The Informal Worker Poses a Dilemma

By Cubaka Bachishoga

Bachance was the father of five children, Gael, Rosalie, Mardoche, Thomas, and Buda. He was a courageous man from Ethiopia and my friend. He started working as an assistant builder as soon as he arrived at the Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi. He worked in construction for almost six months. But there was little prospect of a better life there, so he decided to leave and embark on a new journey in the capital, Lilongwe.

Once he reached the capital, Bachance continued working as an assistant builder because he had the necessary experience. Not only that, a salary in construction was higher in the city than in rural areas. He saved up and eventually stopped working in construction. Bachance wanted to open a restaurant because he’d worked in the culinary industry in his home country. If he offered quality food and service, he reasoned, his customers would return.

The restaurant he opened was called Bachance Chapati. It soon became famous for its delicious chapati, an unleavened flatbread. He employed four people at the restaurant, Pato, Zikomo, Sela, and Ndiku. The restaurant was successful, and eventually he opened a second restaurant in another part of the city. Everything seemed to be going smoothly.

Like all businesses, the restaurant business is regulated, and Bachance was a refugee in Malawi who was doing business in the city. Whether you are a refugee or not, foreign citizens must file the right papers in order to operate a business in the country. As a refugee, Bachance was supposed to stay in the refugee camp and conduct any business there. But due to a lack of financial resources, he had gone to another city and found work there for the sake of his family’s well-being. A deadline was given to people with registered businesses who had not submitted the required paperwork. But Bachance was an informal worker. The days went by, and the government even advertised on social media about the deadline. When the deadline passed, the government began to track down illegal workers. Some of them were jailed, while others fled or made themselves invisible in the community.

Bachance was among a large group of undocumented people that was taken to a field. From there, they were to be taken to a prison before being sent back to their home countries or, in the case of the refugees, to the refugee camp. That evening, Bachance fled. He took a rural road to avoid being seen by the police or immigration staff. Afraid of being arrested, he walked more than forty kilometers before the next morning.

But things took a turn for the worse, and Bachance found himself back in the refugee camp, with no idea how it had happened. On the positive side, he decided to continue making chapati. After all, he had the right to establish his business in the refugee camp. After a difficult start, Bachance was now making a slight profit.

Bachance returned to Lilongwe to inspect the business that he had left to his employees. He found that things weren’t going well. Within just a few weeks of him leaving, most of his old clients had stopped eating at the restaurant. Bachance had chosen Pato as team leader in his absence, but the other employees didn’t listen to him. Some of them just did things the way they wanted, not as Pato instructed.

Before returning to the refugee camp, Bachance assembled the personnel and replaced a number of employees for the sake of the business. He had learned that a good businessman must follow the government’s rules and regulations.

7 August, 2023