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ONIONS ARE MY HUSBAND: Survival and Accumulation by West African Market Women, by Garcia Clark, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1995, 18.25 [pounds sterling] /$25.50 (pb) ISBN 0-226-10780-9
In the ongoing drama of twentieth-century African food provisioning, market women play a leading role. Government efforts to participate in food distribution have come and gone, largely discredited, while private sector supermarkets continue to cater, in most countries, to a limited clientele. "Traditional" marketplaces remain central to local and national food economies, even in the largest cities and in those parts of the continent with no precolonial tradition of marketplace food trading. While certain trades, such as grain wholesaling and meat, tend to be controlled by men, women almost invariably dominate the fresh produce sector, as well as much of food retailing in general.
Despite the fact that market women usually collect, transport and distribute food supplies far more efficiently than any state marketing body, state authorities have often blamed them for all manner of national food supply Crises. Despite substantial evidence that most market women survive on long hours and perilously small operating budgets, stereotypes and popular legends focus on the flamboyantly wealthy "mama benzes" (owners of Mercedes Benzes) and the alleged monopoly power of the "commodity queens". Attitudes towards women traders illustrate how much women's economic and political power, combined with concerns about food security, are sources of considerable unease in contemporary urban Africa.
Gracia Clark's book, which focuses on the traders of the Kumasi central market in Ghana, situates the contradictory status of African market women in historical and cultural context, while …