In search of African entrepreneurship
Helmut Asche, Department of Anthropology and African Studies, University of Mainz
The panel will focus on the emergence of capitalist entrepreneurship in Africa. A “missing middle” had persisted with regard to African entrepreneurs but now the vacuum seems to be filling up. Can this be proven? The panel invites work on the overarching methodological thematic and empirical country case studies.
Africa as the possible last frontier of capitalism is newly addressed by African studies, after a long silence since the fading of the 'Kenya debate'. While economic journalism and consultancy literature had taken it up and enthusiastically answered in the affirmative, scientific research on the subject had long been missing. Decades-long enterprise surveys spearheaded by the World Bank had rather established long lists of constraints than providing conclusive answers to the fate of market-oriented entrepreneurship in Africa. Nowadays, “Africapitalism” is becoming a buzzword on the continent, but it can obviously not exist without a sufficiently broad layer of capitalist entrepreneurs, from different
origins (domestic including long-settled ethnic minorities, diaspora, foreign…). The proposed interdisciplinary panel intends to focus on the emergence of capitalist entrepreneurship, in its various Africa-specific forms. We are looking for empirical studies on indigenous entrepreneurs who operate primarily in productive enterprise and their large- or mid-sized companies, in particular those active in sectors exposed to international competition, and who owe their business model not primarily to collusion with state structures and thus the appropriation of politically mediated rent. In contrast to the now broad literature on African middle classes at large, the idea of a ‘missing middle’
had persisted with regard to medium-sized firms in Africa, along with their owners or managers.
Fresh research in the area of agro-industrial production and logistics as well as evidence on start-ups which have matured into full-grown enterprises seems to indicate that the middle is filling up. Can this empirically be proven, as much for the formal sector as for the vast informal sector? The notion of opportunity entrepreneurs spreading in the latter sector appears to indicate that an idiosyncratic dynamic is unfolding in the less regulated part of African economies.
The panel invites work focussed on the overarching thematic, including possibly methodological reflections as well as empirical studies on different countries in Africa.