Photograph — Financial Times

When planning to stay in a country for a few days, one of the things you should plan to do is visit one of its local markets. Sometimes this is inevitable because you may want to get souvenirs or buy some items because they are unique and more affordable than it is in your home country. 

Africa has a wide variety of markets, each offering unique goods and experiences. Whether you’re looking for handcrafted souvenirs, locally-sourced produce, or traditional clothing, there’s a market for you on the continent. In this article, we will explore some of the most popular markets to visit when in Africa. From the colourful stalls of Marrakech’s souks to the bustling energy of Lagos’ Balogun market, these markets will give you a taste of the local culture and a chance to take home some unique finds.

African markets are in two main forms: open-air and indoor. Many African societies rely heavily on open-air markets, which are outdoor markets that take place on a regular basis. These markets often bring together individual vendors who sell new or used goods at wholesale or retail prices, acting as a link between manufacturers and consumers. A significant portion of Africa’s informal economy is made up of these vendors. Here’s a list of some notable African markets you should visit whenever you come to Africa:

1#Addis Mercato (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

Mercato is one of Africa’s largest open-air markets, covering several square miles and employing an estimated 13,000 people in 7,100 business entities. The primary merchandise passing through the Merkato is locally grown agricultural products — most notably coffee. 

In 1930, Ethiopia was aggressively colonised by the Italian government- who they had earlier resisted in 1896 in the battle of Adua. Thus, when  Benito Mussolini conquered the country, the colonial government implemented a segregationist policy which separated the ruling class from Ethiopians. The present Addis Merkato was founded by the segregationist policies of the Italian occupational government.

The market offers a limitless range of shopping items and experiences, from used or brand-new fashion items to souvenirs, herbs, spices, coffee, etc. Although the market houses a considerable part of Ethiopia’s informal market players, there are no public data about its contributions to the national GDP.

A spices shop in Addis Mercato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia .
A spices shop in Addis Mercato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Flickr

2#Balogun Ajeniya Market (Lagos, Nigeria)

Balogun Ajeniya Market is a sprawling market located on Lagos Island in Lagos State, Nigeria. Also known as Eko, the Balogun market sprawl across many streets in Lagos Island and is West Africa’s largest market. It is notable for the wholesale of fabrics, souvenirs, hair and beauty products, kitchen wares and all sorts of wares. You get to buy things at a very affordable rate and have unlimited options to pick from.

The Balogun market is a hub for most of the large-sized imported goods from international markets including China and other developed countries. Lagos contributes about 30% of the national GDP and the market plays a significant role in this. Lagos alone harbours about 60 per cent of Nigeria’s total industrial investments and foreign trade while also attracting 65 per cent of Nigeria’s commercial activities. It accounts for more than 40 per cent of all labour emoluments paid in the country.

Balogun Ajeniya Market, Lagos, Nigeria. Business Post Nigeria.
Balogun Ajeniya Market, Lagos, Nigeria. Business Post Nigeria.

3#Maasai Market (Nairobi, Kenya)

The Maasai Market is an open-air market located in Nairobi, Kenya. The market is very unique because it is not situated in one place. The market rotates across different locations in the city on different days of the week, usually between 8 am to 6 pm at each location. According to Discover Africa Blog, the most popular Maasai Market among many locals is located in the city behind the Hilton hotel at the high court parking lot. At this location, the market holds on Saturdays.

The Maasai market is one which holds the culture of the Maasai people dearly. It is one of the best markets to visit when in Kenya. It is notable for vendors selling varieties of local craft fabrics, beaded bowls, baskets, unique handmade African jewellery, paintings, drawings, and wood carvings by Kenya’s local artisans. This market allows you to haggle prices.

Maasai Market, Nairobi, Kenya,
Maasai Market, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo credit: Daybyme

4#Khan el-Khalili (Cairo, Egypt)

Khan El Khalili is considered one of the oldest and largest bazaars (markets) in Africa, dating back to the early Middle Ages. The market is reputed as the oldest market in the middle east for cheap Egpytian gifts and is named after its founder Jerksy al Khalili. The founder was a Mamluk prince and well-known merchant during the Mamluky period in 1400.

The market to many Egyptian artisans and workshops involved in the production of traditional crafts and souvenirs, it is Cairo’s most visited market by tourists given its ambience and its range of product offerings. At least, nothing less than 3000 tourists visit the market in a day. Some of the things you are likely to find in this market include perfumes, essential oil market, gold sellers, carpets, local food, fabrics, etc.

Khan el-Khalili, Cairo, Egypt.
Khan el-Khalili, Cairo, Egypt. Photo credit: Agate Travel.

5#Jemaa el-Fna Square (Marrakesh, Morocco)

Jemaa el-Fna Square is one of the most famous markets in Morocco, situated at the central square of the city with multiple shops, and stores. The square was the site of public executions around 1050 AD, consequently christening it Jemaa el-Fna, meaning “assembly of the dead.” The market currently connects the old and new sections of Marrakech. It continues to serve the community as a vibrant hub for trade, social life, and cultural expression. It is livelier at night. 

It is a hotspot for storytellers, who play an important role in the Morrocan tradition. Notable things to buy in Jemaa el-Fna include food, spices, carpets, lanterns, dresses, fashion accessories, wood works, beauty products, herbs, etc.

Jemaa el-Fna Square, Marrakesh, Morocco. Photo credit: The Globe Getter.
Jemaa el-Fna Square, Marrakesh, Morocco.  The Globe Getter.

6#St Balikuddembe or Owino market (Kampala, Uganda)

The St. Balikuddembe market, popularly known as the Owino market was founded in 1971 after the Kampala City Council relocated some vendors from Nakasero Market to the site. Although the City Council named the new market Municipal Market, early settlers eventually it Owino Market. The name was a reference to an old man (Owino) who they met on the site roasting maize and sweet potatoes when they moved there. 

The Owino market is a wholesale supplier of agricultural products. It is also a hub for second-hand clothes, food, and household goods. The market is one of the biggest private employers of labour in Uganda.

Last year, a dispute ensued between the government and Abdulmajeed Qasem Othman Ahmed, a Yemeni businessman who demanded a Shs3.1 trillion ($860m) compensation after a huge contract to renovate and expand Kampala’s main market was cancelled.

Owino Market,Kampala, Uganda
Owino Market,Kampala, Uganda. Photo credit: Demand Africa.

7#Mokola market (Accra, Ghana)

The Mokala market is a lively and very busy market. It is Ghana’s largest open-air market. In 1924, the market was constructed in Accra- Ghana’s epicentre of trade and one of the nation’s most important social and cultural institutions.

 Makola Market is the main wholesale and retail marketplace in Accra and is at the heart of urban Ghanaian life. As with the Lagos’ Balogun Ajeniya market and the Owino market in Kampala, Mokola is heavily crowded with people, vendors and their merchandise. Goods are very affordable at the market and tourists can get Ghanaian-crafted souvenirs at affordable rates. The market employs about 25% of the 70% market women in Ghana’s informal sector.

Mokola Market, Ghana.
Mokola Market, Ghana. Photo credit: Flickr

8#The Rosebank Sunday Market (Johannesburg)

The Rosebank Sunday Market is a weekly market in Johannesburg where African crafts, food, collectables, antiques and unique fashion items are sold. It has over 300 stalls, a good place to spend the weekend shopping or windowshopping. This market features live music, kids’ entertainment and gourmet food traders.

The market is situated in the renovated Rosebank Mall with an open rooftop parking space transforms which transforms to a world-class marketplace on market days. The rooftop market offers over 600 stalls under one roof and has been voted as Joburg’s Premier Market for ten consecutive years, according to SA-Venues. The Rosebank Rooftop Market was established in 1993 with the aim of formalising the hawker trade of local and international vendors.

The Rosebank Sunday Market. Photo credit: JOBURG.CO.ZA

9#Marche HLM (Dakar, Senegal)

Marché HLM is Dakar’s epic entre for fabric and fashion-related accessories.  Vibrant and colourful fabrics grace the maze of stalls that compose the Marché HLM. This is the best place to buy African prints in Senegal. Most wax fabrics come in bolts of 6 or 12 meters, however, vendors may sell inferior fabrics in 2 to 3 meters. Wax prints, bazins of all qualities, a rainbow of brodé fabrics, lightweight Khartoum cloth, lingerie and belly beads, buttons, beads, zippers, and ribbons.

A fabric vendor in Marche HLM, Senegal.
A fabric vendor in Marche HLM, Senegal. Photo credit: Actuvision.

10# Lome Grand Market or Grand Marche (Lome, Togo)
Lome Grand Market or Grand Marche is a large marketplace in the city of Lome, the capital of Togo. The market is located near Lomé Cathedral near the city centre. It is segmented into three sections namely: Atipoji, Asigame and Assivito, and occupies an entire city block in Lomé. The majority of the vendors are women and children. The market offers almost everything one would need, like food, spices, souvenirs, etc. However, the majority of vendors in the market are women and children.

Lome Grand Market
Lome Grand Market. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

11#Souks of Tripoli (Libya)

Tripoli is the capital of Libya. The city has a total of are 9 souks (marketplaces) which have been a major attraction for tourists for years- the Al-Attareen Souk, the Al Bazerkan Souk, the Al-Haddadin Souk, the Al-Haraj, Al-Kameh souk, the Al-Kameh souk, the Al-Koundarjiyeh souk, the Al-Nahhasin Souk, the Al-Samak Souk and the Al-Sayyaghin Souk. 

These souks were a key source of earnings for local artisans and vendors in the informal sector. However, the continued civil war between the UN-backed government and the opposition government has created major political and humanitarian disasters in the region, displaced traders,  cut tourism earnings and reduced economic activities in Tripoli.

A souk in Tripoli, Libya. Photo Credit: REACH Initiative.
A souk in Tripoli, Libya. Photo Credit: REACH Initiative.

12#Computer Village, Lagos

The Computer Village is an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) accessories market located in a community called Otigba, Ikeja- the capital city of Lagos. It houses over 3,000 ICT Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), most of which sell computers, phones, phone accessories, computer accessories, and other household electronics. Computer Village is the biggest ICT market in Africa, under the umbrella of the Computer and Allied Products Dealers Association of Nigeria (CAPDAN).

Over the decades, the market has raised a technologically driven population within Lagos, providing apprenticeships for computer sales and repairs for you people. Computer Village is the main hub for mobile phones and accessories and the abode of cunning salesmen and pickpockets. Local news reported the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), saying that the market contributed about 2% to the national gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014. 

Computaer Village Lagos. Photo credit: Punch NG.
Computaer Village Lagos. Photo credit: Punch NG.

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