Emeka Okafor publishes Timbuktu Chronicles.
The most overlooked engine of indigenous rural and urban activity in Africa is the market square. Bartering without par, continuous pricing adjustments and product flow, recycling ad infinitum, organic produce et al are but some of its unremitting attributes. The Market, 'Afia' as it is called amongst the Igbos of southeastern Nigeria or the Jua Kali as it known in Kenya, is the fulcrum of commercial and social activity.
The significance of this entity has never been truly acknowledged nor has its developmental potential been even minimally fulfilled. Overlooked by 'civilized' elites as dirty, noisy and so 'not modern' Markets have the potential to be revolutionary in their impact. Without any directed assistance these local exchange systems have fairly often morphed into informal industrial clusters such as Suame Magazine in Ghana and Nnewi in Nigeria. The question that needs to be asked is how can these agglomerations at differing stages of evolution be sustainably enabled? The answer could be in the adoption of methods and tools that are now coming into there own.
SMS messaging for the purveyors of perishables from vegetables to fish as is practiced in Senegal could form the foundation for basic food commodity exchanges that lessen risk for the producers and improve price stability for the buyers. An emphasis on locally relevant machine tooling as is the case with of Swaziland within the context of market need, could spark the need to make and not just consume. In addition existing indigenous mobile banking services with wireless technologies could be woven into hybrid locally relevant financial institutions. This is the promise of the market-square.
The farmers market is an underutilized organizing opportunity in the USA as well. The people who go every week to buy local produce from farmers they get to know are a core constituency for green products and polices. I write about the possibilities in "Mr Franklin's Folks" on my own blog, solarray.blogspot.com, at solarray.blogspot.com/2004/12/three-solar-projects.html.