepôt
function for Ugandan traders, the trade with Sudan is primarily direct.
The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Sudan has
created a major demand for goods in what had remained virtually a
virgin market for more than two decades (1983–2005). This regional
trade is nothing new: Meagher (1990) describes it as a continuation of
historical trading patterns which culminated in intensive regional trade
in the 1980s.3Traders from north-western Uganda are particularly
active: they take goods to Sudan and Congo, and smuggle goods from
these countries back into Uganda.
Most of this cross-border trade tries, in varying degrees, to avoid
state control: legal opacity and high taxes do not stimulate traders to
3An overview of the evolution of this trade since the 1980s is given in Titeca (2009b).
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
conduct their trade through state channels. Moreover, apart from the
high taxes, the different government agencies are known to charge the
traders informal ‘fees’ bribes at the border points. For example, it is
estimated that about thirty state services work on the borders in the
north-eastern Congolese province of Ituri, although officially only four
of these agencies are allowed to do so (Tegera and Johnson 2007).4
Trade is therefore hindered by a whole range of fees and taxes. For
example, a (UK) Department for International Development (DfID)
report (2007: 20–3) on the trade in natural resources shows how 23
different fees and taxes have to be paid when minerals are traded
between Walikale and Goma. This is not a new phenomenon, either,
but something which has been happening for some considerable time.
Janet MacGaffey (1991: 21) wrote on cross-border trade in the late
1980s that ‘Up to 70 administrative steps may be involved in moving
commodities legally across African borders; in Zaïre, for example,
exports require 39 steps and imports 30.’
All these state agencies are there for a reason: border points are
seen as particularly profitable, and an important part of the border
revenue escapes state control. This leads to a situation characterized
by uncertainty and ambiguity over legal rules; as Schomerus (2008:
6) succinctly comments, ‘trade is stymied by lack of transparent and
fair border procedures and affordable fees’. As a consequence, much of
the cross-border trade in the region to a greater or lesser extent takes
place outside or on the margins of the law: official border crossings
are seen as particularly expensive because of the high level of taxation,
the opacity, and the presence of so many state agencies (cf. Tegera
and Johnson 2007). Even the cross-border trade which takes place
through border points often avoids legal regulations. For example, the
Bank of Uganda has a large research project in which the amount
of unregistered (smuggled) goods through official border points is
estimated: in 2006, the total of such informal trade between Uganda
and Sudan was estimated at US$9.1 million. In 2007, increased trading
opportunities created by the peace agreement in southern Sudan and
improved security also led to an increased unregistered trade, totalling
US$456.4 million for that year. The total informal trade between
Uganda and the DRC was estimated at US$91.7 million in 2006 and
US$174.8 million in 2007 (UBOS 2007, 2008). The Uganda–DRC
border in north-western Uganda is traversed by an estimated 300
smuggling routes around the six official border points. The above
figures only show the amount of unregistered goods through official
4The Presidential Decree of 28 March 2002 only authorizes these four institutions: L’Office
de Douanes et Assises (OFIDA), La Direction Générale de Migration (DGM), L’Office
Congolais de Contrôle (OCC) and Le Service de l’Hygiène aux Frontières. See Radio Okapi,
‘Ituri: environ 30 services de l’état opèrent aux frontières’,, accessed
5 April 2009. An overview of the Congolese state agencies which are de facto present on the
eastern Congolese borders is provided in the excellent report by Tegera and Johnson (2007)
on cross-border trade from eastern DRC.
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
border points, which means that the value of the ‘real’ cross-border
trade is much higher.
An increasing proportion of economic activities thus bypasses state-
based regulations and is theoretically illegal. As cross-border trade to
a large extent takes place outside of the state framework, it could
be considered as part of the ‘informal economy’. Yet the pervasive
character of the informal economy reflects recent discussion of the
term: the concept has been criticized as obsolete, since in the absence
of a functional formal economic sector, the informal sector has also
ceased to exist. As Klein explains (1999: 568): ‘As a paired negotiation
each marker depends on the integrity of the opposing term. But with
criminalization, the key referent of formality has defected across the
binary divide, and become absorbed by informality. The rest is simple:
no formal sector, no informal sector.’ As the founding father of the
‘informal economy’ concept, Keith Hart, concludes, ‘state collapse has
attained such proportions that it seems almost pointless to clarify that
the informal economy is the dominant sector’ (Hart 1995: 122; our
translation, emphasis in original; cf. Hart 2001).
Yet this does not mean that the trade we are considering is
unregulated. Instead of looking at what is absent, argues Meagher,
we should be looking not at the ‘absence’ of formal regulation, but
at ‘alternative forms of regulation operating below and beyond the
framework of the state’ (Meagher 2008: 4). More generally, there is
a wide literature on what de Soto (2000) calls ‘extralegal’ regulatory
mechanisms: it covers street vendors (Bromley 1978; Cross 1998),
the drugs trade (Reuter 1985; Hagedorn 1994), gang life (Venkatesh
and Levitt 2000; Rodgers 2006) or mafia structures (Gambetta 1993;
Varese 2001). Specifically for the informal economy in sub-Saharan
Africa, Janet MacGaffey (1991: 152) has already argued that the ‘real
economy of Zaire is not haphazard but institutionalized, operating
according to a system of rules known to all participants’.
Others prefer to start the other way around, by analysing how states
and their administrations ‘really’ govern in particular domains and
settings. This literature denies the existence of a neat boundary between
the ‘formal’ and the ‘informal’: the sectors are articulated with each
other; the ‘real’ economy forms an integrated whole. These authors
also deny that the informal economy would be a better-functioning
substitute for the formal economy. Instead, emphasis is put on the
functional relationships they entertain with each other. For example,
according to Béatrice Hibou, the ‘real’ economy in sub-Saharan Africa
becomes an ‘economy of dirty tricks’ in which the ‘manipulators
of violence and deception are also the main mediators of economic
activity’ behind the façade of their official activities (Hibou 1999:
112–13). In her work, Janet Roitman (2004) explains how a military-
commercial nexus is central in this regulatory authority, while William
Reno (1998; 2000) analyses how informal economies are part of the
general criminal strategies of rulers in shadow states (cf. Chabal and
Daloz 1999). In certain accounts emphasis is placed on how African
states’ increasing tendency to reproduce themselves by engaging in
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
the criminal economy can draw on specific cultural trajectories, which
Bayart (1999) calls the ‘social capital of the felonious state’ a claim
made rather to highlight the way in which such a course of action
gains purchase in sub-Saharan African countries than to single out a
specific trait of these countries, as he demonstrates later on by pointing
to similar practices in European contexts (Bayart 2004).
