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Informal Income Opportunities and Urban Employment in Ghana

  • Keith Hart


This article originated in the study of one Northern Ghanaian group, the Frafras, as migrants to the urban areas of Southern Ghana. It describes the economic activities of the low-income section of the labour force in Accra, the urban sub-proletariat into which the unskilled and illiterate majority of Frafra migrants are drawn.

Price inflation, inadequate wages, and an increasing surplus to the requirements of the urban labour market have led to a high degree of informality in the income-generating activities of the sub-proletariat. Consequently income and expenditure patterns are more complex than is normally allowed for in the economic analysis of poor countries. Government planning and the effective application of economic theory in this sphere has been impeded by the unthinking transfer of western categories to the economic and social structures of African cities. The question to be answered is this: Does the ‘reserve army of urban unemployed and underemployed’ really constitute a passive, exploited majority in cities like Accra, or do their informal economic activities possess some autonomous capacity for generating growth in the incomes of the urban (and rural) poor?



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Page 62 note 1 Prices are given in Ghanaian pounds (£G), which, before the introduction of the Cedi and later the new Cedi, were officially at parity with the £ sterling.

Page 63 note 1 Source: Census of Population, 1960.

Page 63 note 2 Source: ibid.

Page 64 note 1 See Rimmer, Douglas, ‘Wage Politics in West Africa’, University of Birmingham, 1970. All three indices showed a slight upturn in real earnings for 1967–8, following an 8 per cent increase in the minimum wage.

Page 64 note 2 Birmingham, W., Neustadt, I., and Omaboe, E. N. (eds.), A Study of Contemporary Ghana, vol. I, The Economy of Ghana (London, 1966), p. 141.

Page 64 note 3 Odoi, Mills, Report of the Commission on the Structure and Remuneration of the Public Service in Ghana (Accra-Tema, 1967), p. 26.

Page 64 note 4 Stoces, F., ‘Agricultural Production in Ghana, 1955–65’, in The Economic Bulletin of Ghana (Legon), X, 3, 1966, p. 27.

Page 64 note 5 See Rouch, Jean, Notes on Migrations into the Gold Coast (Paris, 1954) — English translation by P. E. O. and J. B. Heigham (Accra, 1956), pp. 46–8.

Page 67 note 1 The empirical basis for these statements concerning the length of stay in urban areas is contained in my unpublished Ph.D. thesis: Hart, J. K., ‘Entrepreneurs and Migrants – a study of modernisation among the Frafras of Ghana’, University of Cambridge, 1969.

Page 67 note 2 Rouch, op. cit. p. 45.

Page 67 note 3 Whyte, W. F., Street-Corner Society (Chicago, 1943).

Page 67 note 4 Lewis, O., La Vida (New York, 1966).

Page 68 note 1 Mayhew, H., London Labour and the London Poor (London, 1851), vols. 1–4.

Page 68 note 2 See Hart, J. K., ‘Small-Scale Entrepreneurs in Ghana and Development Planning’, in The Journal of Development Studies (London), 07 1970, pp. 103–20.

Page 68 note 1 See Hill, Polly, ‘Landlords and Brokers’, in Markets and Marketing in Africa (Edinburgh, 1966), pp. 114.

Page 73 note 1 See Dewey, A., Peasant Marketing in Java (Glencoe. Ill., 1962). p. 85.

Page 74 note 1 A recent survey of Dakar workers produced an average dependency rate of 9·6 persons per worker; Pfefferman, G., Industrial Labor in the Republic of Senegal (New York, 1968), pp. 160–70. It is unlikely that up to 20 people (as reported) were supported in any permanent sense at one time by an individual wage-earner; see the reference made by Rimmer, op. cit. pp. 56–7.

Page 74 note 2 For a general review of the problem see Cloward, R. A., ‘Illegitimate Means, Anomie and Deviant Behaviour’, in American Sociological Review (Washington), xxiv, 04 1959.

Page 75 note 1 See Abraham, W. E., Report of the Commission of Enquiry into Trade Malpractices in Ghana (Accra-Tema, 1966).

Page 75 note 2 Hart, loc. cit. p. 114.

Page 75 note 3 See Jahoda, Gustav, ‘Money Doubling in the Gold Coast: with some cross-cultural comparisons’, in The British Journal of Delinquency (London), VIII, 1957, pp. 266–76, and countless short stories and local newspaper articles.

Page 76 note 1 See Sutherland, E. H., The Professional Thief (Chicago, 1937), p. 19.

Page 77 note 1 See Hart, J. K. and Robertson, A. F., ‘Länderstudien zum Problem des Tribalismus in Afrika: Ghana’, in Internationales Afrika Forum (Munich), 0708 1970, pp. 432–5.

Page 77 note 2 Margaret Peil discovered one or two Frafras working in an unskilled capacity in factories covered by her survey in 1966; see The Ghanaian Factory Worker: industrial man in Africa (Cambridge, 1972).

Page 78 note 1 For diversification in the activities of small entrepreneurs, see Hart, loc. cit. pp. 107–9.

Page 82 note 1 See U.N.D.P./I.B.R.D., Report on Development Strategies for Papua New Guinea, 1973–8 (Port Moresby, 1972), for an implementation of the approach recommended here.

Page 84 note 1 See Norris, K., Jamaica: the search for identity (London, 1962), p. 40.

Page 86 note 1 I am grateful to John Bryden of the University of East Anglia, Norwich, for suggesting this approach, as well as for his numerous valuable comments on this article.

Page 87 note 1 Rimmer, op. cit. p. 69.

Page 87 note 2 Cf. Foster, G., ‘Peasant Society and the Image of the Limited Good’, in The American Anthropologist (Washington), II, 1965, pp. 293315; and Hart, K., ‘Migration and Tribal Identity among the Frafras of Ghana’, in The Journal of Asian and African Studies (Leiden), VI, 1 01 1971, pp. 2635.

Page 88 note 1 See Todaro, M. P., ‘A Model of Labour Migration and Urban Unemployment in LessDeveloped Countries’, in The American Economic Review (Providence, R.I.), 69, 1, 03 1969.

* Lecturer in Social Anthropology, University of Manchester. An earlier version of this article was presented to the Conference on Urban Unemployment in Africa held at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, in September 1971. The anthropological fieldwork was undertaken during 1965–8, and the ethnographic present, whenever used, refers to this period.

Informal Income Opportunities and Urban Employment in Ghana

  • Keith Hart


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