P143 – Global African Entrepreneurship
9 July, 14:00 – 15:30

Haugen Heidi Østbø / University of Oslo
Pelican Michaela / University of Cologne


In the past decades, becoming a trader or business person – rather than a farmer, government worker, or academic – has become a main path for economic advancement in many parts of Africa. This is often coupled with migration within and across continents and the exploration of promising new destinations outside Europe and Northern America in the rising economies of the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. Several researchers have paid attention to this trend, often focusing on the many ‘ordinary’ people who engage in migration and trade and conceptualizing it under the heading of ‘transnationalism or globalization from below’. In this panel, we wish to explore how the ‘below’ and ‘above’ play together as traders encounter the state in border zones, combine entrepreneurship and government employment, and carve out opportunities for themselves in sectors vacated by the state, banks, and multinational corporations. The panel focuses on how African business people organize their transnational lives and travels, and if and how their activities contribute to the growth of African lower and middle classes in their home countries or abroad. We invite contributions that address the following or similar issues based on empirical research: straddling business interests and politics/state policy, institutions and economic infrastructure set up by entrepreneurial migrants, relating trade and tourism, and family relations in the context of transnational business enterprises.

L’entreprenariat africain mondial
Au cours des dernières décennies, devenir commerçant ou entrepreneur (plutôt qu’agriculteur, fonctionnaire ou intellectuel) est devenu le principal moyen d’accès à la prospérité économique dans de nombreuses régions d’Afrique. Ceci est le plus souvent associé à la migration intra et inter continentale et à l’exploration de nouvelles destinations prometteuses en dehors de l’Europe et de l’Amérique du Nord, notamment dans les économies émergentes du Moyen-Orient, d’Asie et d’Amérique Latine. De nombreux chercheurs ont étudié cette tendance, souvent en s’intéressant aux nombreuses personnes «ordinaires» qui s’engagent dans la migration et le commerce, sous le paradigme de « transnationalisme ou mondialisation par le bas ». Dans ce panel, nous explorons comment le « bas » et « haut » se côtoient, tant il est vrai que les commerçants rencontrent l’Etat dans les zones frontalières, combinent entreprenariat et fonctionnariat, et se créent des opportunités dans les secteurs libérés par l’Etat, les banques et les sociétés multinationales. Le panel se consacre d’une part, à la façon dont les entrepreneurs africains organisent leurs vies transnationales et leurs déplacements. D’autre part, il s’agit aussi de savoir si oui et comment leurs activités contribuent à l’ascension sociale des classes inférieures et moyennes d’Afrique tant dans leurs pays de départ qu’à l’étranger. Nous présenterons des contributions qui, sur la base de recherches empiriques, abordent les aspects suivants ou similaires : le chevauchement entre les intérêts commerciaux et la politique étatique, les institutions et infrastructures économiques mises en place par les entrepreneurs migrants, le rapport entre le commerce et le tourisme, ainsi que les relations familiales dans les entreprises transnationales.

Paper 1

Steel Griet / KU Leuven/ Utrecht University

Transnational (im)mobility and online entrepreneurship in the city of Khartoum, Sudan

New ITCs are a crucial feature for the way African small-scale enterprises transcend national and continental borders. However, in this context, a detailed focus on new technological flows has been neglected as a way to understand transnational entrepreneurship. This paper scrutinizes how well-educated women in the city of Khartoum, Sudan, make use of Facebook and WhatsApp to be able to develop home-based web shops. Although they start very locally by approaching their relatives and friends as potential clients, it seems to become a phenomena that is rapidly expanding across national borders. In order to purchase products that are rarely available on local markets, the women travel physically or virtually to countries as Dubai, China and the US. In addition, all these women have clients abroad. However, the question rises how they manage to run their businesses in these international environments while they have to deal with a number of mobility restrictions. Several of these women a re stocked to their home because cultural codes do not allow them to travel abroad or to work outdoors. At the same time, there is very strict national policies that forbid all kinds of international money transactions through international banks and credit card companies. By focusing on these mobility challenges the paper will contribute to the broader debate on how new communication technologies influence the im/mobility of people, money and commodities across and beyond the African continent.

Paper 2

Röschenthaler Ute / Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main

Challenges to African entrepreneurship in Malaysia

Since the 2000s, a growing number of Africans have moved to Malaysia. As most of them come with student visas, they are denied regular employment and have to become creative and entrepreneurial in the endeavour to survive. As these Africans expect to return home not simply with a diploma, but with the necessary financial means to become someone in their society, many engage in various businesses such as brokerage in addition to their studies. While some return home after they have saved some means, others decide to stay in the country and invest in a business with a local partner, sell commodities to Africa or import goods from there for the African market in Malaysia. In this context, they have build up an infrastructure for Africans that situates in the grey zone between informal and formal sectors. This paper that is based on field research in Kuala Lumpur in 2014, explores the entrepreneurial activities of Africans in Malaysia and argues that it is largely the state policies towa rds foreigners that produce the specific situation of informality, if not illegality, in which Africans act and from which they can emerge as successful businessmen only with huge personal efforts and a good deal of good luck. African activities in Malaysia resonate with the concept of globalization from below but also point to this concepts’ explanatory limitations.

Paper 3

Rosenfeld Martin / Oxford University

Second-hand entrepreneurship in West Africa

Transnational trade chains of second-hand goods are economic sectors difficult to reach for big actors such as multinational corporations. This let plenty of opportunities for smaller entrepreneurs dealing with second-hand clothes, second-hand cars or e-waste. Their economic success is often associated to their ability to access international mobility, in order to get their products in the Western World, as well as circumventing taxation mechanism. This communication is based on ethnographic material collected during intensive fieldwork on West Africa. Studying the trade chains of second-hand clothes and second-hand cars offers great insights on the way those entrepreneurs reach their products, engage with the State and manage to combine formal and informal practice within their economic activity.

Paper 4

Jianag Quiyu / McGill University, Montreal

Mosques as an Alternative Zone for Trading: The Religious Network of African Muslim Traders in Guangzhou, China

As one of the earliest Chinese cities to be introduced to Islam, Guangzhou has been one of the religious centers for both Chinese and international Muslims for hundreds of years. The historic presence of Islam as well as an extensive trading economy has drawn many international Muslim traders, including those from Africa, to live and work in Guangzhou. My ethnographic inquiry focuses on one long-established mosque with a mixed population of adherents and several undocumented African “mosques” (Musallahs) in nearby trading buildings. The paper looks at the Muslim religious networks among African traders, as well as the ties between African and the greater Muslim communities, e.g., Chinese, Middle Eastern and African Muslims from Western world. In addition to emotional support and spiritual guidance, Mosques provide networks for economic aid to these in need, knowledge of survival strategies, foundations for economic cooperation, and alternative paths for gaining social recognitio n and esteem from mainstream members of the host society. I posit that Africans traders have built their social network of what I call “global Muslimhood” through shared religious practices where Muslim identity transcends ethnic and national differences. And in turn, mosques, as a form of institutional support, played central roles in the daily lives of Africans for promoting economic benefits, creating more space and maintaining their legal status in China.

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