Although the above view has its merit in highlighting the functional
relationship between the formal and informal sectors, particular
attention is given to the criminalization of the informal economy:
through this single concept, the overall functioning of the informal
economy (or African socio-political realities in general) is explained.
However, these broad concepts do not help to explain the micro-
regulation of these economies. They do not help one to study the day-
to-day ‘real’ governance of the informal economy, which is composed
of ‘multiple dimensions, some convergent and others contradictory; it
is also the product of local, sectoral and individual micro-dynamics’
(Olivier de Sardan 2009). These micro-dynamics have not been well
understood, nor have they been the subject of much in-depth empirical
analysis. A useful concept in analysing the micro-dynamics of this
articulation is what Olivier de Sardan calls ‘practical norms’. As he
argues, within the large literature on African states, a general consensus
emerges that there is conspicuous divergence between the official norms
of these institutions, which are largely patterned on Western models,
and the actual behaviour of the state employees (ibid.: 4). These
practices are not chaotic or anomalous; rather, they are regulated,
organized and structured, yet unofficial. The ‘practical norms’ concept
is particularly useful because it shows how legally under-regulated
settings are not characterized by a lack of regulation. On the contrary,
Olivier de Sardan argues, ‘One might even go so far as to say that
the regulation of extra-official practices has produced an excess, rather
than a lack, of norms. It remains to discover what these non-official
norms are!’ (ibid.: 9). Some are very visible, as they are part of explicit
agreements between different actors; while others are part of local
routines and not necessarily consciously expressed. Because they are
implicit, it is therefore ‘the responsibility of the researcher to isolate,
identify and analyse them, starting from the practices of the actors
as well as their discourse’ (ibid.: 14). This is exactly what our article
aims to do with regard to the cross-border trade in north-western
Uganda: we describe the practical norms used by various categories of
actors in the regional cross-border trade. We shall show that this trade
is governed by a range of practical norms structuring the behaviour
of both traders and government officials. It is an impossible task to
give an overview of all the norms in play in the micro-dynamics of
cross-border trade, but we want to analyse a number of important
The importance of practical norms does not signify that official
norms – state regulations – become completely irrelevant; rather, they
are operationalized in a different way than intended. In the field of
cross-border trade, Chalfin argues (2001: 203), trading practices rely
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
‘on particular understandings and activations of state regulations’:
customs officials can decide to punish a smuggler or they can help
him to under-declare, undervalue, and so on. The work of Blundo
(2006) on the functioning of public administrations in sub-Saharan
Africa demonstrates how state rules are constantly negotiated, which
results in particular compromises over the rules of the game.
It is also useful to differentiate between practical norms and social
norms. The latter define what is considered legitimate in particular
contexts. Social norms are not necessarily made explicit, but are
shared by an entire society or emanate from it (Olivier de Sardan
2009: 8). They play an import role in the development of what is
considered ‘licit’ and ‘illicit’ (Abraham and van Schendel 2005: 19).
The influence of social norms highlights how the practices we are
considering should not be defined only negatively as deviations from
official state practices –but also, more positively, as moral codes in their
own right. For example, smuggling could be considered in the light
of a morality that favours kinship ties linking adjacent territories over
state-imposed borders that separate them (Migdal and Schlichte 2005:
25). It is important, however, to distinguish conceptually between
social norms and practical norms, ‘which bear no relation to either
“tradition”, or culture in general, common values, or a shared “network
of meanings” but are nonetheless effective’ (Olivier de Sardan 2009:
13) effective, that is, in aligning people’s expectations about others’
The fact that certain practices are considered illegitimate through
the social norms present in society does not mean that they actually
fail to guide the behaviour of state employees or non-state actors. The
power balance in which state and non-state actors are involved plays an
important role. Both state and non-state actors may try to include social
or legal norms in routinized patterns that become institutionalized in a
more stable form or ‘practical norm’, but, in the end, what counts is the
effectiveness of the norm in aligning others’ expectations and, thereby,
its value in smoothing the process of interaction. The prevalence of
practical norms is therefore rather a function of the inventory of tactics
and manoeuvres available to all parties involved, than a reflection of
either ‘legal’ or particular ‘social’ norms. Practical norms are essentially
the product of collective bricolage (Cleaver 2002).
The configuration of power relationships linking different actors
determines the extent to which these practical norms deviate from
the official or social norms. For example, if the central state has
a rather powerful position, the ‘practical norms’ of the government
officials in border areas will probably not be very different from official
norms. Inversely, if non-state actors wield considerable power, they will
manage to bend practical norms away from official state practices. The
existence of social norms alone is therefore not enough. This is not a
static but a dynamic process. The concrete manifestation of practical
norms will depend on the specific configuration of power that sustains
the modus vivendi of different social actors in a specific domain (Olivier
de Sardan 2009).
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
Practical norms, many of which are in theory illegal, do not
automatically ‘undermine the recursive patterns of rule at the heart
of national political order and integration’ (Chalfin 2001: 203). On
the contrary, they are essential to the functioning of state institutions,
and highlight how public authority or stateness ‘can wax and wane’
because ‘state institutions are never definitively formed, but . . . a
constant process of formation takes place (Olivier de Sardan 2005:
16; Steinmetz 1999: 9)’ (Lund 2006: 686). This is similar to what
Migdal (1994) and Migdal and Schlichte (2005) call the difference
between the state image and state practices: in their daily practices,
state officials often do not conform to the image of the state;
instead, they engage in a variety of practices that partly reproduce,
but partly also deviate from the image of the state as a coherent,
unified and supreme rule maker in a given territory. State practices
are defined as ‘diverse, multiple actions of state actors as well as
the myriad responses and interactions with state officials or non-
state actors’ (Migdal and Schlichte 2005: 14–15). The basic issue is
that state representatives find themselves in ‘an already established
network of powers and representations’ (de Certeau 1984: 18).
The bricolage of locally enforced practical norms can be seen as a
pragmatic solution to this issue.
The practical norms concept is not uncontested. The main criticism
is that it is mainly exploratory, with limited analytical power, as it
does not explicitly ask why official rules are ignored, how or why
practical norms are arrived at, and why officials and other actors
adhere to them (Kelsall 2009: 5). In our view, however, the relative
underspecification of the precise mechanisms at work in generating and
sustaining these norms makes the concept particularly interesting as
an invitation to engage in empirical analysis. How have these norms
emerged in particular settings? How did they change over time? How
are they enforced? And, to begin with, was there a basic issue of norm
pluralism to be bridged by them? We shall indeed begin by showing
how the practical norms we are studying bridge legality and the wider
moral economy of cross-border trade in the region. Second, we shall
show which practical concerns play a role in sustaining the norms, and
how deviations from them activate open power struggles. And third, we
shall show how concrete events played a role in their emergence.
