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American cars in Cotonou: culture in African entrepreneurship and the making of a globalising trade*

  • Joost Beuving (a1)


Traders in Cotonou (Bénin), a prominent hub in the Euro–West African second-hand car trade, traditionally sold cars imported from Europe. Since the 2000s however, more and more cars are being imported from the US. Anthropological study of one group of entrepreneurs active in this new business, traders from Niger, reveals an African entrepreneurship at work that follows a distinct social pattern: traders are groomed in close kinship ties in West Africa and then develop new social ties with overseas migrants. Their trade thus becomes embedded in more globalised networks, yet at the same time it loosens and that works against profitable business. Close analysis of their careers reveals a cultural pattern that compels entrepreneurs to become traders, economic opportunity notwithstanding. Whether this is representative of Africa's changing place in the global economic order remains to be seen; however, this article suggests how culture in entrepreneurship may be key to understanding that.


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The author works at the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Development Studies (CAOS), Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. He thanks WOTRO for funding the early stages of the fieldwork; Jens Andersson, Jan-Kees van Donge, Xerxes Malki, Thomas Salter and two anonymous reviewers for comments; and Catherine O'Dea for language editing. Earlier versions of this article were presented to the ASA-US (Baltimore) in 2013, the ASA-UK (Sussex) in 2014 and the African Studies Seminar (Oxford) in 2015.



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