Pre-colonial Africa: Diversity in Organization and Management of Economy and Society
Management was integral to state organization, traditional hierarchical stratification of authority, and ownership of resources in Africa. The history of dynamic state formation, challenge of authority and conquest in Africa. Limited separation existed between state and commercial activity. Islam expanded and conquered indigenous empires, while some indigenous peoples converted to Islam. Traditional management was integral to state management. In some geographical locations, the monarch allowed private enterprise and decentralized management of commerce. In West Africa, more decentralized commercial management occurred, while in East Africa Muslim traders controlled trade routes. This chapter shows how state formation and business management develop in parallel trajectories before colonial intervention. Limited organizational structures emerged as distinct managerial in origin. This chapter illustrates diversity of management culture and sophistication before the late nineteenth century.
KeywordsSacred king Hierarchy Middlemen Commerce Kinship Owner-managed Centralized state Trade routes Chief Trader
The vast land comprising Africa constitutes the location of dynamic contestation, conquest, and expansion of power. Africa comprises around 30 million square kilometers, the second largest continent. Africa is therefore the size of China, India, the USA, and most of the European countries combined. It is home to a rich diversity of indigenous cultures and linguistic entities engaged in sustaining the livelihood of sprawling communities. The people of Africa speak more than 1000 different ethnic languages, belonging to around 100 language groups. The history of Africa is testimony to consistent flux or movement of peoples in ever-changing social formations. This dynamic demographic configuration displayed a constant movement as populations expanded and sought to secure their existence. History begins with geography. Confronted by typographical and climatic extremes, societies settled where they could sustain a livelihood. With high mountains, long rivers, a series of lakes in the Great Rift Valley (approximately 6000 km, stretching from Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley to Southeastern Africa, around modern Tanzania and Mozambique – July 1998: 5), desert and fertile soil, and rich vegetation in equatorial jungles and sweeping grasslands/savannahs human survival depended on management thereof. The population is unevenly distributed. The fertile soils attracted the highest density of people. Concentrations of settlements developed on the North African coastline, in West Africa, along the Nile River valley, and finally southward to the Witwatersrand highlands in the south. In this vast geography, societies organized themselves for sustainability. The history of Africa reflects the complex discontinuities and change as societies responded to climatic, social, and political developments similar to the experiences of the people of Europe, Asia, Latin America, North America, and Australasia. As civilizations expanded across the world, contestation followed and led to new social formations, new sociopolitical configurations, and ultimately socioeconomic organization. How societies survived or failed to survive and resulted in new social formations paved the way for the modern global configuration of people, states, and economy.
In this chapter the underlying principles of social and economic management in Africa emerge as a function of social formation. From the Latin civilis, which means “political” or “civic,” the word civilization refers to the emergence of an entity of humans, a civic entity, in a formation called a state. The state takes on a variety of forms, but remains the core of societies considered to be “civilized.” As civilization spreads across Africa, the unfolding of state formation becomes the dynamic of emerging sovereign public power. The power of the sovereign supersedes the social bindings of families and ethnic tribe’s local communities. The sovereign power organizes the subject to serve the interests of the state as a collective, but the interests of the rulers are not necessarily representative of the entire population. The early history of the peoples of Africa exhibits a tendency toward centralized state authority, with a small ruling class or bureaucratic officialdom. Institutional diversification was limited, since state power did not distinguish different dimensions of social autonomy. In the early state, rulers claimed some form of religious or spiritual authority. In the history of Africa religion or pagan ancestry devotion was a significant dimension of all power. The underlying principles of management, namely, planning, organizing, leading, and controlling, rise vividly in the sociopolitical organization of societies since earliest times, albeit in a social configuration prior to the emergence of the institutions fundamental to western management theory.
The meaning of the concept “management,” as Peter Drucker phrased it, justifies consideration. Drucker defines management as “a discipline – that is an organized body of knowledge and as such applicable everywhere – it is also a “culture.” It is not value-free science. Management is a social function and embedded in a culture – a society – a tradition of values, customs, and beliefs, and governmental and political systems. Management is – and should be – culture-conditioned; but, in turn, management and managers shape culture and society” (Drucker 1974). The manifestation of pre-colonial African management practices displays the traditional culture embeddedness of emerging management practices. The distinct culture of traditional African societies in their vast diversity, constitute the basis of social capital formation and community networks underlying business activities. As the dynamic dispersion of peoples progressed since more than two million years ago, (Fage and Tordoff 2002; July 1998; Oliver 1977), social organization delivered the ecosystem of the development of African management. The ecosystem of management in Africa is the political history of Africa. The history of the management of all social activities, political, social, and economic, unfolds with the slow adoption of the market and market-reinforcing institutions in protracted fashion (George et al. 2016). The historical succession of state formation and social organization of states offer an insight into the organization of economic and commercial activity. In this context practices evolved for the management of society, political power, and economic activities.
