secondary source

Agnes Lambert de la Frondeville, "Une alliance tumultueuse: les commerçants maliennes du Dakar-Niger et les agents de l'État"
in Cahiers des Sciences Humaines, vol.23, nø1, 89-103 (1987)

© 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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This article describes the relationship between women traders and various state employees - railroad, customs and police agents. Several conditions make it possible for female merchants to exist. There are advantageous prices for primary products from Mali and manufactured goods in Senegal. Women have access to free transport thanks to a husband who works in the government and receives free travel privileges. They are able to obtain protection from state employees who levy fines and penalties.

State employees receive low salaries and receive them irregularly. They view commerce as an additional resource from which to supplement their incomes. The extent to which they prey on merchants depends on their personal financial condition and the ability of the merchants to negotiate for the protection of "patrons" - either agents of the state or other well-connected merchants.

This article describes the kind of corruption mentioned by some of my informants. It also explains some of the things that I saw - the sacks of salt that appeared under my seat at Kidira and disappeared before Kayes, for example.

NOTE: The rise of industry in Senegal created complimentary trade zones. This was the ingredient lacking in the railroad which made the east-west route dependent on export crops shipments, and therefore vulnerable to European market fluctuations. Had the French concentrated on developing Senegalese industry, instead of treating Senegal and Soudan as agricultural colonies, the railroad might have been more profitable.

(p89) Bamako train station, Wednesday morning ... all sorts of produce passed through the train windows and stashed in every nook and cranny.

(p90) Larger sacks of spices (ginger, tamarind, sweet peas, dates) were placed in a freight car. A few hours later, the train pulls out slowly, as if it was being tortured.

(p91) At each station, there was intense commercial activity through the train window: Kati provided fruits and vegetables, Dio provided cure-dent, Badenko sold millet and peanuts, Kayes had vegetable fiber sponges and indigo cloth. By the time the train reached Dakar, it was jammed with all kinds of things.

On the return, the train was filled with manufactured goods from Dakar. They added peanut butter at Kaffrine, Kaolak salt and Mbour dried fish at Tambacounda.

Market women face customs inspectors at the borders and agents of "Affairs Economiques" in Bamako, so they had to get off before they reached the end of the line.

Theoretical model consists of the salaried workers, market women and the networks of other pople connected to the market women. The article is about the interaction between market women and salaried officials, both as individuals and as "the state." A footnote says that the research consisted of "plusieurs voyages en compagnie des commerçants" in the train. It is possible that she rode the train a couple of times and then whipped out this article. Her footnotes mention few sources of any type, and are used mostly to explain things that should have been included in the text.

The first question is to determine the nature of relations between market women and the salaried state workers. The state workers interact with market women on two levels -- as a collection of individuals, and as instruments of a coordinated policy. The author says that this work corroborates the statement that the informal sector has penetrated "au coeur mˆme de l'état" (the the very heart of the state).

) The relations between market women and the state take place in the microcosm defined by the train.

The second question is to determine whether there are any strategies that were specifically "feminine" and did they represent extensions of some larger group's behavior?

Finally, how do market women "reproduce themselves" as a group?

Le Contexte Historique . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p91

(p92) The completion of the railroad to Bamako in 1904 created a transport system with legal guarantees that favored European merchants over Africans. European merchants exported rubber, skins, rice, animals and peanuts in exchange for manufactured goods

There is an extremely vague footnote for "Des documents d'archives" that says merely "Archives Nationale de Koulouba 1930 (Bamako)." This is a reference for the transport of kola by railroad.

The railroad also carried navétanes and building materials.

At independence, the government tried to nationalize all commerce by creating the agency SOMIEX, but their inability to provide enough goods for demand has provided opportunities for black marketeers. After 1968, the government took measures to encourage the return of European and Syrian-Lebanese merchants. The railroad was used to haul bulk raw materials to the coast -- karite, gum arabic, peanuts, millet, cola -- and manufactured goods like cloth and salt, plus building materials in from the coast. During the 1980s drought, grain imports became significant. In 1985, when 80% of the railroad's rolling stock was requisitioned to haul 80,000 tons of relief supplies, the small merchants were pushed aside so that the large grain importers had enough capacity.

