Globalization and the Cultures of Business in Africa: From Patrimonialism to Profit

Globalization and the Cultures of Business in Africa: From Patrimonialism to Profit

Globalization and the Cultures of Business in Africa: From Patrimonialism to Profit

Globalization and the Cultures of Business in Africa: From Patrimonialism to Profit


Can Africa develop businesses beyond the extractive or agricultural sectors? What would it take for Africa to play a major role in global business? By focusing on recent changes, Scott D. Taylor demonstrates how Africa's business culture is marked by an unprecedented receptivity to private enterprise. Challenging persistent stereotypes about crony capitalism and the lack of development, Taylor reveals a long and dynamic history of business in Africa. He shows how a hospitable climate for business has been spurred by institutional change, globalization, and political and economic reform. Taylor encourages a broader understanding of the mosaic of African business and the diversity of influences and cultures that shape it.


I should have known better. At the very least, I should have asked permission.

By the summer of 2010, having traveled to Africa as a student, researcher, and development consultant for more than twenty-five years, I considered myself sensitive to issues of privacy and voyeurism, objectification and power dynamics. But not on the day I found myself in search of the ideal image for the cover of this book—one of several that I hoped would suitably depict Africa’s diverse business cultures.

Although small business and barely formal urban markets are not a central focus of this book, I decided to shoot a picture of downtown Lusaka’s bustling Comesa Market (after the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, behind whose headquarters the market sits). A few moments after I had snapped the photograph and left the market, I found myself pursued by one of the marketers. Furious, he assailed me and my party in Icibemba for what he assumed was my desire to objectivize what he called “our poverty”: I was accused of wanting to return to the United States and use my photos to show others the poor and “undeveloped” conditions under which Africans live and work.

Although I was deliberately trying to obscure identities in the photo (I wanted place more than people), it is nevertheless true that his reaction was not only justified but was based on an astute understanding of how Westerners, and perhaps Americans in particular, have often conceptualized Africa and Africans as “backward,” poverty stricken, and underdeveloped.

Perhaps in no location more so than in Africa’s rough and tumble urban marketplaces is this conception more on display—or at least ripe for mischaracterization. This is, in many respects, the epitome of what Curtis Keim refers to as “primitive Africa”— an Africa that desperately needs to “catch up.” De rigueur in the past, arguably such views remain widespread today. It is precisely those assumptions and predispositions of a static and unchanging Africa that this book seeks to challenge, in particular by focusing on the opportunities for big business in contemporary Africa. Ironically, then, the merchant could not have been more wrong about my intentions. In fact, his interpretation was exactly the opposite of what this book aims to portray.

I was aiming for a perfect collage of cover photographs that would display “African business” in all its fascinating contemporary variation, from the iconic stalls of . . .

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