Despite the proliferation of malls and supermarkets in African cities, and the growth of Africa’s middle class and its potential spending power, today, the vast majority of shopping in Africa still takes place in informal markets.
These markets make up the heartbeat of many African cities, visitors will mingle with locals in colourful bazaars which give the city a unique vibe.
Here are some of Africa’s more “elusive” yet most unforgettable, and unconventional, markets:
Manzini Market, Swaziland
Mazini is the second largest urban centre in Swaziland behind Mbabane. It is also home to a huge market that is a pan-African delight - where traders from Zimbabwe, Congo and Mozambique have sent their wares, fabrics in particular, to be sold – but also serves the everyday household.
A large portion of the market is set aside for the sale of fruits and vegetables, household items and traditional medicines while a separate portion of the market is devoted to an enormous range of products which include interesting hand carved wooden pieces, traditional pottery, beadwork and embroidery, and woven baskets for which Swaziland is famous.
Darajani Market, Zanzibar
The Darajani Market in Stonetown, Zanzibar, also known as Estella Market, is a traditional food market that has not changed much from when it first opened in 1904. Here, Zanzibaris buy and sell vegetables, meat, seafood, jewelry and fabric in separate sections that often spill out onto side streets. To the east of the main building you'll find spices laid out in colorful displays of beige, yellow, and red.
The market, which is mostly active in the morning between 9 and 11am also hosts an antique fair twice a week - on Wednesday and Saturday.
Maputo Fish Market, Mozambique
One of the greatest highlights of Maputo is its fish market. Located near the beach, providing a nice setting, this market has an astounding variety of fresh fish. Here you can find a booth covered in piles of lobsters, buckets full of clams shooting out small jets of water, next to a table with a vast range of massive fish and huge king prawns. All the seafood is very fresh, some – like the crabs and clams - are still alive and the hawkers will do their best speaking in English and Portuguese to sell them at very reasonable prices. An added bonus is that after selecting what you want to eat you can go to one of the nearby restaurants and ask them to cook it to your liking.
Merkato, Addis Ababa
Some consider this to be Africa’s biggest market, an open air sprawl of vendors which weaves in all directions and goes on for kilometers. These days most stalls have turned into makeshift shops and in each area there is a section for just about anything you can imagine. Incredibly pungent spices, jewelry, electronics, clothes, heavy industrial steel girders, tires and all that goes in-between, can be found. If you want to do a lot of shopping when you’re in Addis Ababa, this is where you’ll find the best deals.
Image source: Stall selling West African fabrics in a market in Togo (Photo/Breezy Baldwin/Flickr)
Image source: Spices in Stone Town Market (Photo/sci-culturist/Flickr)