Le commerce féminin sur le Dakar-Niger et l'état comme somme d'agents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p92

The history of market women is tightly linked to the history of the railroad salaried employees (secteur salarié). Railroad administration limited access to the railroad, so the cheminots and their families augmented their income by buying and selling along the railway.

Author gives sources as "interviews de cheminots retraités" (retired railroad workers). One retired mechanic carried cloth woven and dyed by his two wives for sale in Dakar, where he bought them more thread. Another retired mechanic reported that when he and his family lived at Thiès, he authorized his youngest wife (who had no children) to visit her parents in Mali -- she did so, and took things to sell along the way. Several aged wholesalers reported that they began by consigning shipments of mangos and tamarinds to railroad employees to sell in Dakar.

Small commerce on the railroad expanded after 1963 and grew enormously during 1970-1975 when the economy began to deteriorate. Families were forced to earn money any way that they could, and railroad commerce offered a possibility. Women began to take the train more frequently, and some retired cheminots began to ride the trains again.

(p93) Profits came from three sources: price differentials in Senegal and Mali; complimentary trade items in the two countries, and speculation in items like rice.

Railroad employees could facilitate transport; and they even served as "guardians of the ports of access."

Merchants caught traveling "irregularly" were an important source of revenue for employees of the railroad, customs and police. (NOTE: In other words, merchants had to "pay off" railroad employees in some way--either voluntary bribes, involuntary penalties, or in the non-cash social commerce of family relations.)

This says something about the nature of employment in Mali. The salary is only part of the compensation; it usually bears no relationship to the costs of reproducing a worker.

A salaried position also provides other legal and clandestine benefits. These provide the substance of a system of patronage headed by cheminots. They receive their patronage in the form of exonerations, tips, and access to special goods, in exchange for favors.

The "real" salary was the sum of the official salary and the clandestine compensation. It was impossible to estimate. Since the state is the country's largest employer, it must be part of the analysis.

The Malian state is a "predator-redistributer" that seeks to control all of the nation's resources in order to redistribute them as patronage. Following a period of European capital flight at independence, the bureaucrats and merchants collaborated in the pillage of the country's public sector.

The railroad has become like the Customs or Police, subject to competition for control between merchants and the state. One minister was known for taking money from the railroad, with the complicity of the director, until he was fired in 1978. Another government bureaucrat sold off spare locomotive parts.

The same ideas of predation and redistribution penetrated all the way down to the lowest levels. "Rolling" jobs were the best because they brought the cheminot in contact with illicit activities.

Clandestine activity required cooperation at all levels of railroad administration. At the lowest level, one official who was scheduled to do a two-day run to Dakar and return, might ask a colleague to cover for him on the return trip so he could stay in Dakar to "take care of business." The colleague would have twice as many opportunities to receive clandestine income. Supervisors sanctioned and covered this in exchange for consideration from both men.

In a labor system like this, good personnel management consisted of distributing favors skillfully.

The merchants suffer an enormous variety of depradations -- too many to enumerate. The author gives some examples:

(p94) For example, merchants must negotiate the price of passage with their goods with the railroad personnel. They do not receive an official ticket for their payment. In a footnote, the author calculated that a beginning ticket collector (controller) earned 24,000 CFA/month and might take in 5,000 CFA from ten merchants on each trip. With two roundtrips a week, that meant an additional 80,000 CFA per month in clandestine income.

The customs officials tax the clandestine goods at whatever rate they desire, or simply confiscate a portion if there is too much protest.

Some of the oldest market women developed collaborative relationships with railroad personnel. One even denounced younger women who refused to submit to her control.

Both railroad and police officials sold or gave away fraudulent driver's licenses (permis de circulation), which then then threatened to withdraw if the owner didn't cooperate.

The jurisdictions of the Police, Douanes, Afaires Politiques, and Contr“le des Prix were poorly defined, so each agent tended to interpret as he saw fit, and most exceeded their jurisdiction.