Early Egyptian Civilization in North Africa
From the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia around 3500 B.C., the Sumerian city-states emerged. The civilization spread to the northern part of Africa. From 3200 B.C., the Egyptian civilization developed around the Nile River. The powerful Egyptian civilization spread southward along the Nile Valley. The ruler presented himself as a god-king, or pharaoh, who unified the peoples along the Nile into a single state in 3100 B.C. The settlement in the north, known as Lower Egypt, and the settlement in the south, known as Upper Egypt, henceforth functioned as a centralized state for 2000 years. Egypt had periods of internal instability and international challenge to its power. The power of the unified Egyptian state crumbled toward the tenth century B.C. This allowed the Kush kingdom in the south to return itself to independence from Egyptian domination, only to be reconquered later in the seventh century B.C., and by 591 the Kushite kings were again defeated, allowing Egypt to reoccupy the Upper and Lower parts of the empire. These developments underlined the mutual dependence of the divine king, the military forces, the scribes and the elites in sustaining the state. As Egypt reestablished its political power over the southern Kush kingdom, bidirectional cultural assimilation characterized coexistence, but not shared power. State power returned to the Egyptian king (Van Wickins 1981: 2–6; Van Aswegen 1980: 26–30; July 1998: 27–37). The culturally rich and powerful empire of Axum developed to the southeast of Egypt on the Ethiopian highlands. Axum was a wealthy state, but was finally succumbed by Islamic Arab conquest. Between 814 B.C. and the first century after Christ, North Africa and Egypt fell to the colonization by the Phoenicians, the Greek, and Roman civilizations (Andrea and Overfield 2001a: 16–18; Wickins 1981: 7–9; Van Aswegen 1980: 13–61). Despite these latter developments, the “sacred king” phenomenon spread to African societies neighboring the Egyptian civilization. As far south as current-day Uganda, the southwestern Ethiopian highlands and the Great Zimbabwe-Monomotapa similar powers of deity in state authority existed by the twelfth century. The divine kingship phenomenon later came to be considered “more or less (a) natural evolution from the development of agriculture”. Since societies’ sustainability and prosperity were inextricably linked to “the spirits of the water and the land,” the king as descendant of the ancestors became the mediator with the other world and thereby increasingly the personification of supernatural powers of the ancestors (Fage and Tordoff 2002: 37–41; Andrea and Overfield 2001a: 23).
The Egyptian pharaoh ruled the state with unlimited powers, but priests, officials, and nobles assisted in executing duties delegated to them. As the sole owner of all the land, all economic activities and exchange occurred at his will and to his benefit. Africa became integrated into European economic and trade activities across the Mediterranean through the colonization of the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans during the century before the birth of Christ. These conquests did not penetrate deep into Africa, but affected primarily the northern seaboard lands. Trade routes with Europe and Asia developed as colonies of the Roman Empire until the third century B.C. By the first century before Christ, the dominant civilizations of North Africa were loosely linked through a series of trade networks and imperialist expansions. Under direct control of the Egyptian pharaoh and European civilizations, ships traded across the Mediterranean Sea and in the southeast region across the Red Sea with Arab settlements.
Before the unification of the Egyptian state during the fourth millennium before Christ, well before 3000 B.C., peasants cultivated the fertile lands and exchanged their produce. This stimulated the successful expansion of agricultural production in the Egyptian kingdom. People had domesticated animals, cattle, sheep, or goats and cultivated flax for textile production and grain for food. The fertile Nile lands delivered considerable wealth. Surpluses in production, supplemented with craft production, supplied the comparative advantage leading to specialization and trade with civilizations outside Egypt. Specialized craftsmen and traders created wealth, which gave rise to a wealthy class and growing inequality in society. After unification the organization of commercial exchange was a direct function of divine state power. Individual merchants were the entrepreneurial agents seeking markets, supplying goods, and engaging in commercial agreement, always sanctioned by the authoritarian ruler. Trading fleets crossed the oceans under the authority of the monarch. The Egyptian civilization was prosperous, but grew more prosperous under state-induced specialization in agricultural production. Specialization in grain and textile production, although not exclusively, led to the emergence of a class structure of increasing complexity. Capable artisans and craftsmen produced goods for exchange. The latter and agricultural surpluses thus oiled the wheels of trade and delivered the tax adding to the wealth of the state. The king employed priests, an administrative class of bureaucrats, and a professional army to secure his position and future prosperity.
