I’ve recently been thinking about the nature of management research on Africa from its early, sparse, beginnings in, say the 1960s through to the current day, and how it can be conceptualised in terms of scholarship on Africa, for Africa, and from Africa. In a way this loosely corresponds with my conceptualisation of ‘systems’ of management in Africa (Post-colonial; Post-Instrumental; and, African Renaissance), yet also appears to be chronological, with the early stages seeing Africa from mostly a negative perspective of an outsider looking on (and down) at Africa (the outsiders being originally the European ‘discovers’ of Africa). Hence the early work of people like Dumont (1960) with his image of the ‘lazy African’, and even from the pen of prominent African management scholar Moses Kiggundu (1989) presenting a mainly negative view of ‘African’ organization and management. The (in)famous issue of The Economist of 11 May 2000 which presented the image of Africa as a basket-case was indicative of this view and of this era, and possibly could be used as a conceptual marker for the end of this era.
Logically, if the perception on Africa was negative, two possible reactions could be: (1) to leave it alone (certainly I encountered this from fellow academics who warned me not to specialize in Africa as it would be detrimental to my career); or, (2) to help Africa. The latter would entail offering solutions to the poor state of ‘African’ management and organisation. The only solution was of course a Western one, and this was underlined (quite unconsciously I believe by management scholars) by Modernization Theory, which itself was underpinned politically by the Washington Consensus. Hence we entered a period (which I believe is still ongoing) of management scholarship for Africa. A strong belief that ‘Africa’ (or post-colonial management as I termed it in Jackson, 2004) is inefficient and possibly corrupt, and needs to be replaced with western management concepts and systems. Hence a whole raft of literature assuming that this was the way forward. Waiguchu et al (1999) and Ugwuegbu (2001) are among the worse examples that essentially look at how western principles could be applied in Africa. Among more scholarly attempts that appeared to start from this perspective was the work of Kamoche (1992), an African management scholar who although seems not to move too far from the Western HRM paradigm has made substantial contributions to scholarship for Africa.
Viewing Africa from the point of view of the West (although this terms compounds a whole lot of different approaches, but predominantly American) is now becoming slightly out of date, and certainly not in tune with what is happening in the world. Other economic and political powers are coming to the fore in Africa, especially China. The perception of Africa (and organisation and management in Africa) by Chinese business leaders, policy makers and managers working in Africa (and not least Chinese academics) is something not much known in the West. Despite working with Chinese collaborators, I am still not sure what this perception is (or perceptions are). It would seem that at policy level there is a lack of imposition on African institutions in Africa, an unwillingness to change this in the way of the West’s imposition of SAPs on African countries. Yet at organizational level, the view appears to be an importing of Chinese/Western management. Much more empirical research (with Chinese colleagues) is needed on this to really get under the surface at attitudinal level and at the level of management practices. This is scholarship for Africa that just hasn’t been sufficiently explored. Other perceptions from managers and scholars from other BRICS countries need also to be investigated.
The view from Africa can be traced back to the work of Ayitter (1991), although not specifically about management and organisation, explores thoroughly ‘indigenous’ African institutions, and provides an excellent starting point for management scholars. I did point out however (Jackson, 2013) the difficulty of defining, conceptualizing and operationalising the indigenous. It is not really defined in the management literature despite its increasing usage in international business and international management literature. It is probably wrongly conceptualised and should be better referred to as endogenous, rather than indigenous that has generated much debate in other social sciences (but not in management studies) and means something in relation to the global (often in opposition to globalisation, and often as an oppressed and little represented counter-view that is given little voice (particularly in management studies). I have suggested that a major site for investigating indigenous African management and organisation is in the huge informal economy in Africa and other regions. My extensive empirical research in the formal economy (Jackson, 2004) provided little evidence of management from Africa, which can be explained through examining power relations within cultural crossvergences. The latter is explored in the cross-cultural management literature. The role of power isn’t. Although certainly power dynamics exist in the global/indigenous relationship, there is more chance of discerning indigenous African management in informal business organisations.
Management scholarship from Africa may need to start with the informal sector (itself a much neglected area in management studies). However, the question of what is indigenous research is another issue that must be addressed (an ability to incorporate indigenous voices in the objectives and design of the research as well as indigenous voices being the subject of study). Certainly scholarship from Africa is the way forward. Yet this needs more critical (cross-cultural) thinking on the part of the increasing number of management scholars interested in Africa.
Ayittey, G. B. N. (1991) Indigenous African Institutions, New York: Transnational
Jackson, T. (2004). Management and change in Africa: A cross-cultural perspective. London: Routledge.
Jackson, T. (2013) Reconstructing the Indigenous in African Management Research: Implications for International Management Studies in a Globalized World, Management International Review, 53(1):13-38.
Kiggundu, M. N. (1989). Managing organizations in developing countries. West Hartford, Conn.: Kumarian Press.
Ugwuegbu, D. C. E. (2001) The Psychology of Management in African Organizations, Westport, Connecticut: Quorum
Waiguchu, J. M., Tiagha, E. and Mwaura, M. (eds.) (1999) Management of Organizations in Africa: A Handbook and Reference, Westport, Connecticut: Quorum Books