A new profession developed: independent indicateurs et mouchards who acted as steerers between merchants and railroad agents; con-men who pretended to be policemen to sell protection, thieves who operated throughout the train at night with police complicity

The cost of all this to the merchants may be between 20-50% of the purchase price of their merchandise. Yet all merchants had had all of their goods confiscated at the same time on at least one occassion. They were forced to rely on family and relatives in order to return to business.

Predation by police and railroad agents increased at the end of each month because they were paid at the beginning.

Since the cost of living jumped in 1984, there has been an increase in the number of exactions by state agents. However, the structure of relations adapted -- now all market women find an agent or established merchant to "protect" them before venturing onto the train. Their commercial succes depends to a certain extent on their ability to negotiate immunity.

Le commerce féminin sur le Dakar-Niger et l'état comme institution centralisée . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p94

Although market women and railroad agents have a complex relationship, they supported each other when threatened by others from outside their social class.

(p95) The Malian state's function appeared to be defender of the interests of the state, its clients and allies. For example, in 1980-1981, "Comission de décongestion" was intended to remove bulky baggage from the train, and it drove some railroad market women into other activites.

Sometimes, trains were halted in the middle of nowhere to be systematically searched by agents. Then they made "arrangements" with each merchant.

Border guards confiscated salt and soap at the border, protecting the monopolies of SOMIEX and SEPOM.

The impact of World Bank demands for restructuring will reduce the size of the public sector, freezing salaries and tightening up everything. That, plus the purchase of a new Malian train in 1987 (NOTE: this didn't happen) should reduce the amount of clandestine transfers.

Railroad administration was torn between two contradictory goals -- earn a profit and fulfill social needs.

A few agents demonstrated a new attitude towards corruption. "Parfait" was a young chef de gare who had graduated from the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, and "12020" who was known for making market women pay the full fare -- 12020 CFA -- to Dakar.

More recently, the state agents decided to make an example of the oldest market woman. On at least one occassion, her railcar was separated from the rest of the train to be searched. She was told to pay 200,000 to 700,000 CFA for excess baggage each trip, and will probably go bankrupt.

As living conditions get worse for the population, they resist state control even more. Zealous agents are derided as toubabs, and denounced as asocial.

Malians accept predation as normal. The laws against it are part of the colonial heritage, and therefore not relevant. If there is a problem with this system, its the failure to redistribute wealth equitably.

The restrictions imposed by international lending organizations were particularly painful for small merchants, who became increasingly unable to care for their families. The author predicts social unrest if things don't improve.

Stratégies féminines -- stratégies lignagères . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p96

(p96) Geneaological studies of market women shows the strategy by which they reproduce themselves. An individual's entry into railroad commerce was determined by their age and gender. This categories are neither discrete nor isolated -- they interact.

Women are subordinate in Malian society, but their behavior is more a reflection of their status as a social group than as members of individual lineage groups.

Women view the colonial and Malian administration as male- dominated. Men controlled long distance commerce as well. In a footnote, the author explained that Marka women defined long distance trade as caravan trade in salt and cloth. For Malinke women, this meant the cola and grain trade for glass beads).

Unlike women in the coastal countries, Malian women were limited to small commerce in locally prepared goods like dyed cloth, prepared food and produce. Women's travel is restricted by the expectations of family life, usually between husband and father's houses.

A number of factors long distance trade by females possible. First was the appearance of modern transport methods such as trucks in the post-war period. The authored cited an example of women who rented a truck to carry fish from Mopti to Bamako or Kolokani between 1945-1960 before switching to the railroad.

In some families, it was normal that daughters enter commerce as employees. Some travel as agents for their fathers until their fathers decide they can handle their own "affaires." At that time, the fathers provide them with "l'aide" to carry on business independently. Married daughters who lived with their husbands acted as representatives for her father's business. In both cases, only oldest daughters are eligible.

Sometimes, older sisters or aunts take charge of up-and- coming market women. The newcomers served as employees for a period that varied inversely with the distance from the parents.

