Big fish, small fries? The fluidity of power in patron-client relations of Lake Victoria fisheries

Fiona Nunan, Drazen Cepic, Paul Onyango, Mwanahamis Salehe, Ernest Yongo, Bwambale Mbilingi, Konstantine Odongkara, Elizabeth Mlahagwa, Monica Owili

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Patron-client relationships have been shown to still exist in small-scale fisheries in the developing world, with patrons, often traders, providing credit and fishing equipment to fishers in exchange for a guaranteed supply of fish. Evidence has shown that these relationships are complex and that clients have sources of power as well as patrons. This article takes this further through an analysis of power within patron-client relations of Lake Victoria fisheries, East Africa, investigating the status, wealth and influence of occupational groups, the nature of reciprocal exchange and social obligations, and manifestations of power over and power to. From the analysis, it is argued that fishers are not altogether ‘trapped’ by patron-client relations associated with trade and labour but have some agency through access to sources of power that enable them to gain better conditions through and from the relationships. These sources derive from decreasing stocks of certain fish, strong demand for fish and the demand for skilled, reliable and experienced boat crew. The changing ecological and socio-economic conditions generate a fluidity of power within trade and labour relations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 11 Aug 2020


  • Patron-client relations
  • Small-scale fisheries
  • Lake Victoria


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