Letter: John Weeks obituary

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While he was at Sussex University John Weeks did much to bring the concept of the informal sector to world attention. At the time, it was limited to a single study – of illegal brewing in Ghana – by Keith Hart. In the ILO Kenya Report on Employment, Incomes and Equality (1972), Weeks contrasted the popular view of informal sector activities as “primarily those of petty traders, street hawkers, shoeshine boys and other groups underemployed” on the streets of the big towns with the evidence he had found. The bulk of employment in the informal sector was economically efficient and profit-making, though small in scale and limited by simple technologies. Carpenters, masons, tailors and other tradesmen, along with cooks and taxi drivers, provided goods and services for a large though often poor section of the population.

“From the vantage point of central Nairobi, with its gleaming skyscrapers, the dwellings and commercial structures of the informal sector look indeed like hovels. For observers surrounded by imported steel, glass and concrete, it requires a leap of the imagination and considerable openness of mind to perceive the informal sector as a sector of thriving activity and a source of Kenya’s future wealth.”

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