The Role of the ‘Free and Open Market’ in Any Future African Economy

(Adapted from an  articlefirst published in Journeyman’s Review October 1997)

Building Sound Economic Foundations (part 2)

The Role of the ‘Free and Open Market’ in Any Future African Economy

Market* A public place, whether an open space or building in which cattle, provisions etc. are exposed for sale;

Fish Market  A market or part of a market set aside for the buying and selling of fish and or products related to fish.

Brixton Market  A market or group of individual markets in that part of South London known as Brixton and subject to the laws and bye laws in effect in that area.

African Market ….?

(* Oxford English Dictionary Definition)

There is something wrong with the concept of the supermarket. Yet it is easy to accept all the arguments put forward about convenience, cheaper prices, more choice and so on. To accept this line of reasoning is to gullibly accept what is in fact a total distortion of the truth. Supermarkets do not mean cheaper prices and more choice, they ultimately mean dearer prices, modern slavery and less choice (if any at all). The supermarkets must be viewed in the same way one views a bank and the bank manager when seeking a loan knowing full well that the real decisions and criteria are set by nameless, faceless people who you have never seen and they have never seen you. Both institutions present themselves as being there to serve the community while in reality both are symbols and tools of monopoly, oppression and greed.

Building Sound Economic Foundations Part I exposed unequivocally the fragility and inherent corruption of the banking system, paper money, and the concept of legal tender as tools of usury and oppression. The present article is intended to show that there is a superior alternative to the supermarkets, hypermarkets, and the high street chains. It is the Open Market based upon the economics of open trade, without usury and without the need for banks. First we have to be clear about what is happening on the high street today. To call the supermarket the direct descendant of the cotton field is no exaggeration.

The supermarket not only enslaves the worker by his dependency on his salary but also by the stifling of his or her entrepreneurial potential (how many supermarket employees are likely to be asked to suggest even where to display the baked beans?). The producers are enslaved in turn by being forced to produce exclusively for one buyer, the supermarket. The producers will openly admit their hatred for the situation but feel powerless to challenge it for fear of losing any contract they may have and thus endangering their livelihood. Once a producer begins to supply a supermarket or retail chain inevitably the supermarket will begin to dictate quality, pricing and other details to the extent that the product supplied is only suitable for sale in that supermarket chain and thus the producer is trapped and unable to revert to a system of supplying the local market directly. The consumer is so bombarded by propaganda about convenience, better products (or at least better than the last new improved version), phoney price wars and hype upon hype that we are in the worst position because we actually think we are exercising choice. Choosing between one supermarket and another is no different to choosing between one bank and another, it is tantamount to making a choice between one slave master and another. If all this is not clear then you have missed the point. If you disagree it’s understandable given the level of propaganda we are subjected to day in day out but you have to understand that this is not a matter for debate. This is just how it is. It is not even a matter of the small shopkeeper being unable to compete for they are in effect a ‘supermarket waiting to happen’ and given half a chance will open another shop and the next thing you know we have another WH Smith. The truth of the matter is that the supermarket enslaves a thousand traders while the open market gives freedom to a thousand workers.

The bustling bazaars that can be found today in places like Fez, Istanbul and Kano despite the traditional feel they may have are still far removed from the model that we need to recover. These places now house what are in effect no more than retail shops. The traders by law have to use the local currency deemed as legal tender no matter how devalued or worthless it is, and rental costs along with demand for space make it impossible or at best unprofitable for many would be traders to participate in the market. For those who do participate they have no choice but to pass those costs down to the consumer through inflated prices. So already it should be clear that by Open Market we are not talking about hypermarkets, supermarkets, a string of local corner shops or indeed the local markets and flea markets found in most towns and cities today. By the same token neither are we talking about the car boot sale. We admire their openness and spontaneity as expressions of freedom to trade which are shared by the open market, but they are doomed either to be absorbed into the system as a result of being subjected to tighter and tighter regulation, or to be outlawed to the margins of the ‘moonlight economy.’

