Norms, Networks, Power and Control: Understanding Informal Payments and Brokerage in Cross-border Trade in Sierra Leone

Governance practices in peripheral regions of low-income countries often diverge dramatically from statutory rules, with actual governance often representing a hybrid of formal rules and informal practices that are often highly normalized and widely accepted. Any understanding of the prospects for institutional or policy reform in these areas needs to begin from a clear understanding of these realities. Several recent studies have focused on these informal governance practices in the context of cross-border trade and the implications for state authority in border regions. This paper draws on the rich insights offered from this broader body of literature in order to focus on two comparatively discrete questions to better understand the nature of informal payments that are made by cross-border traders through formal trade routes, and the nature of traders’ engagement of informal brokers.