Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
×
Home

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

  • Joost Beuving (a1)

Abstract

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.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Footnotes

Hide All
*

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.

Footnotes

References

Hide All
Andersson, J. 2006. ‘Informal moves, informal markets: International migrants and traders from Mzimba District, Malawi’, African Affairs 105, 420: 375–97.
Barth, F. 1967. ‘Economic spheres in Darfur’, in Firth, R., ed. Themes in economic anthropology. London: Tavistock, 149–73.
Becker, H. (2014). What about Murder? What about Mozart? Reasoning from cases. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.
Beuving, J. 2004. ‘Cotonou's Klondike: African traders and second-hand car markets in Bénin’, Journal of Modern African Studies 42, 4: 511–37.
Beuving, J. 2006a. ‘Nigerien second-hand car traders in Cotonou: a sociocultural analysis of economic decision-making’, African Affairs 105, 420: 353–73.
Beuving, J. 2006b. ‘Lebanese traders in Cotonou: a socio-cultural analysis of economic decision-making and capital accumulation’, Africa 76, 3: 324–51.
Beveridge, A. & Oberschall, R.. 1979. African Businessmen and Social Change in Zambia. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Bio-Sawe, I. 1995. Le port de Cotonou d'hier à aujourd'hui. Cotonou: Port de Cotonou.
Cohen, A. 2004 [1969]. Customs and Politics in Urban Africa. A study of Haussa migrants in Yoruba towns. London: Routledge.
Couvreur, D. 1992. ‘Records historiques pour les voitures d'occasion Pologne, Hongrie, Tchecoslovaquie: l'Est roule Belge’, Le Soir, Friday 17 July: 7–10.
CNNC (Center for New North Carolinans) 2003. 19902000 census comparison of the demographic profile for the City of Greensboro. http://cnnc.uncg.edu/information/pop_demgraphics.html, accessed 12/06/2007.
Daloz, J-P. 2003. ‘“Big Men” in Sub-Saharan Africa: how elites accumulate positions and resources’, Comparative Sociology 2, 1: 271–85.
Diouf, M. 2000. ‘The Senegalese murid trade diaspora and the making of a vernacular cosmopolitanism’, Public Culture 12, 3: 679702.
Fick, S. 2002. Entrepreneurship in Africa: a study of successes. Westport, CT: Quorum Books.
Flyvbjerg, B. 2006. ‘Five misunderstandings about case-study research’, Qualitative Enquiry 12, 2: 219–45.
Forrest, T. 1994. The Advance of African Capital: the growth of Nigerian private enterprise. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press with the International African Institute.
Granovetter, M. 1985. ‘Economic action and social structure: the problem of embeddedness’, American Journal of Sociology 3: 481510.
Herod, A., Pickren, G., Rainnie, A. & McGrath Champ, S.. 2013. ‘Global destruction networks, labour and waste’, Journal of Economic Geography 14, 5: 121.
Igué, O. & Soulé, B.. 1992. L'état Entrepôt au Bénin: commerce informel ou solution à la crise? Paris: Karthala.
Iliffe, J. 1983. The Emergence of African Capitalism. London: Macmillan.
Kennedy, P. 1988. African Capitalism. The struggle for ascendency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Leys, C. 1996. The Rise and Fall of Development Theory. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
MacGaffey, J. & Bazenguissa-Ganga, R.. 2000. Congo-Paris: transnational traders on the margins of the law. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press with the International African Institute.
McDade, B. & Spring, A.. 2005. ‘The “new generation of African entrepreneurs”: networking to change the climate for business and private sector-led development’, Entrepreneurship and Regional Development 17, 1: 1742.
Meagher, K. 2006. ‘Social capital, social liabilities, and political capital: social networks and informal manufacturing in Nigeria’, African Affairs 105, 421: 553–82.
Platteau, J-P. 2009. ‘Institutional obstacles to African economic development: state, ethnicity, and custom’, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 71: 669–89.
Poeze, M. 2010. In Search of Greener Pastures? Boat migrants from Senegal to the Canary Islands. Leiden: Brill. African Studies Collection, no. 27.
Quarles van Ufford, P. & Zaal, F.. 2004. ‘The transfer of trust: ethnicities as economic institutions in the livestock trade in West and East Africa’, Africa 74, 2: 121–45.
Schneidman, W. & Lewis, Z.. 2012. African Growth and Opportunity Act: looking back, looking forward. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
Stoller, P. 2002. Money has no Smell: the Africanization of New York city. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.
Strauss, A. & Corbin, J.. 1998. Basics of Qualitative Research: techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. New York, NY: Sage.
Taylor, S. 2012. Globalization and the Cultures of Business in Africa: from patrimonialism to profit. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Tranberg-Hansen, K. 2000. Salaula: the world of secondhand clothing and Zambia. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
van de Walle, N. 1994. ‘Political liberation and economic policy reform in Africa’, World Development 22, 4: 483500.
van Donge, J-K. 1992. ‘Waluguru traders in Dar es Salaam: an analysis of the social construction of economic life’, African Affairs 91, 363: 181205.
Vuille, N. 1993. ‘La Rue Heyvaert est devenue le billiard des garagistes’, Le Soir, 8 July: 14–15.
Warnier, J-P. 1993. L’ésprit d'enterprise au Cameroun. Paris: Karthala.
Walther, O. 2014. ‘Trade networks in West Africa: a social network approach’, Journal of Modern African Studies 52, 2: 179203.
Whitehouse, B. 2012. Migrants and Strangers in an African city: exile, dignity, belonging. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Modern African Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-278X
  • EISSN: 1469-7777
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-modern-african-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed