Edinburgh Research Explorer

Business in Africa, borders, and the liability of colonialism - A meeting point or a missing link?

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 5 Jul 2020
EventAfrica, Place, Belongingness, Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development - UCD Quinn School of Business, Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 22 Nov 201922 Nov 2019

Workshop

WorkshopAfrica, Place, Belongingness, Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development
CountryIreland
CityDublin
Period22/11/1922/11/19

Abstract

Contemporary Africa is largely a product of colonialism. Africa’s borders, in particular, are mainly creations of outside interests and priorities without much consideration to the interests and priorities of indigenous ethnic groupings. The colonial borders in turn acquire agency and exert power in the continent by defining countries, nationalities, and identities. As such, the emphasis on the colonial borders, as opposed to the predominant traditional ethnic groupings of many African societies, has continued to provide a lens for understanding, as well as informing, policies and practices in the re-organised continent. However, not much progress has been made or solutions offered by this perspective to the many challenges of Africa. The continent is still constrained in many ways by foreign practices and institutions imported into the continent through colonialism, which do not appear to fit the worldviews and cultures of traditional ethnic groupings. The continuous instability and near failure of democracy and capitalism in Africa are clear examples. Unsurprisingly, this approach of relying on colonial borders to make sense of the continent extends to the study of business and management, as spaces of social life in Africa. A tendency, here, is to see business and management in Africa as products of bounded national cultures and institutions. This view is very much in line with methodological nationalism – ‘a naturalization of the nation-state and a view that countries are the natural units for comparative studies’ (Wimmer and Schiller, 2003). Methodological nationalism primarily assumes that the nation-state is a coherent society, and has continued to inform both the national cultures (Hofstede) and varieties of capitalism (Hall and Soskice, 2001) literatures. Business in Africa is not spared of this methodological onslaught. Today, one sees such studies looking at specific organisational practices and or economic systems in different African countries and trying to explore and explain them through the lens of national cultures and institutions, which are largely set on colonial borders. The key question then is, if the colonial borders are poorly calibrated and based on outside interests and priorities, to what extent can one reliably take the findings of such studies in Africa, based on methodological nationalism, seriously? I see this as a liability of colonialism on the study of business in Africa, which is often taken for granted in the extant international business literature. My talk will explore this question and its implications for the study of business and management in Africa and beyond.

Event

Africa, Place, Belongingness, Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development

22/11/1922/11/19

Dublin, Ireland

Event: Workshop

ID: 137631389