Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Europe's Senegal connection

From: The Economist

Europe's Senegal connection

Faith in the market


Behind the street markets of Italy, there is a network of African Muslims offering a new response to globalisation

AS ANY recent visitor to Rome can report, Italy's urban landscape has a new feature, as common as cafés selling delicious cappuccino. Take the Via della Conciliazione, the avenue leading to the Vatican: much of the pavement is dotted with traders from Africa, hawking “ethnic” carvings or bags, belts and sunglasses with fake brand names. Watch for a while and you see the cat-and-mouse games the traders play: every so often, they get warning of a police raid, and they bundle their wares into a sack and flee. If they fail to escape, it will instead be the police who bundle up and remove their goods.

In some Italian cities, like Venice, signs tell visitors not to buy from street traders on pain of a stiff fine. Clearly the owners of pricey local boutiques hate the competition. But most locals shrug their shoulders as they step past the traders, or else they make fun of the peddlers' habit of speaking Italian laced with French.

If they think about it at all, tourists and locals alike probably assume these traders are just a disorganised, random sample of Europe's vast army of human flotsam and jetsam, desperate migrants from poor places who arrive in leaky boats. In reality, the traders on the streets leading to the Vatican are anything but disorganised. They are members of a highly disciplined international community, at once religious and economic, with headquarters in another holy city—Touba, in the heart of Senegal, three hours' drive from Dakar, the capital.

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