Even though much of the cross-border trade flows through illegal
channels, it is seen as thoroughly legitimate by Ugandan traders,
something which will be explained in this section. In the first place,
as described in Meagher (1990), this cross-border trade has deep
historical roots, and is enhanced by the fact that similar ethnic groups
live on different sides of the border and are therefore in close contact
with each other. Outside interference in these contacts and also
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
in trading contacts is perceived as intrusive. Secondly, and most
importantly, cross-border trade is to be understood within the national
politics of Uganda. People in West Nile, and northern Uganda in
general, feel marginalized by the regime of President Museveni, which
has been in power since 1986. The region therefore strongly supports
the opposition. During previous regimes (and particularly during that
of Idi Amin, who originated from West Nile), West Nilers had access
to key positions in the power structure. People feel this access is
currently denied, leaving them marginalized on several levels: they
complain of a lack of regional infrastructure and exclusion both
from the civil service5and influential government positions.6The
lack of infrastructure is compounded by the absence of the necessary
development programmes. Several rebel groups emerged in the area
after President Museveni came to power, among them the Uganda
National Rescue Front II and the West Nile Bank Front. Although
these groups only had limited support, they translated widely held
grievances, which were related to these feelings of marginalization
(Leopold 2005: 46). In this situation, cross-border trade is seen as an
indigenous way to provide development denied by an incapable and/or
unwilling national government.7In other words, the cross-border trade
can be seen as a regionalization of the famous ‘Système D’ in Mobutu’s
Zaïre which allowed the border population to ‘fend for itself’. One
trader summarized these feelings in an interview:
This government is not taking care of us. We have no industries, no jobs,
nothing . ... The only thing we have is the border. It allows us to earn a
living with the little we have. We buy something in Congo and we sell it
here; or we take something to Sudan.8
Because so many people are convinced that the government is
not going to deliver the goods necessary to enhance their lives, the
expanding cross-border trade is seen as a ‘source of economic freedom
and empowerment’ (Roitman 2004: 32). It could be argued that the
area has chosen to turn away from the national state, or at least from
its regulatory framework: illegal cross-border trade has been embraced
as a legitimate option, which conflicts with the bureaucratic rationality
of the different state institutions. A similar situation is described by
Odegaard in Peru, when she observes that ‘In the discourse of the
traders, the state is in many ways de-moralized while the market is
moralized’ (2008: 261). It can be said that there is a ‘moral economy’
5This is felt all over northern Uganda and is confirmed by press reports: see, for example,
Nalugo 2008.
6They are disgruntled, for example, because people from West Nile only have access to
positions such as Minister of State, and do not control actual ministries or the resources these
command. For an investigation of the access of the different regions to public funds, see
Mwenda 2008.
7The domination of the regional trade by Ugandans is a point which is developed in detail
elsewhere: see Titeca 2009b.
8Interview, trader, Arua, 7 August 2009.
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
in play which regards cross-border trade and also, or particularly,
trade which takes place outside of the legal framework as legitimate,
while attempts by the government to regulate this trade are seen as
illegitimate. Simply, the idea of what constitutes legitimate practice
does not correspond with the legal system.9
In the (very different) context of a peasant subsistence economy,
Scott some time ago defined the moral economy of the peasants
as a ‘notion of economic justice and their working definition of
exploitation their view of which claims on their product were tolerable
and which intolerable’ (1976: 3). His observation can also be applied
to the cross-border trade, although this moral economy is not one of
a ‘subsistence ethic’, but rather an ethic in which cross-border trade is
seen as a particularly legitimate source of survival or, as will become
clear in the next sections, in the discourse of the traders, their ‘food’. In
this situation (largely illegal) cross-border trade is not only considered
to be a legitimate option for individuals, but for the whole region.
Moreover, it has a clear political meaning. This reflects earlier
findings in the seminal work of Janet MacGaffey (1987; 1991), who
considers unrecorded trade not only as an economic phenomenon, but
also as political option. Describing the emergence of an indigenous
bourgeoisie of local entrepreneurs without political position during
the 1980s, MacGaffey (1987) demonstrated how unrecorded trade
was a political option defying the power held by a parasitic class.
‘In the second economy, people are taking matters into their own
hands and organizing an unofficial system; they are compensating for
the inability of the state to supply the infrastructure, services, and
protection of individual rights the citizens of any nation need and
expect’ (MacGaffey 1991: 39). And turning their attention to traders
who move goods between Congo and Paris in the late 1990s, she and
co-author Bazenguissa-Ganga reach a similar conclusion, by arguing
that their activities represent protest and struggle against exclusion
through this transnational trade (MacGaffey and Bazenguissa-Ganga
Similar feelings are felt in West Nile, where cross-border trade is
perceived as a ‘home-grown’ or ‘indigenous’ form of development
which allows people in the border areas to ‘fend for themselves’ in
the light of a neglectful national government. It is therefore important
to stress, as we do again, that strong feelings of legitimacy support
the cross-border trade: although most of this trade happens illegally,
it is seen as a licit option. Conversely, the actions of the government
are considered decidedly illegitimate.10 These social norms alter the
parameters in which state agents are able to work and make it very
difficult for officials to implement official regulations. For example,
customs officers complain about continuous harassment and threats to
9Titeca (2009a) demonstrates how certain organizations (vigilantes) are also able to ‘fill the
gap’ by providing protection of property rights to smuggled goods.
10 Abraham and van Schendel (2005) make a similar distinction between ‘legality’ and
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
their security. One Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) official offered
the following summary:
By working for the URA, I put myself at risk! Sometimes I cannot go and
drink in public, someone could come and hit me with a bottle! Someone
could recognize me from a confiscation and want to take revenge! . .. The
community, they help the smugglers. When they are being followed by us,
they can make us lose direction.11
Nugent and Asiwaju (1996) would understand this reaction. They
argue that border officials are in a vulnerable position vis-à-vis the local
population under conditions in which ‘it may be virtually impossible to
remain faithful to regulations .... The official ceases to look much like a
representative of the state and instead bears the appearance of someone
who has been taken into the embrace of the community concerned’
(Nugent and Asiwaju 1996: 7–8). Another Ugandan customs official
corroborates such a finding in the following way:
The only possible way in which we can do our work here is to come to
a mutual understanding with the population and the traders . . . . You can
come here and try to implement the rules from Kampala, but it will not
work: you will put yourself at risk, and the community will disorganize you
and your customs point. We have to associate ourselves with the smugglers.