(p97) It is not possible to determine what portion of the family's income is derived from long distance trade. Start-up money is accessible by saving from local market activity or sales of "l'or épargné." Inheritance can play an important role -- the author cited a Maure woman who inherited half of her father's animals and sold them to buy cattle and a truck with which to begin trade between Mali and Ivory Coast.

In a footnote, the author listed three ways that colonialism mixed people of different ethnicity and lineage -- navétanes, railroad work and migration to Dakar. It contributed to the emancipation of women who moved to new locations with their husbands.

For example, there are market women in Bamako who were born in Kayes cercle. They stay with relatives in Kayes and make the market stop there into a part of their commercial operation.

Women preferred to engage in commerce, even if they married. Divorcees, widows, spinsters and even wives in polygamous marriages all needed the income. Married women assumed the right to use the "prix du condiment" contributed daily by the husbands (for the sauce of the daily meal) in market transactions to earn a profit. They continued this practice even after marrying or remarrying. The practice was reinforced by the failure of many husbands to earn enough in the city.

Older women past child-bearing age had more freedom to travel longer distances. Some husbands insisted that their wives give up traveling. Younger women who were about to marry tried to draw out the preparations to stall until they could convert their operation to something compatible with the new family arrangement. (JJ: For example, a Bamako woman who was accustomed to trade at Mopti, would have to shift operations if she married a man from Kayes.)

The merchants seek to develop commercial relations that extend outside the family, because the economic crisis had made some people unreliable. Every merchant had a story about money entrusted to a relative that was misspent for personal obligations. Thus, market women try to diversify their commercial contacts in order to reduce the risks of embezzlement.

Market women viewed relations with men as ways to gain access to resources. Women measured their ability by their success at atracting gifts and favors from men -- goods from merchants and acccess from officials. This is difficult to measure for married market women because they were less likely to disclose their acceptance of gifts from other men. But young market women consistently bragged about how they obtained favors from men that made their commercial activity successful.

(p98) Marriage may have been a motivation for men to transfer wealth to women in the form of gifts.

The entry of women into long distance commerce had effects on the social structure. The existence of long distance female traders exerted a "structuring" effect on lineage groups in two ways. It provided an entry point for resources that were distributed throughout the lineage group, and other members of the lineage group often provided their support. However, the commercial activity of market women tended to destabilize lineage groups by altering the gender division of labor. There is an increasing number of "femmes chefs économiques de famille" in towns and especially among railroad merchants, due to widowhood, divorce or male unemployment. The ideas of profitability and individual success have encouraged market women to abandon cooperative business practices like cooperatives, group buying associations, collective vehicle rental, etc.

Efficacité du discours de la parenté . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p98

In Malian society, parenthood was extended by several means: alliance, adoption, integration. This was not specifically a rural phenomenom, but in the cities, parenthood was reinterpreted in the context of new urban developments. In the city, the extension of parenthood corresponded to the new strategies of acquisition by families and individuals.

In this context, the parent performed a number of functions. Parenthood provided a fictious unity that obscured the very real conflicts that existed between individuals, such as disputes, family rivalries and discrimination.

Employees of the wholesale market women on the Dakar-Niger referred to themselves as "fils" and "filles" of their "maman." Their travel was entirely dependent on commercial considerations for which they could be sent ot Bamako, Dakar or any other point along the railroad. Although they received compensation equal to the "cout minimum de la réproduction physique de leur travail" (minimum cost necessary to sustain them for work), their lodging and professional future were entirely dependent on their boss.

The language of parenthood obscured conflicts between families. The FADENYA is the rivalry between half- siblings of the same father, which reproduced the conflict between wives of the same husband. Another form of family conflict existed between wives and mothers-in-law, who forced the wives (who entered the group as outsiders) to prove their value to the group on a daily basis. These disputes are not visible when the women is with her husband or within the family compound, but once outside, they spoke bitterly about it. [A footnote described the composition of "grandes familles" in Bamako which number as many as 50-100 people.]

