Entrepreneurship, Culture and Solidarity in Africa

Since the early 2000s, entrepreneurship in Africa [fr] 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 [fr] 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.

Candy factory of the Senegalese Sugar Company (Senegal) by Manu25 on Wikipedia under creative commons licence

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.

Success stories in Africa- sucessful and entrepreneurial leaders in Africa
from news21TV with M. Dogui president of Africagora club

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; they have not yet taken root in the capitalist system. The old framework of lifelong solidarity has not totally disintegrated; the new framework of capitalist individualism has not finished moving in.

Combining solidarity and growth

The growth that fueled the continent's GDP over the past decade indicates that this rational, individualistic capitalism is installed progressively albeit unevenly across the continent. It penetrates the public consciousness at the discretion of the efficiency or the aggressiveness of reforms undertaken by the government to boost the private sector. Corporate governance has become a central theme for the business community especially after the shocking wave of the Enron scandal in United States. Will African entrepreneurs know how to integrate the principles of corporate governance with the ubuntu philosophy in which the group comes before the individual?

The former Minister of Investment, Industry and Trade of Mali, Amadou Abdoulaye Diallo, pointed out that Africa is an excellent example of the paradox. He explains to Célia d'ALMEIDA in the Journal of Mali:

Il y a une décennie, l’environnement socio-économique en Afrique était jugé défavorable à la création et au développement de l’entreprise. Dans certains pays, le cadre juridique des affaires n’est pas très incitatif à cause de la faiblesse, voir l’absence, d’accès au crédit, l’accès difficile à l’information sur les opportunités d’affaires, du manque de soutien au jeune entrepreneur (absence d’incubateurs d’entreprises) et de l’insuffisance de main d’œuvre qualifiée pour la gestion de l’entreprise. À tout cela, s’ajoutait le manque de stratégie politique. Mais, depuis quelques années, des pays africains comme le nôtre, ont amorcé d’importantes réformes pour faciliter la création d’entreprise et offrir un climat favorable au développement des entreprises.

A decade ago, the African socio-economic environment was considered unfavourable to the creation and development of business ventures. In some countries, the legal framework for business leaves room for few incentives due to weaknesses such as lack of credit access, scarcity of information on business opportunities, absence of support for young entrepreneurs (no business incubators) and insufficient skilled workforce for company management. To all this is added a shortage of political strategy. However, more recently, African countries like ours, undertake major reforms to facilitate business creation and provide a favourable climate for business development.

In Cameroon, Richard Ewelle's post in Kamer Blog concludes [fr] on culture and entrepreneurship in Africa:

Le développement de l’entreprenariat en Afrique passera par la création d’un concept d’entrepreneuriat africain et pas forcément par la copie conforme de ce qui existe à l’étranger. Nous devons associer les bonnes pratiques occidentales en matière de création d’entreprise, au contexte et aux concepts africains. Le concept de l’entrepreneuriat africain sera basé sur la valorisation de la culture africaine mais aussi sur le développement solidaire en mettant en avant l’environnement socio-économique.

The development of entrepreneurship in Africa will require the creation of the concept of African entrepreneurship and not necessarily an exact copy of what is abroad. We need to combine best practices in creating Western corporate context along African concepts. The concept of African entrepreneurship will be based on the value of African culture but also on developing solidarity that promotes the socio-economic environment.

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