Empowering Small and Medium Enterprises for Reform

Senegal is a country of traders. For centuries, commerce has dominated its economy, and even today, the Senegalese government estimates that more than half of all companies in the country are primarily engaged in the buying and selling of goods.

More than that, Senegal is a country of informal traders. Only a fraction – less than five percent – of trading businesses are officially incorporated and registered with the appropriate authorities. This poses a major dilemma for their political representation: when informal traders are essentially invisible to the state, who will defend their interests?

To address this problem, CIPE is supporting the work of the Union Nationale des Commerçants et Industriels du Sénégal (UNACOIS), the main traders’ association in the country. This program rests on two pillars.  First, CIPE is assisting UNACOIS to develop professional management practices, whether by introducing a state-of-the-art CRM system or by finding better ways to monetize its service platform. Second, CIPE is working with UNACOIS to strengthen its political role, making it a more effective advocate for its members, including for UNACOIS’ youth and women’s wings.

The results of this engagement have been impressive. In the past, UNACOIS’ political strategy was to disrupt public life; today, it has become one of the leading voices for economic dialogue. The association now has representatives in all major markets across the country who can resolve local conflicts before they escalate. Senegalese President Macky Sall regularly consults with UNACOIS on the country’s development strategy, and even the Prime Minister chaired UNACOIS’ most recent general assembly.

In a country where a significant part of economic activity passes through informal channels, understanding the interests of micro-entrepreneurs is a challenging but crucial element in the formulation of inclusive economic policies. By representing tens of thousands of informal-sector operators, giving voice to their needs and grievances, and proposing concrete policy change, UNACOIS is making a major contribution to grassroots democratic discourse in Senegal.