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Université de Rouen Université de Lausanne (14/11/2006), Denis Retaillé (Dir.)
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Affaires de patrons, usages de la frontière. Géographie des réseaux marchands entre Niger, Bénin et Nigeria
Olivier Walther1

Le Sahel est aujourd'hui confronté à une urbanisation récente et explosive. L'essentiel des activités économiques s'y localise dans le secteur informel alors que, du point de vue territorial, le commerce trouve un terreau fécond dans les zones frontalières. Dans ce contexte, cette thèse interroge le mode d'organisation économique spécifique aux petits centres urbains qui composent les espaces frontaliers sahéliens. En s'appuyant sur l'exemple du carrefour économique de Gaya-Malanville-Kamba situé à la frontière entre le Niger, le Bénin et le Nigeria, elle questionne le rôle de la ville-frontière ainsi que le jeu des acteurs marchands localement dominants, ces patrons aux stratégies essentiellement clientélistes. L'analyse géographique de ce carrefour frontalier dont les potentialités résultent d'une combinaison de conditions favorables au développement d'une agriculture de rente et d'éléments stratégiques liés à sa situation à la charnière sahélienne permet alors de montrer l'importance des logiques locales dans les modèles usuellement élaborés par les bailleurs de fonds internationaux.
1 :  ADES - Aménagement, Développement, Environnement, Santé et Sociétés
Economie – frontières – Afrique de l'Ouest – patrons – informel – réseaux

Businessmen without borders? A geography of informal economic networks between Niger, Benin and Nigeria
Urbanisation in West Africa is recent and fast. Small and intermediate cities, located between the countryside and large metropolis, are particularly concerned with this process. They are nowadays considered as efficient vectors of local economic development because of fiscal or monetary disparities between states, which enable businessmen to develop particular skills based on local urban networks. The majority of theses networks are informal and extremely flexible, like in the Gaya - Malanville - Kamba region, located between Niger, Benin and Nigeria. Evidence show that this economic space is characterised by high potentialities and few constraints In this context, this PhD deals with the economic relationships between the three market cities. Focusing on the links that unite the businessmen of the local markets - called patrons - it reveals the extreme flexibility of their strategies as well as the deeply informal nature of their activities. Through the analysis of examples taken from the commerce of agricultural products, import and export flows and detail activities, it studies the changes that have taken place in the city centres of Gaya, Malanville and Kamba. Meanwhile, this research shows how these cities represent a border economical area based on rival and complementary connections. In the first part, it was necessary to reconsider the usual spatial analysis devoted to the question of economic centrality. As a matter of fact, the organisation of West African economic spaces is very flexible and mobile. Centrality is always precarious because of seasonal or temporary reasons. This is why the first chapters are devoted to the study of the specificity of the Sahelian territoriality. Two main elements are relevant: first the population diversity and second, the urban-rural linkages. In the second part, the study considers three main factors on which the cross-border economic networks are dependent: enclosure that prevents goods to reach the markets, administrative constraints that limit free trade between states and cities and the concurrent or complementary relationships between markets. A third part deals with the clientelist ties engaged between the patrons and their clients with the hypothesis that these relationships are based on reciprocity and inequality. A fourth part is devoted to the study of the spatial organisation of commercial goods across the borders, as far as the agriculture commercial products, the import-export merchandises and the retail products are concerned. This leads to the conclusion that the economic activity is directly linked to urban growth. However, the study notices that there is a lack of efficient policies dealing with strengthening the business sector and improving the cross-border cooperation. This particularity allows us to favour new local development approaches, which would take into account the important potential of private economical actors. In the same time, the commercial flows should be regulated with the help of public policies, as long as they are specifically adapted to the problems that these areas have to deal with.
Informal economy – West Africa – borders – networks – patrons

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