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Patron-Client Relations among Igbo Migrant Traders in Cotonou

I have again been away for a while. I got back to Germany and had to almost immediately start working on a conference paper. Last week I was in Chicago for the annual meeting of the African Studies Association. The abstract of the paper I presented is below.

Anthropologists of economic relations are well experienced in dealing with the deployment of informal relationships by economic actors. These informal relations are often based on kinship ties and patron client relations. The paper aims to examine a particular manifestation of a mixture of both kinship relations and patron client relations. Rather than starting off with any assumptions about the relationship between these relations, or discussing the functions they serve, the paper aims to describe the relations among Igbo migrant traders in Cotonou. The trade in used clothing in the Republic of Benin is not just dominated by Igbo migrants, but almost all of the traders are from one local government area of Abia state in Nigeria. Looking briefly at the history of the trade in used clothing in Lome and Cotonou, the paper presents an examination that shows the way a specific expression of patron client relations is structured. It describes the modes of recruitment of clients by masters who are often owners of big used clothing businesses; it also describes the way the relationship between the Master and the Boy, or very often Boys, is structured. The paper draws from a year-long ethnographic fieldwork on the informal trade in used clothing between Nigeria and Benin.

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