The free and open market is an open space (as described in the definition of the word Market at the beginning of the article) but the word ‘open’ also indicates that the market is open to virtually anyone who has something to sell, from a tea cup to a container of tea. The market we are describing will have space enough for anyone who wants to display their goods for sale. The open market will have every modern convenience found in a modern shopping centre including toilets, parking facilities, restaurants, transportation services and rest rooms. Free means freedom as a trader to choose what you want in return for your goods. You can exchange, barter or demand payment in gold or silver. No one is allowed to impose the currency or medium of exchange that you use. It is something the two parties agree between them in the moment. Free also means free of rent. No one pays for space in the open market. ‘You want to sell? You turn up!’ If it sounds over simplified that’s because we have been brought up on a diet of technical terms spawned by  the ‘pseudo’ science of economics.

Political freedom goes hand in hand with economic freedom. A major aspect of economic freedom is access to open markets under a just authority. Whether one looks at Ancient Egypt, Timbuktu or the Ottoman Empire one will always see this concept of the open market being both encouraged and protected. Free and open markets have been replaced and what remnants we have left today have been totally corrupted. Corruption in the market place is a sure sign of corruption in society. Therefore the market must be protected and rules of conduct must be laid down and enforced. The open market is protected and supported by:

  1. • The establishment of trading and manufacturing guilds established upon non-monopolistic methods of production and distribution;
  2. • the abolition of restrictions on the medium of exchange;
  3. • outlawing oppressive forms of business contracts;
  4. • a clear and just authority with jurisdiction over the marketplace;
  5. • no permanent stalls being allowed in the market;
  6. • no rental charges for pitches.

Without a doubt any framework for economic autonomy that does not contain provision  for the establishment of free and open markets is seriously flawed. The city without a free market is a city of slaves.

The modern open market will surpass the modern day shopping centre in terms of accessibility, practicality and choice. It will have both indoor and outdoor areas. Although the exact layout will vary in different geographical locations, the following designated areas will be common to most:

  1. • Parking facilities;
  2. • warehousing & storage;
  3. • workshops;
  4. • various selling areas;
  5. • office facilities;
  6. • areas for cultural and artistic displays and performances;
  7. • public transportation access;
  8. • courthouse;
  9. • market office;
  10. • toilet and ablution facilities.

These elements will vary according to the size of the market, climate and local customs which will also tend to determine how the trading areas are designated. For example, you would expect separate areas set aside for fruit, vegetables and other staples, clothing, white goods and home furnishing, jewellery and luxury items, catering, machinery, vehicles sales and also one or more auction areas. The small local seller and the big importer are both there and both accessible to all.

The ancillary services that will naturally evolve and also be encouraged along with the market include public transportation services, hotels and guest houses, sports clubs, places of worship, courier services, freight services, fax/telephone and email services, cinemas and theatres, all adding to the prosperity of the local community. It now becomes clear that the problem of structural unemployment disappears with the return to the open trade economy.

There are a number of groups today pursuing the re-establishment of the open market in various locations and it is worth mentioning some of these projects to give us a sense of the possible approaches.

South Africa

In Atteridgeville, a township outside of Pretoria, a group of young African men under the authority of an Amir (leader of a Muslim community) have recently set up a weekly market on common land (or at least unused government land). The sight of twenty market stalls in a black township in South Africa should not be taken lightly. The legacy of apartheid is that nothing but eating, sleeping, sex and crime are expected or encouraged in the townships while all commercial activities and employment are centred around the big cities.


A proposal was put forward by the League of the Black Stone directly to the government of Bermuda concerning the development of a free port and open market. The proposed site is a recently vacated US Airbase on the island. The proposal encompasses all that we have been describing. Being based around a shipping port and an airport there is scope for container, ship and plane loads of merchandise, and therefore international trade on a large scale, as well as local trading on a small scale. However the concept remains the same, no taxes, no import or export duties or tariffs. The ancillary services needed to support such an operation would provide employment and business opportunities for hundreds of Bermudians. They include fresh water facilities, hotels, security,  communications, storage, lifting facilities and local agents. A sudden change of leadership has stalled the process for the time being.

Switzerland (Zurich)The European Souk

A project to design and build an open market on a large scale with room for thousands of traders has reached an advanced stage of development at a site in Zurich and is due to open in Summer 1998.