If we would not be doing this, we would be seen too much as the enemy: we
would not be able to move without security!12
In response, government officials have developed certain
mechanisms to create this ‘mutual understanding’ with the local
community. Some of these practical norms are quite straightforward:
for example, smaller quantities of goods can be smuggled across the
border, under a shared understanding that they will not be confiscated
by the customs officials. These quantities are fairly specific. For
example, traders indicate that they are allowed to bring in one carton
(20 packets) of cigarettes; one or two jerry cans of fuel (20–40 litres);
or 10–15 bags of charcoal. A more explicit arrangement governs the so-
called ‘threshold days’ or ‘tax-free moments’ organized by the main
two customs points in this area. About once a month, they offer a
cut rate to the traders: smaller quantities of goods do not have to pay
taxes; whereas larger quantities of goods receive major discounts. This
is communicated on the day to a number of traders, who in turn inform
their colleagues. According to local traders, customs points have to
collect a certain amount of taxes each month. Once this ‘threshold’
is reached, there no longer is the same pressure to collect taxes; this
is when ‘threshold days’ or ‘tax-free moments’ are organized. Most
traders are convinced this is an official government practice. According
to the local customs officials, however, it is an unofficial practice, which
11 Interview, URA official, Arua, 27 January 2010.
12 Interview, Uganda customs officials, West Nile, 7 February 2010.
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
they only organize to improve relations with the local community or,
as one customs officials phrases it,
to show our appreciation to the local community . ... It is an important
way of building public relations in your area; this is done to generate trust
among the population . . . . This is a strictly local arrangement, the national
government does not know about this.13
Similarly, in the implementation of government regulations, officials
need to identify certain priorities: not all rules can be enforced, so
they must focus on certain key tasks. This does not mean that the
regulations have lost all meaning, or that officials have lost all their
powers: similarly, traders have to show their ‘understanding’ in what
can be considered an ongoing negotiation process. In this process,
certain priorities are established and then translated into ‘practical
norms’. For example, some goods and actions are clearly perceived to
be ‘more illegal’ than others, both by the traders and the government
officials involved. This normally is the case in relation, for example,
to drugs and weapons, on the one hand, and smuggled food products
on the other.14 Drugs and weapons are seen as much ‘more illegal’
in the sense they are less ‘legitimate’ to deal in. This is as one might
expect; it is, however, surprising to find such distinctions made between
fairly similar products. For example, illegal papyrus exports in which
major under-declaration is allowed or sometimes no taxes are paid are
considered less dangerous and ‘illegal’ than the export of timber. In
this case the ‘less illegal’ export of papyrus is therefore used to cover
up the ‘more illegal’ export of timber. In this context, the terms ‘legal’
and ‘illegal’ have become very blurred: for example, when people in
north-western Uganda refer to ‘legal’ timber traders, they refer to
timber traders who do not circumvent the customs points on the
DRC–Uganda border. These ‘legal’ traders, however, can still bribe
the customs officials, under-declare the timber or cover the timber
with illegal (undeclared and/or untaxed) papyrus to bring it across the
Uganda–Sudan border. Under-declaration and covering timber with
‘less illegal’ goods is not considered illicit by either the traders or the
customs officials, who seem to have an implicit agreement on this.
This reflects identified priorities in the (extra-legal) negotiation process
between traders and government officials.
Why do the government officials do this? In other words, why have
these practical norms emerged? As explained above, in the general
13 Interview, Uganda customs officials, West Nile, 8 February 2010. This was confirmed by
interviews with national government officials, who are not aware of this practice: they consider
it illegal and denounce its existence (Interviews, URA officials, Kampala, 9/10 February
14 Little offers an example of this: ‘In 2001 some local Kenyan officials with whom I spoke
did not think cattle were contraband commodities, nor the trade illegal, when in fact on paper
it really is. Other smuggled imports, such as drugs or weapons, are secretively traded but
treated as more illegal or dirty in status than animals. If discovered by Kenyan border officials,
they likely will be confiscated’ (2005: 19, emphasis in original).
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
context of north-western Uganda, where communities see cross-border
trade as decidedly legitimate, these practical norms are inspired by
concerns of personal safety implementing official rules creates major
security risks for the personnel involved. This also has consequences
for state institutions, as it becomes impossible for these to function in
‘official’, standardized, formal-bureaucratic ways: strictly implementing
national laws and regulations would lead to constant clashes and
‘disorganize trade and the overall region’.15 This is in turn related to
the power position of the cross-border traders: they effectively have
the power to ‘disorganize’ the government officials and therefore to
influence the compromise between official and social norms. Several
underlying factors explain this power: first, the traders are easily
organized, and this is particularly the case for the fuel smugglers
(the ‘OPEC Boys’), who are divided into several sub-groups within
an overall organization, and who are in close contact with the other
traders and the wider population (Titeca 2006), something which will
be illustrated below. Second, the area has a long history of rebel
movements, and there is a strong fear that, if ousted from the cross-
border trade, traders might be tempted to take up arms again. For
example, particularly among the OPEC Boys, there was a correlation
between smuggling, confiscation and rebellion: in the late 1990s and
early 2000s, a number of OPEC Boys took up arms out of frustration
at regular confiscation of their goods. They later returned to the
cross-border trade (Titeca 2006). Finally, it was explained above
how the moral economy of cross-border trade is strongly political in
nature: the population feels it has to ‘fend for itself’ in the light of
government neglect. Government confiscation is therefore perceived as
an inherently political act: local traders perceive confiscation of their
goods as another attempt by the national government to marginalize
the area.
The Ugandan national state is well aware of this, and naturally
adjusts its practices in this light: it has little to gain and much to
lose by attempting to shut down this cross-border trade. Although
it is detrimental to the national state economy, it is politically very
important to the national state. For these marginal areas, extra-
state cross-border trade is an important alternative socio-economic
system of employment and trade (Pugh and Cooper 2004) which,
as Carolyn Nordstrom puts it, is fundamental and necessary for
development in these marginal areas (2004: 113; 216–20). She argues
that war-torn countries such as Angola cannot develop themselves
without relying heavily on this non-state-based development. Uganda’s
national government is fully aware of the political significance of the
trade: throughout the various periods of field research undertaken
in the region, several customs officials claimed to receive explicit
15 Interview, customs official, West Nile, 8 August 2009.
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
instructions from their national offices in Kampala to remain ‘low key’
during election periods in other words, to limit their confiscations.16
Although this signifies an increased loss in taxes and is therefore
bad for the state its political importance prevails. This can be seen
as unspoken encouragement by the Ugandan government of the
border population to ‘fend for themselves’, as Mobutu more explicitly
recommended in comparably difficult (Zaïrean) circumstances.17 In a
similar way, Hecht and Simone argue that government actors on the
Nigeria–Benin border turn a blind eye to smuggling practices that are
crucial to the economies of both countries (1994: 20–1).
