chapter  10
18 Pages

African business history

WithGareth Austin

Business history as a discipline has focussed on the rm, in the sense of an organization totally dedicated to business: unlike a household or individual, however economically active. Firms collectively have been dominant in the economies of North America and Western Europe for over two centuries, so it is no surprise that the study of business history originated and ourished there. In the historiography of Sub-Saharan Africa much has been written about the inputs, outputs, networks and culture of business, but much less about rms as such, especially individual rms: their strategies, structures, protability and impacts. It would be easy to take this simply as proof that African business history is still a young eld with much catching-up still to do. This is partly true. It is only forty years since A. G. Hopkins could report that business history had ‘no following in African studies’ (Hopkins, 1976a, p. 29), and there remain areas of neglect, though an aim of this essay is to illustrate the fact that much has been achieved by now (for the latest survey, see Verhoef, 2014).