As we said before it is the providing of ancillary services and the opportunity to trade that make an area with a free market prosperous. There are no truly free markets around today. The Ottoman Empire and parts of North and West Africa saw some of the last prominent examples of what we are describing. Significantly these were all operated under Islamic governance. The Muslims recognised the importance of the market and made no bones about keeping it clean, in every sense of the word. It is that historical model that is the most accessible to our scrutiny today in terms of the necessary detail. If we do that we will see that the market reflects certain conditions in the society. Namely clear and accepted leadership, clear and commonly accepted moral principles and an efficient judicial system. It did not mean that all the traders were Muslim, far from it, these markets attracted traders from far and wide, but it was known for example, that in the Islamic market, one would not openly consume or sell alcohol or pork. So it must be clear that the leadership of all the prominent and active groups amongst us need to cooperate in order to determine common principles for our own communities. This combined with a clear political leadership will  be the beginning of redefining what we can call a Black Economy. The task of charting a common way forward for the black community has been set in motion by those involved in the New African Global Alliance (see notes).

Where there is trade there are trade disputes therefore there needs to be an authority in the market responsible for arbitration He or she may be referred to as the judge, qadi, steward, sheriff or some other title. Disputes are settled there and then in the market and the judge’s decision must be implemented immediately. This brings us to the question of the other personnel needed to run the open market efficiently. They would include security staff, maintenance staff, market supervisors, administrators cleaners and messengers. They would use the common tools of their trade including computers, and closed circuit television.

You may wonder how it is that you have all these staff and yet charge no rental for stall space but we will come to that shortly. First we have to look at this question of the medium of exchange or money. It is important that we understand that the concept of legal tender is diametrically opposed to the concept of a free and open market. If you are selling a product I want and I have something you want then a straight forward exchange is possible which we call bartering. However, this is often not the case so I would be forced to go around bartering until I get something you will accept in exchange for what I want from you. The solution is a medium of exchange acceptable to everybody, something of value in itself.

In examining this issue one’s attention is drawn to two very interesting schemes currently in operation, the Local Exchange Trading System (LETS) in Stroud (England), and a similar system in Ithaca New York. Both schemes are aimed at facilitating the barter of products and services in their local communities and eliminating the necessity for using banknotes. The Stroud scheme now boasts hundreds of members and both produce directories of those participating in the scheme. The scheme is backed up by an increasingly beaureacratic system of debits and credits and balances not unlike the modern clearing systems used by banks. In Ithaca in particular the use of locally printed currency has become increasingly popular using local materials and designs. These schemes are now being seconded by the state which is a sure sign of their compatibility with the very system they set out to challenge. Indeed, the so called Stroud Pound and Ithaca Hour are valued in terms of the pound and the dollar respectively meaning that there is no real autonomy. Indeed the Ithaca Hour is treated just like the US Dollar as this quote from Ira Katz, an Ithaca member, clearly demonstrates:

  1. “Tompkins County District Attorney George Dentes has ruled that couterfeiting Ithaca Hours would be a felony– second degree forgery of a financial instrument–punishable by 2.3-7 years in jail.”

Barter is simple and therefore anything that aids the process of barter must also be simple. These schemes ultimately do not challenge the monopoly of paper money they can only support it. Their great advantage is their effectiveness in keeping resources and wealth circulating within a local community. The prospects they offer for international or even national trade are much more limited.  A medium of exchange must be something easily transferable, moveable and readily accepted. Something that, unlike our pounds and dollars, does not begin to depreciate the moment it goes into our pockets. Cowrie shells, salt, copper and rice have been known to be used in different places at different times. However, two commodities have always remained universally acceptable up until the present day, namely gold and silver.

There are communities around the world, including this country, who are minting gold and silver coins and who use them when they trade amongst themselves. Our leaders, and every responsible man and woman, must take it upon themselves to grasp the enormous significance of this. There are people amongst us familiar with these issues and who are involved in the distribution and use of these coins. They understand this crime of usury and how it affects our community, and that understanding is something we all need to take on as a matter of priority.

The other important building block is the formation of Traders Associations and ultimately the restoration of the Traders and Manufacturers Guilds. It is elimination of usurious trading practices and implementation of just and fair business contracts that will enable the traders to fulfil their historical, fundamental, economic and social roles. Unfortunately a fuller examination of this subject is beyond the scope of the present article.

