This panel examines the spatial forms underpinning transformations of trade in Africa, tracing the socio-economic impacts of (street) markets, shopping malls and other places of trade. It focuses on public and private spaces, highlighting the dynamic relationship between urban Africa and trade.
Throughout Africa space is being transformed through commerce. Public marketplaces are swallowed by private shopping malls, while informal traders make marketplaces of almost every street and underpass. Place is not just a backdrop for trade, but a constitutive part of it, as certain spatial forms mould the practise of trade. For example, in the Nairobi neighbourhood of Eastleigh, 'Somali' shopping centres developed into a blueprint of doing business in East Africa, with the subdivision of existing space into tiny shops, sometimes only as big as a table. This blueprint was taken up around the region, sometimes under the name 'exhibition', and made shopkeepers of many. The different spatial forms comprise different patterns and logics of trade, different types of goods being sold, and different levels of inclusion and exclusion. While open air markets are public places accessible to all, Western style shopping malls keep out "undesirables" such as the urban poor, homeless or street children. "Marts of low-end globalization" (Mathews 2011, 20) such as the 'Somali' shopping centres in Eastleigh are situated in between these two models, as they are privately owned, but still open to all, offering cheap goods from China and elsewhere. These spaces are not just spaces of trade, but also places where wider social connections are made: places of trade are always places of sociality. This panel intends to put such spatial transformations of African trade into a comparative perspective and is open to papers on all forms of African commercial space and its socio-economic effects.