22.- 25.9

In search of African entrepreneurship

Helmut Asche, Department of Anthropology and African Studies, University of Mainz


23/09/20 4 – 5.30 pm Room HZ 11 (Hörsaalzentrum)


Short Abstract:

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.

This presentation identifies three major challenges for Beninese entrepreneurs as they themselves perceive and experience them: access to foreign markets, access to credit, and the limited effectiveness of the Industrial Free Zone, which was intended as a means of industrial promotion. Entrepreneurship in Benin is hindered by the political-administrative functioning of the state, asymmetries in economic agreements and partnerships between states, and the lack of powerful organizations of entrepreneurs who could be on an equal footing with the state and development agencies. In the face of these challenges, the arsenal of state and international private sector development is proving largely ineffective, as it bypasses the real needs of economic entrepreneurship in Benin.

After independence in 1963, the Africanization of the bourgeoisie has been a strategic goal of the Kenyan government. The success of this venture or the lack thereof has been extensively discussed within the first and second Kenya debate in the 1970/80s and 1990s. Especially David Himbara (1994) showed that the African-Kenyan entrepreneur was mainly to be found in the informal sector while the Kenyan-Asian (Wahindi) community dominated large scale manufacturing. Others like Michael Chege (1998) criticized his findings and stressed the success of African entrepreneurs especially in the agriculture sector. Nevertheless, it could not be denied that manufacturing was mainly in the hands of the Wahindi family businesses (Vandenberg, 2007).

The second Kenya debate came to a hold in the 1990s, when economic growth in the country stagnated. But since the year 2000, the economy recovered and has expanded steadily. Still, the state of the private sector in Kenya today and the success of indigenous entrepreneurship in Kenya remains largely unexplored.

Today, the lists of the most successful entrepreneurs in Kenya are filled with African Kenyans. Many of them are in sectors like financing, agriculture, tourism etc. But what about manufacturing? The sector is one of the focus areas of the Kenyan government to create jobs and improve living standards in the country. But, despite of these ambitions the Kenyan manufacturing sector has been struggling with its share in GDP waning.

The text is based on my research analyzing the key arenas of Kenyan manufacturing and their main actors.  It identifies three key arenas: the manufacturers themselves, politics and the organizations at the interface between the two, specifically the business associations as actors of communication and power. I analyze their agency, narratives, networks and influences. Since my work is interdisciplinary, economic and management factors like markets, opportunities and challenges of the entrepreneurs are also factored in.

In the text, I use the example of three Kenyan manufacturers interviewed for my research (2018-2019) to demonstrate  how African industrialists have been successful at building medium and large industrial companies in the last 20 years. Two of these manufacturers have been trained at MNC companies before starting their own business. This shows that the presence of MNCs can indeed be beneficial to local entrepreneurship. The examples also show that modern Kenyan manufacturers are profiting from globalization by building and utilizing international networks. Their biggest challenges are also illustrated. They are specific and diverse and cannot simply be attributed to factors such as the "Doing Business Environment" or "corruption". Instead, they consist of both specific economic factors as well as political decisions.

Furthermore, I look into the interface of politics and the manufacturers. I show how the political decisions affect the businesses and how business associations are utilized to communicate interests and build supporting networks. My findings contribute to the resumption of the discussion on indigenous capitalism in Africa.

Research has revealed the difficulties social scientists have in accessing and researching the elites. This article explores the process of negotiating access to government members and leaders of the Confederação das Associações Económicas de Moçambique. My experience shows how the play of familiar and strange identities is an important element for building stable relationships in the research process. Family identity has allowed me to integrate into the employer’s milieu. The interpersonal relationships I had previously established brought me closer to employers through recommendations. Presenting myself as a student at a Northern institution contributed to the reduction of formal requirements for access to the actors of the employer environment because they generally have greater confidence in the training system of the North and have dependence and expectations of financial support coming from the countries of that pole of the world. My experience also challenges the methodological paradigm of social sciences that social distances between elites and researchers hinder the research process. It shows that social distances can have opposite effects, allowing space for greater interaction and a deepening in the implementation of observation and interview techniques.

Considérée comme l’épine dorsale du système de production familial, la femme représente l’élément essentiel de la force de travail dans le Baoulé traditionnel. Sa contribution aux travaux agricoles est très significative. À elle-seule, incombe la grande partie du travail agricole sur les parcelles. La femme baoulé comme la plupart des femmes de l’Afrique traditionnelle consacre également du temps et de l’énergie aux activités domestiques et commerciales. Il s’urge de s’interroger sur la place de la femme dans la production communautaire en pays baoulé. L’objectif de cette étude est de mettre en exergue le rôle central de la femme dans la vitalité de la cellule familiale chez les Baoulé. L’approche méthodologique utilisée prend en compte les techniques d’analyse documentaire, des entretiens individuels et collectifs, ainsi que l’analyse de contenu des documents et des sources orales.

Cette recherche montre qu’il existe une division sexuelle des tâches entre les différentes forces de travail dans laquelle la femme baoulé est le pivot de la production. Son omniprésence lui confère un pouvoir de contrôle et de gestion des produits et des biens familiaux. Elle constitue une source génératrice de revenu appréciable pour faire face aux obligations financières.