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African Culture and Capitalism: Entrepreneurs Seek Balance

Candy factory of Senegalese Sugar Company

Since the early 2000s, entrepreneurship in Africa has reported strong organic growth [fr]. However this development has not spread in all market sectors and too often seems to be limited to service industries and trade. Africa has 65 million Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) [fr], nevertheless it is still struggling to develop a class of local entrepreneurs to manage strategic industries, specifically the export of agricultural raw materials, mining, transport and industry public works where the market too often turns to foreign managers.

Yet investors’ enthusiasm for Africa, that many see as the latest Gold Rush for those seeking an alternative to Asian markets, has an impact on local government policies which are concerned with developing their private sectors. The final report of the World Bank indicates that the reforms undertaken by most African governments have improved the business environment in the administrative, fiscal and regulatory domains.

Numerous academics and researchers have examined the influence of cultural practices in order to understand the entrepreneurial adventure in Africa. Their researches led them to consider the weight of cultural values and principles strongly anchored into the collective psyche of African businessmen to evaluate the factors for success for African entrepreneurs.

The irrationality of economic choices of African business executives facing the social pressure of ethnicity,or their extended family has been extensively studied.

Traditional African values facing the liberal economy

Kabeya Tshikuku, professor at the Institute of Economic and Social Research (IRES) at the University of Kinshasa, has argued that business logic is forcing African policymakers to make a difficult choice between the core values of their civilization (family solidarity, peers well being and other support platforms) and business administration, linked to a search for profit devoid of human consideration. The roots of capitalism, utility and individualism, encountered more resistance in the African psyche.

Africa and Africans are not liable guilty of any offence in the form of irrationality. The « cultural issue” lies elsewhere, as far development is concerned. It lies entirely in the distinction made by each culture between « cardinal values of civilization ” and the “ instrumental values”. From the strict cultural point of view, two systems are competing for the allegiance of people and the allocation of resources. […] To put it clearly, Africa is navigating between two competing systems of culture, the retrograde system of management of people and the (revolutionary?) administration of things. The reasons for existence and action have not yet completely lost their roots in the pre-capitalist system…

Read more: Global Voices

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