Let us now look at the market in operation and some of the rules that have to be upheld which include:

  1. • Only selling in the designated trading areas;
  2. • no selling from workshops, offices or store rooms;
  3. • all trading must be open for scrutiny;
  4. • no permanent pitches and no reserving of space;
  5. • all stalls on a first come first serve basis;
  6. • no selling of products deemed illegal;
  7. • no usurious trading practices.

The market authority will only intervene if someone is clearly contravening the rights of others or if there is a justifiable complaint.

The running of the market is in the first instance financed by the renting of storage space and workshops. So in the purpose built open market you could for example have the main trading areas situated on the ground floor and the storage and workshops on the above floors, not unlike some modern shopping centres. Other income will be derived from other ancillary services that become necessary such as the rental of catering equipment and physical stalls and parking fees to the public. In the Islamic model the markets were established on free land designated by the rulers, or the wealthy and influential were called upon to set up charitable endowments for the same purpose. The deed of endowment was drawn up before the judge under the direct authority of the reigning Sultan so as to avoid any corruption or abuse of power in the process and also as a mark of its significance as a factor in urban development. It is these same institutions that would have been responsible for the maintenance of the mosques, hospitals, public baths, schools and  hostels.

Free markets have been replaced by monopolistic distribution. The free markets meant the movement of merchandise for public sale while monopolistic distribution represents the movement of goods already sold. For with the supermarkets the movement of goods is the delivery of products to them that they already own. No one else gets a look in. Monopolistic distribution kills free trade and the free trader. It is the traders travelling between the open markets that constituted the old time Trading Caravans. Our own traders travelling between the new markets will constitute the modern day caravans or Trading Delegations and it is no less than access to open markets that will move Africa and the Caribbean from being some of the most impoverished places in the world to some of the wealthiest.

Today many desiring to trade freely in an open market are forced into cyberspace on the internet with its unlimited and easy access. Stories abound concerning the money made by quick thinking and shrewd traders, but the proposed future of the internet will be a ‘virtual’ repeat of the story of the marketplace except that it will be much quicker. The monopolies are now moving in with the sole purpose of taking effective control of the whole internet setup and we now hear that the Microsoft magnate Bill Gates is prepared to spend literally billions of dollars pursuing this aim. We may rest assured that it is not a charitable endowment he has in mind.

This article has been written with the aim of propagating the kind of thinking and action that will enable us to work towards establishing a new economic framework, not for its own sake but because in the final analysis we are left with no other choice. As a first step we strongly recommend the publication Trade First and The Forbidden Dialogues (see bibliography) as compulsory reading for those who wish to acquire a firm grasp of the historical and economic context together with a clear tactical appreciation of the following:

  1. • The formation of traders alliances/associations and ultimately guilds;
  2. • the minting of gold and silver currencies;
  3. • the strategic use of gold and silver as the medium of exchange in transactions;
  4. • eliminating the use of oppressive business contracts amongst each other;
  5. • the leadership of all politically active groups initiating a programme of education around these issues.

African Market:   A market  situated in a African community and under the authority of the leadership of that community with free and equal access to all who wish to trade without usury or monopoly within the just parameters prescribed by that authority.

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Selected Bibliography

Building Sound Economic Foundations (part 1)  Carberry A. & Morrison U. – Alarm Magazine (issue 12 – May 1995)

Developing a Free Society  Dockrat H. – The Institute for Human and Environmental  Development

The Islamic Market   Vadillo U. – Murabitun World Movement

Last of the Lion Kings   Carberry A. & Morrison U. – Black Stone Press

The Return of the Gold Dinar  Vadillo U. – Madinah Press

Trade First  Ibrahim-Morrison. U. – Black Stone Press

The Forbidden Dialogues  Ibrahim-Morrison. U. – Black Stone Press

Related Topic:

Click link to download: Aḥkaamu-s-Suuq (The Rules of the Market )

Mālikī fiqh text concerning the rules governing the operation of the market 

Published in: Uncategorized on June 7, 2012 at 04:30  Leave a Comment  
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