Certain key events play an important role in the creation, adaptation
or simple maintenance and reinforcement of these practical norms: in
this way such norms become incorporated in the local ‘habitus’ (Olivier
de Sardan 2009: 14). Implicit arrangements between the different
actors active in the field of cross-border trade become explicit through
these events, which serve as reference points or ‘open moments’ (Lund
1998) in the creation, emphasis, or adaptation of a practical norm.
Thus in the cross-border trade activities of Arua District, it is perceived
as illegitimate to confiscate smuggled goods within town and/or to
use excessive violence in chasing smugglers. The root of this practical
norm can be traced back to a major event in 2001: during this period,
the government was particularly strict on smugglers, confiscated all
smuggled goods (even smaller quantities), and often used violence in
doing so. This was the work of two paramilitary units in particular: the
mobile police and the ‘Special Revenue Protection Services’, which at
the time had a notorious reputation among the population. At some
point, mobile police officers arrested two OPEC Boys who were selling
their fuel within town. This event not only breached the practical norm
in which smuggled fuel is not supposed to be confiscated within town
(Titeca 2006). It also involved violent mistreatment of the arrested
smugglers (they were allegedly tortured in an attempt to extract a
bribe). The remaining OPEC Boys, together with other traders and
the wider population, mobilized the townspeople in protest; the police
officers were very nearly lynched and revenge was taken on all symbols
of governmental power: local council offices, posters of President
Museveni, and so on. In response, the government brought in the
army and arrested several OPEC Boys. Severe fighting broke out in
Arua Town, in which 15 people were severely injured. Immediately,
national and local politicians looked for ways to resolve the escalating
tension. With the security of the region at stake, they were able to
broker intervention at the highest national level: when admitted to
16 Interviews, customs officials, 2006–9. This was not only the case in northern Uganda,
but also at border posts in western Uganda.
17 I have written elsewhere about the ‘political’ meaning of cross-border trade, in which
it is prudent for governmental actors to tolerate smuggling activities. In Arua Town,
the above-mentioned OPEC Boys are prime local symbols of this freedom to ‘fend for
yourselves’ partly, as we have seen, because they are ex-rebels who need to be kept ‘on
side’ (Titeca 2006; and see also Titeca and Vervisch 2008: 2209–11).
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
hospital, the injured traders were visited by the President, who was
campaigning in the area; and were even given financial compensation
by him for their injuries.18 This visit can be seen as a firefighting
exercise that recognized the political and social power of the cross-
border traders. Besides their political significance (as discussed above),
the event also clearly illustrated the traders’ ability to provoke chaos.
This combination of factors gives them their leverage in negotiating
the practical norms governing their trade. One of these is not using
excessive violence against the traders, something for which the 2001
event is generally regarded as a reference point, one reiterated and
reinforced by other subsequent events. In mid-2009, for example, the
URA tried to confiscate a few jerry cans of fuel; in the process, one
person died after being hit by their car. The OPEC Boys and other
traders then attacked the offices of the URA and tried to set it ablaze.
In a repeat incident shortly after this, in August 2009, the URA tried
to confiscate smuggled cigarettes, and shot a trader in the arm. The
OPEC Boys responded by leading a second attempt to fire the URA
offices which were then shifted to a better-secured compound outside
of town. In short, URA officers had disregarded practical norms and
paid the price thus further reinforcing these norms.
Another practical norm is that women carrying babies will not be
subject to strict border controls, which allows them to bring in untaxed
goods. Again, this reflects the general perception that smuggling is a
way to ‘fend for oneself’; within this context, it allows women to feed
their families. An event in 2007 is seen as a reference point, repeated
by traders and government officials alike. Early in that year, the URA
confiscated smuggled cigarettes and sugar from a woman carrying a
baby on her back. In protest, the woman threw herself on the ground
after depositing her baby in the car of the URA, refusing to take it
with her. As a trader explained, ‘By doing this, she wanted to show the
officials that they were taking away her food, that she could not feed
her baby any more. The baby had to go where her food was going,
as she had lost all her capital!’19 The baby remained with the revenue
authorities for two days, during which there were community protests
as well as political pressure, until the baby and the confiscated goods
were returned. Other examples were given by traders and government
officials of similar cases which happened after this event, but this
remains the prime reference point: after this, women carrying babies
were not subject to strict border controls or punishment. Again, this
has to be seen in the general political context of cross-border trade,
in which women carrying babies have become archetypal symbols of
persons fending for themselves and in this way ‘feeding’ their families
and the wider region. This is how policy mechanisms in the local
cross-border area, with reverberations higher up – are implemented and
18 Information independently given by several first-hand witnesses (various interviews,
19 Interview, trader, Arua, 3 February 2010.
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
Further, both for traders and government officials, these practical
norms through which state rules and institutions are negotiated
with society are key in countering the unpredictability of the cross-
border trade and in smoothing transactions. They can therefore be
considered what Moore (1978: 50) calls ‘processes of regularization’.
They produce rules and regulations in which ‘people try to control
their situations by struggling against indeterminacy, by trying to fix
social reality, to harden it, to give it form and predictability’.20 In
the ‘unstable’ and potentially dangerous and unpredictable context in
which state institutions are embedded, they help to ‘regularize’ and
increase the predictability of the situation for all concerned.
Supporting the practical norms which are in place to counter
difficulties, unpredictability and uncertainties, personal relationships
also play an important role (Odegaard 2008; Staudt 1998; Mahmoud
2008). Traders constantly try to personalize their various engagements
with state agencies in order to reduce the unpredictability of the trade.
It is clear that a trader who has a good relationship with a customs
official or soldier will have less difficulty in dealing with them than
an anonymous trader. The latter, however, can ‘hire’ certain actors
to help him at the interface with government agencies. These actors
act as informal intermediates/brokers to help the transaction to occur,
again reducing the unpredictability of the trade. Blundo (2006) gives
a detailed overview of how brokers help to initiate users into the
administrative system. A similar observation can be made in the case of
north-western Uganda. For example, certain Ugandan governmental
officers act as informal brokers to under-declare goods: this is for
example the case for the trade in timber, where customs brokers are
‘hired’ because they can guarantee the under-declaration of goods. The
same thing happens across the border, where Sudanese security agen-
cies or forestry officers are ‘hired’ to guarantee the under-declaration of
timber, so that earlier under-declarations are not challenged. In other
words, the actors who are supposed to implement the legal framework
make sure traders are able to act outside of the legal framework
and guarantee varying degrees of protection in this legal vacuum.