Parenthood also provides a method of discourse to cover many different social interactions. In particular, it serves as a reference for the large number of different types of interactions that took place in a railroad train. Parenthood provides a means for strangers to arrange their interaction, by determining relative status and points of commonality.

(p99) For example, individuals seek a common origin in village or region, the same family name, a friend in common, or even the same voyage. During that voyage, an individual refers to others as their "brother" or "sister-in-law."

The language of parenthood, when applied to commerce, indicates a basic strategy of market women. They try to enlarge their "family" in order to create relationships with the largest number of "problem-solvers" possible. Each step in the commercial process produced face-to-face confrontations with customs officiers, railroad officials, etc. By calling a railroad conducter balma ké (brother with the same mother and father), a market woman arranged to have her excess baggage transported.

Market women have to arrange the "family relationship" before they engage in trade with another individual.

Les conditions de reproduction des commerces féminins sur le Dakar-Niger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p99

The conditions of reproduction illustrate the different types of activities carried out by market women.

The first use of commercial revenue is for the social and economic reproduction of the immediate family. Whatever is left over is usually not enough to maintain stocks of trade goods, so market women can only reproduce the goods of commerce irregularly. Since the market woman travels with neither ticket nor freight manifest, she is especially vulnerable to having her goods seized by an official.

Before beginning a commercial trip, the market woman must accumulate capital, perhaps by receiving late payments for earlier transactions, or by receiving a gift of cash/goods from another source. These determine the regularity with which she can undertake a trip. In this case, profits and revenues become confused. For most women, it is enough to repay the gift and arrive home with goods for the family.

Most other micro-entreprises remain locked in a cycle of simple reproduction. They produce a profit which is distributed among the family members, leaving enough to resume the next cycle of business. However, the demands of family and society for gift-giving threatens to absorb all the profits of the entreprise at every moment. However, they continue to exist, and when the right conjunction of events takes place, a micro-entreprsie can advance from simple reproduction to cyclical reproduction.

A small minority of women's entreprises satisfy the model of enlarged reproduction (réproduction élargi). They earned enough to satisfy family needs and leave something for an accumulation of commercial capital. They regularly used this capital to purchase additional merchandise stocks or to invest in infrastructure such as vehicles, shops and equipment like scales.

The author asked whether this enlarged reproduction was an outgrowht of more limited forms of reproduction. Its origins are not simply economic, but depnd also on family and social connections. For example, one man who sold peanuts as a petit comemrcant during the colonial period paid for his children's schooling. One went to work for SOMIEX, while another married the director of the Hippo soap/oil concern (SEPOM). Their influence and connections aided all other family members, which included the head of family, his four wives and a daughter who acted as a merchant.

Why do Malians continue to pursue commerce that is not profitable? One source argued that the reasons for business were social rather than profits. [Fatou Sow, "Femmes, sociétés et valeurs africaines" (Dakar, brochure IFAN nø3886, December 1976), 13.] Commercial trips provide an excuse for a number of social activities -- visits, gift-giving, travel. It allows Africans an opportunity to reciprocate earlier actions. In that case, it works against the type of personal accumulation of wealth that is normally associated with success at business. Railroad commerce is more of a response to the desire to redistribute than the desire to accumulate.

Women's commerce on the Dakar-Niger provides a way for them to affirm their social status without giving them an indepndent economic role. The symbol of success for market women is to have given 500,000 CFA to her father by the age of 20. A woman might find it possible, after satisfying her family's demands, to accumulate capital.

Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p100

With plans by the railroad to bring their control up to the level of the Senegalese, many merchants, especially the smallest ones, made plans to switch to other commercial routes. The railroad is just one of several possible commercial circuits open to women. Women remain constantly open to new commercial opportunities. In other words, they cannot afford to become complacent. [A footnote lists other commercial circuits: Mali- Ivory Coast, Mali-Guinée, the gold-bearing regions of the Ivory Coast and Guniea borders, construction zones for new hydroelectric dams ... for the most fortunate, Mali to France, Gabon or Mecca.]

Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp101-103

The author's notes are almost all explanatory. Very few mention written sources like Amselle, Morice, Samaké and Sow.