Informally Speaking


Street commerce has always been important in Mozambique, a country with large Arab influence, but since the turn of this century towns became immense bazaars.


Some weeks ago, an international organization accused the informal sector of undermining the economy. That statement struck me as superficial because it doesn’t address issues like: 1) Unemployment in Mozambique grows and is believed to surpass 80%. 2) People sell and buy on the streets because their standard of living is not significantly improving. 3) Accusing the informal sector is ignoring that the majority of commerce is not informal and even so happens outside the control of any Western institution.


As it is now, informal commerce is the soul and character of this country and I would openly support it if it only were a little less chaotic. Wherever in the world would you find people selling whatever you can think and a lot more?


Unthinkable: I was told that during hard times, when even deodorants were a luxury, it was possible to deo spray just one armpit in the street. I even imagine the deal: “1 armpit: 20 Meticais – 2 armpits: 30 Meticais”.


Addiction: There was a time when cigarettes were expensive and difficult to find. It became frequent to see people selling cigarettes from an open pack, but soon the offer included the possibility of the same cigarette being shared by different passersby.


Vanity: Young boys not only sell nail lacquer on the streets, but also apply it on request. I suppose this is still happening today and prices are per nail. This is a commercial trick, because in that way they can advertize really low, attractive prices for a very poor clientele.


Fashion: Do you fancy big fashion names? Accessories? Sunglasses? Shoes? Bags? You say it and you have it on the streets of this town. Or even on the beaches. And you are welcomed to discuss prices down to much less than 50%.


Disgusting: Selling raw meat in a corner of one of the busiest streets, mid summer, flies furiously buzzing around a plastic container. Yuck!


Sad: There’s nothing sadder than finding someone on the road selling wildlife, usually monkeys and birds. If I could I would buy and release every single one I have ever seen, but a thought stops me again and again: if I give money, he will keep doing it even more fiercely. So my eyes just remain sad for as long as I remember the sad eyes of any trapped gazelle on the side of the road.


Piling: Street vendors solve the measurement question by piling goods or using open cans. If you buy tomatoes on the street, you buy 1 or 2 heaps of tomatoes. But the reality is that after a short discussion you can even pay just half tomato.


Mobility: These days street stalls are a bit more solid than they used to be. Before they were really light and precarious, allowing sudden retreats. I saw a couple of police raids against street sellers, because they didn’t want to pay taxes, be it lawful or unlawful ones. I guess those nuances of corruption ended or maybe they got used to pay a more reasonable amount.


Caricatural: In the middle of all this I discovered a guy who disguises himself as a walking stall. Merchandise cover his hat, his coat, his trousers, his arms, his hands… Little of him is visible under watches, necklaces and a lot more. I think he is a clever individual who understood that he could earn more from humour and tourists than from street commerce itself.