Discussing the border points in eastern DRC, Tegera and Johnson
call this interaction between traders and government officials ‘fraud
among consenting adults’ as a ‘convenient way for individuals on both
sides to profit from non-legality’ (2007: 34). This does not always
require monetary compensation, but can also be arranged through
‘friendships’, in which non-monetary compensation is given to these
protective actors. For example, local traders in Arua perceive it as
legitimate to charge higher prices to Sudanese traders who come to buy
goods in the town. There are, however, Ugandan traders who act as
20 As opposed to ‘processes of regularization’, ‘processes of situational adjustment’ are those
in which ‘people arrange their immediate situations . . . by exploiting the indeterminacies
in the situation, or by generating such indeterminacies . . . . These strategies continuously
reinject elements of indeterminacy into social negotiations, making active use of them and
making absolute ordering the more impossible’ (Moore 1978: 50).
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
intermediaries in this case: they help Sudanese to buy goods and make
sure they are treated correctly. They do not charge money for this,
but the service is returned in a non-financial way the same Sudanese
(or their relations) in turn help the Ugandans to trade in southern
Sudan. In other words, foreign traders operate in an unpredictable
environment, but they can enhance its predictability by associating
themselves with local traders. The point here is that protection or
intermediation is needed not only to cross the divide between state and
non-state actors, but also to negotiate other social divides.
Finally, personal relations are not only important in countering
the unpredictability of the cross-border trade for traders (Odegaard
2008; Mahmoud 2008; Staudt 1998), but also for state agents: it
has been demonstrated above that they also find themselves in a
rather unpredictable and hostile environment, and are in constant
negotiation with traders and the wider community. Personalizing the
relationship between trader and government official creates advantages
for both parties. In doing so, the government official may create better
relationships with the community, protect himself against potential
difficulties and inform himself about possible irregularities within this
‘moral economy’ of the cross-border trade. For example, field research
in 2008 revealed the case of a trader whose activities had been reported
by fellow traders to government officials. He was importing weapons
from eastern Congo, which he then rented out and/or sold to thieves in
the area –a practice that other traders considered illegitimate. This does
not mean that the weapons trade is automatically considered immoral:
a big Arua trader who was accused by the UN panel of supplying
weapons to Congolese rebels was and is strongly defended by the local
population (traders, politicians, religious organizations, and so on). The
first trader was informed on because his practices brought damage to
the area, while the second trader was protected because he was seen
as a typical example of a successful businessman ‘fending for himself’
through cross-border trade. Even though it involved arms trading, it
did not cause harm to the area (in Uganda, that is). On the contrary,
the trader had provided many services to the community, such as
constructing churches or roads.
Examining these practical norms has offered more insight into what
Lund calls ‘the processual aspects of the formation of public authority’
(2006: 276). These norms are central in the regulation of cross-border
trade, a field which does not escape regulation although it largely takes
place outside of the legal framework. In considering practical norms
we have shown that there is a divergence between official norms,
social norms and actual behaviour. This is nothing new, but the article
has analysed a variety of practices established in the field and the
mechanisms through which they were maintained. Rather than simply
being interpreted as governed by alternative systems of legitimacy,
these practical norms should be seen as part of an ongoing negotiation,
October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
or what Peter Andreas (2000) calls ‘border games’: the interaction
between government officials at the border and the unauthorized
border crossers. As Abraham and van Schendel (2005: 25) emphasize,
these border games are not only about strategic interactions between
government officials and border crossers, but also about fundamentally
different perceptions of licitness. ‘Threshold days’, in which customs
points temporarily decide to lower their taxes, is a good example
of the hybrid bricolage that ensues. Not only does this show how
stateness ‘waxes and wanes’; state institutions also resemble what Lund
(2006) calls ‘twilight institutions’ that defy clear-cut state/society,
public/private distinctions. Because of the difficult circumstances in
which government officials have to function, they have come to rely on
practical norms that are different from the national state regulations,
and which integrate wider concerns from the community; something
which is in turn influenced by the power position of the traders.
All this does not necessarily run against the interests of the national
state. Government officials continue to act within the state framework
and do not act against the state’s interests: because practical norms
help government institutions to function, the state is careful to conserve
them. This situation is therefore in line with what Janet Roitman calls
the ‘contradictory’ or ‘ambiguous’ relationship between the state and
actors in the extra-state economy, between the ‘formal’ and ‘informal’,
in which the state benefits from competing regimes of power (Roitman
2004: 168). In this case, the Ugandan state gains a clear political
advantage from accommodating the extra-state economic activities in
its margins. Although these extra-state cross-border activities deprive
the state of resources, they ‘return them to society in many ways’
(Vwakyanakazi 1991: 69), as they constitute a local solution to a
particular problem, in this case economic underdevelopment and
political marginalization. In other words, all these practices, many
of which are in theory illegal, do not automatically ‘undermine the
recursive patterns of rule at the heart of national political order and
integration’ (Chalfin 2001: 203). On the contrary, they are essential to
the functioning of the latter.
The authors would like to thank Kate Meagher and Africa’s two anonymous referees
for their comments on an earlier draft of this article. Kristof Titeca’s field research was
financed through grants from the Crisis States Research Programme (London School of
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October 27, 2010 Time: 06:24pm afr077.tex
This article describes how cross-border trade in West Nile, north-western
Uganda to a large extent takes place outside of the legal framework. This
does not mean that this trade is unregulated. We make use of the concept
of ‘practical norms’ to show the existence of regulation within this trade,
which diverges both from official norms and social norms (‘moral economy’).
The article describes how these practical norms emerged and how they are
enforced. First, it is shown how the moral economy of cross-border trade plays
an important role in their articulation. Second, we ask which practical concerns
play a role in sustaining these norms and how deviations from them activate
open power struggles. And third, we show how concrete events have played a
role in their emergence.
Cet article décrit la manière dont le commerce transfrontalier se déroule dans
une large mesure en dehors du cadre juridique dans la région du Nil occidental
située au Nord-Ouest de l’Ouganda. Ceci ne veut pas dire que ce commerce
n’est pas réglementé. L’article utilise le concept de « normes pratiques » pour
montrer l’existence d’une réglementation, au sein de ce commerce, qui diverge
à la fois des normes officielles et des normes sociales (« économie morale »).
Il décrit l’émergence de ces normes pratiques et leur mise en œuvre. Tout
d’abord, il montre le rôle important que joue l’économie morale du commerce
transfrontalier dans leur articulation. Ensuite, il étudie les préoccupations
pratiques qui jouent un rôle dans le maintien de ces normes et les luttes de
pouvoir ouvertes que déclenche le non-respect de ces normes. Enfin, il montre
le rôle qu’ont joué des événements concrets dans leur émergence.
... The question then becomes how and when different actors connect in borderlands. Here, a rich history of scholarship on borderlands has once again highlighted the importance of local political and social contexts to understand processes of brokerage, social and economic capital accumulation, moral economies, and practical norms that shape these interactions (see Goodhand, Raeymaekers and Titeca, in this volume; as well as Roitman, 2004;Titeca and Herdt, 2010;Hüsken, 2018;Raineri, 2019, among others). This connects to another central theme in recent scholarship. ...
... For example, looking at the Congo-Uganda border, Raeymaekers (in this volume) shows that many 'borderland bandits,' which play an important role in the smuggling economy and the way it is governed, owe their position to connections with the state. Rather than being characterised by mere evasion or perhaps unstructured petty corruption, recent scholarship has described a variety of more structured relationships, regulating how goods can be smuggled, at what price and under which conditions (i.e., Titeca and Herdt, 2010;Ahmad, 2017;Raineri and Strazzari, 2021). This can be found throughout the chapters in this volume, a few of which have further demonstrated that these dynamics take on an additional complexity when they are set in a context where also non-state armed groups are active (see Brenner; Thakur, Ahmad, in this volume). ...
... Much has been written on the difference between 'illegality' and 'illicitness' (Roitman 2008), and often, scholars have identified local 'practical norms' that define the borders of licit behavior and govern the interaction between state authorities and traders (Titeca and Herdt 2010;de Sardan 2013;Heitz-Tokpa 2019;Gallien 2020a;Tazebew and Kefale 2021). In Oshikango, there were indeed a certain number of practical norms that a researcher could have codified at any given moment. ...
Full-text available
The Routledge Handbook of Smuggling offers a comprehensive survey of interdisciplinary research related to smuggling, reflecting on key themes, and charting current and future trends. Divided into six parts and spanning over 30 chapters, the volume covers themes such as mobility, borders, violent conflict, and state politics, as well as looks at the smuggling of specific goods – from rice and gasoline to wildlife, weapons, and cocaine. Chapters engage with some of the most contentious academic and policy debates of the twenty-first century, including the historical creation of borders, re-bordering, the criminalisation of migration, and the politics of selective toleration of smuggling. As it maps a field that contains unique methodological, ethical, and risk-related challenges, the book takes stock not only of the state of our shared knowledge, but also reflects on how this has been produced, pointing to blind spots and providing an informed vision of the future of the field. Bringing together established and emerging scholars from around the world, The Routledge Handbook of Smuggling is an indispensable resource for students and researchers of conflict studies, borderland studies, criminology, political science, global development, anthropology, sociology, and geography.
... Scholars such as Ballvé (2012) have argued that state formation in these contexts cannot be understood without taking into account multiple everyday interactions beyond the nation state, including local government bodies but also non-governmental institutions, private firms and informal networks. As Titeca and De Herdt (2010) argue in a study in north-western Uganda, while cross-border trade may appear at first blush chaotic or unstructured, it is in fact governed by a number of practical norms negotiated between cross-border traders and state officials. ...
... But to what extent is this assumption valid? Research into governance provision in social and geographical spaces where state authority is patchy and statehood itself is contested suggests that governance may well emerge outside of state rule (Risse 2012), that there are functional equivalents to state authority that protect binding rules that are at the heart of governance (Börzel and Risse 2010), and that collectives may use agency to selectively appropriate or reject governance provision (Draude 2017) or even negotiate new regulations and practical norms (Titeca and De Herdt 2010). Resulting arrangements have been analysed as hybrid forms of governance (Polese and Santini 2018). ...
... The question then becomes how and when different actors connect in borderlands. Here, a rich history of scholarship on borderlands has once again highlighted the importance of local political and social contexts to understand processes of brokerage, social and economic capital accumulation, moral economies, and practical norms that shape these interactions (see Goodhand, Raeymaekers and Titeca, in this volume; as well as Roitman, 2004;Titeca and Herdt, 2010;Raeymaekers, 2014;Hüsken, 2018;Raineri, 2019, among others). This connects to another central theme in recent scholarship. ...
... For example, looking at the Congo-Uganda border, Raeymaekers (in this volume) shows that many 'borderland bandits,' which play an important role in the smuggling economy and the way it is governed, owe their position to connections with the state. Rather than being characterised by mere evasion or perhaps unstructured petty corruption, recent scholarship has described a variety of more structured relationships, regulating how goods can be smuggled, at what price and under which conditions (i.e., Titeca and Herdt, 2010;Ahmad, 2017;Gallien and Weigand, 2021;Raineri and Strazzari, 2021). This can be found throughout the chapters in this volume, a few of which have further demonstrated that these dynamics take on an additional complexity when they are set in a context where also non-state armed groups are active (see Brenner; Thakur, Ahmad, in this volume). ...
Full-text available
Smuggling is an economic activity that is politically defined and socially embedded. 1 In its functional essence, smuggling is typically trade, anchored in the demand for certain products and the costs of their movement. At the same time, it is segmented from legal trade through laws, which are, along with their enforcement, deeply political, tied into processes of state-formation and demarcation, economic regulation and prohibition, and geopolitics and conflict. Unlike most trade, smuggling in its perception and study is also intimately tied to the figure of the 'smuggler' and the particular social space of the borderland in which they are imagined to operate-as a risk-taker, a broker, a hustler, a worker, a profiteer, a villain, or a local hero. Consequently, the study of smuggling always has attracted a range of disciplines: anthropology; geography; economics; sociology; history; law; and political science. Even so, it rarely has been genuinely multidisciplinary. Discussions are frequently siloed along regional, disciplinary, and methodological lines that are connected insufficiently with each other. Frequently, smugglers appear not just on the geographic margins of states but on the margins of arguments that are primarily not about them and are imagined and framed to fit the respective assumptions, theories, and ideologies. 2 This handbook is intended to work against these tendencies and toward what might be called 'smuggling studies.' Its aim is to bring diverse disciplinary perspectives on smuggling together in one place and in conversation with each other, to highlight themes that emerge across different areas: the complex relationships among smugglers, states, armed groups, and globalised markets; the role of and impact on borderland communities; the sometimes coun-terintuitive effects of conflict and 'anti-smuggling policies;' and the drivers of heterogeneous dynamics across goods and routes. It also seeks to reflect on the methods and politics that have shaped the study of smuggling and to outline pathways for future research and collaboration. First and foremost, it seeks to present the value of understanding smuggling by placing smuggling at the centre of a field of study, not casting it at the margins, merely as a policy implication or a bogeyman. The remainder of this introduction is split into two broader sections. The first summarises key observations in the study of smuggling, highlighting central themes around conceptions, routes, actors and regulation, while also tracing some of the key developments and fault-lines in this field of study itself. The second section then provides an overview of the purpose, perspective, and content of this volume.
... When the colonial powers introduced colonial borders, these did not stop the interaction among ethnic groups. While members of the same ethnic group were now living on different sides of the (colonial) borders, and hence became subject to state regulation, untaxed trade -smuggling -continued being considered legitimate (Titeca and De Herdt 2010). Second, smuggling has always been seen as a legitimate way of survival in circumstances in which the population felt marginalized at best, and oppressed at worst. ...
... The West Nile region feels marginalized by the Museveni regime. They feel that -contrary to earlier regimes -they are not allowed into positions of power, which (amongst other things) translates itself in limited services and infrastructure (Titeca and De Herdt 2010). This context gave rise to a number of rebel groups which were translating these grievances (Leopold 2005: 46). ...
Full-text available
By looking at smugglers in Northwestern Uganda, in particular a group of fuel smugglers called the OPEC boys, this chapter explains how smuggling can be a socially legitimate activity. It shows how smugglers can be regarded as social bandits (Hobsbawm 1959, 1981), through their strong links with the local population. In explaining this, the chapter shows how smuggling is understood through local social imaginaries (Taylor 2004, Grant 2014), and how smugglers act as an uncivil society, representing actors from the informal economy (Bayat 1997a, 1997b).
... However, there is also the fact that many cross-border traders (Ama et al. 2013) do not declare their products as marketable nor register as economic actors with certain state agents' complicity. The trend being that, very often, small-scale cross-border traders pass as consumers of goods rather than traders to avoid taxes (Titeca & De Herdt 2010). Even so, the mere payment of taxes-whether formal or informal taxes-, or the declaration of business products, or the registration of such smallscale trade activities to civil authorities in the city should not be considered as the sole criterion to consider one's activity as formal or informal (Titeca & De Herdt 2010;Tegera & Johnson 2007). ...
... The trend being that, very often, small-scale cross-border traders pass as consumers of goods rather than traders to avoid taxes (Titeca & De Herdt 2010). Even so, the mere payment of taxes-whether formal or informal taxes-, or the declaration of business products, or the registration of such smallscale trade activities to civil authorities in the city should not be considered as the sole criterion to consider one's activity as formal or informal (Titeca & De Herdt 2010;Tegera & Johnson 2007). ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The aim of this study is to understand the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the activities of informal cross-border traders. Using quantitative and qualitative mixed methods, the study highlights some of the challenges faced by informal cross-border traders, particularly during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic. The result suggests that while most informal cross-border traders were already living a precarious life and prone to poverty, the Coronavirus pandemic has significantly exacerbated their livelihood status. In this context, the lockdown measures and the travel restriction between DRC and Rwanda to contain the spread of the pandemic have had a toll on informal, small-scale cross-border activities. Moreover, newly adopted border policies which encourage group purchase of merchandises appear to have further negative consequences for small-scale cross-border traders, by excluding those with meagre capital, and raises new issues related to the delivery and quality of goods.
Full-text available
Trade in processed small pelagic fish and informal cross-border trade (ICBT) are linked to livelihood activities in West Africa. Although these fish products are being traded informally in West Africa, research on this topic is limited. This study builds on a multi-partner supported ‘FishTrade’ initiative in Africa to illuminate the volume and value of informal fish trade across the Ghana–Togo–Benin (GTB) borders, and the socio-demographic determinants supporting participation and profitability in this trade. We used a structured survey and focus group interviews to obtain data from women fish traders, who handle the entire fish trade in three major Ghanaian markets where ICBT activities are concentrated. Our results showed ICBT across these borders constitutes significant economic and livelihood potential, estimated at about 6000 MT in volume and US$14 million in market value per annum. Furthermore, socio-demographic factors, such as fish traders’ years of experience and membership in an unofficial market cooperative, positively influence participation and profitability, but access to market information negatively affects participation. However, geographical distance, large household size and access to micro-finance negatively affect ICBT profitability. Our findings illuminate that consumers’ purchasing power, fish taste and preference, ICBT’s economic opportunities and a shared heritage and connection significantly influence this form of trading along the GTB borders. We conclude that ICBT in these small pelagic processed fish represents untapped potential for local livelihood and highlight the need for further research on this topic.
The Aflao-Lomé border is one of the busiest borders in West Africa. This border serves as a passage for both human and goods traffic. More important is the role of the border in facilitating trade between Ghana and Togo. However, due to high cost of customs duties, immigration policies, and other bureaucratic bottlenecks, traders explore marginal and peripheral routes to transact business and other activities. These routes, referred to as ‘beats’ are footpaths that link Ghana and Togo within the Aflao-Lomé border region. On daily basis, they experience high traffic from traders and immigrants. Using the qualitative approach, this paper investigates these trade routes and their security implications on the border region. First, the paper looks at the ethnography of the Aflao-Lomé border region and the history of the beats. The paper also explores the factors that underpin the use of these trade routes in the region. At the heart of the paper lies how the beats facilitate trading activities between Ghana and Togo and the security implications of the use of these routes. The paper argues that the beats play crucial roles in promoting trade in the border region but pose great security challenges to residents of the region.
Full-text available
Drawing upon recent anthropological research on livestock trade and traders in southern Ethiopia and a review of different policy papers and reports, this chapter suggests three main reasons for Ethiopia’s failure to recognize pastoral economies because of the government’s fetishized attachment to economic transformation and growth. These are: (1) pastoralism counters modernist visions of Ethiopia’s economy and society; (2) strong political and economic interests dictate the opening of pastoral lands to expropriation and investment, thereby undermining pastoralism and silencing its contributions to the economy; and (3) mobile populations, such as pastoralists, are viewed as political and administrative problems for the Ethiopian state.
Transnational crime and state formation This comparative expose updates the author’s reflections on historical process, « criminal » practice, and state formation in the context of the privatization of the state. The transnational cross-fertilization between the state and crime appears to be systemic and constitutes one mechanism in the assemblage of the state and world capitalism. Since the publication of The Criminalization of the State in Africa, that transnational practices and criminality do indeed contribute to state formation in sub-Saharan Africa as in the rest of the world.