Following colonization by societies from elsewhere in the Mediterranean, the first trade was conducted across the Sahara desert, operating from trading posts on the coast. These trading routes only developed into established trading routes after the Islamic invasions. The most frequent exchange was to the northeast with Arab settlements and across the Indian Ocean with people of Asia. In the Egyptian civilization, merchants traveled up and down the Nile to connect suppliers and “him who wants,” while tax was collected in the form of gold. The “scribe,” who recorded the transactions, was not physically a strong person in society, but a person occupying “a fine profession” (Andrea and Overfield 2001a: 23–24; July 1998: 18–22). Officials in the state bureaucracy, scribes, and tax collectors thus assumed an important function in administering commercial exchange, as well as managing subjects on behalf of the divine ruler. The scribes played a vital role in developing the art of writing, pictographic, and later cursive script. The Egyptian civilization was therefore able to accumulate knowledge systematically, develop a sun calendar, and predict cyclical climatic patterns. Calculating time improved agricultural production and wealth creating. The nexus between land, agriculture, and the divine ruler witnessed in the Egyptian civilization was not unique in Africa. In other African kingdoms, this nexus also constituted the essence of state authority and centralized power of the king. The significance of this nexus became accentuated through the turbulent history of Africa, as protracted introduction of modernizing technology from western civilizations in most parts of Africa perpetuated the dependence on agriculture as organized in centralized state formations.
The sophisticated Egyptian civilization developed in North Africa at the same time as civilizations developed in the Americas and China. Limited contact, if any, can be traced between the Americas and Africa during the earliest centuries of human settlement in Africa. Traces of Chinese coins and porcelain were found in East Africa pointing to exchanges between the peoples of East Africa and China during the fifth century B.C. Trading activities on the East African coast established connections with the Greek and later Roman civilization, as well as the Indian and Chinese civilizations. The commercial contacts facilitated exchange. These did not change sociopolitical organization but cultural enrichment and the ability to accumulate wealth. The powerful divine king encouraged commercial exchange, under his auspices, to grow the revenue of the state. Economic specialization based on comparative advantages (as explained by David Ricardo) stimulated trade, growing wealth accumulation, and social stratification. Whether in a centralized unified state or in smaller seats of political power, the king was the sole authority. He determines social organization; he planned, led the state, and controlled all functions of the state.
No independent business management function transpired, but the outcome of planning, organization, leadership, and control is witnessed in the scientific, architectural, and engineering achievements of the Egyptian civilization. Constructing the pyramids, aqueducts, and roads and raising agricultural production by calculating a calendar to predict the cycles of flooding of the Nile River are all achievements testifying to state capacity to plan, manage, and execute state projects. In the absence of sources explaining systematically the process of planning, managing, and execution (Bartol and Martin 1991), the student of management is left to interpret the sociopolitical trajectory of the civilizations or societies as evidence of the sustainability of management in early African history. Architectural wonders, such as the pyramids, display advanced intellectual capabilities, applied managerial skills, and the ability to mobilize labor to execute the plans. From the nature of state management, as was vividly illustrated in the development of the Egyptian civilization, underlying dimensions of management in Africa may transpire.
Indigenous Bantu-Speaking Peoples and Islam
The hunter-gatherersin indigenous Africa were primarily located in the southern parts of Africa. These were the Khoi-Khoin and San peoples. Indigenous black people were agriculturalists and pastoralists. They settled in the lands to the southwest of the Sahara desert, on the Southeastern highlands of East Africa, and in Central and Southern Africa. The peoples of the southwestern region of Africa were called Bilhad-al-Sudan – an Arabic reference meaning “the land of the black people.” Early climatic transformation of the once water-rich Sahara lands caused massive catastrophe to the inhabitants, but came to an end around 2000 B.C. The subsequent desert conditions mandated a survival response. The Bantu-speaking peoples gradually migrated to lands in the west and central parts of Africa where better rainfall and rivers offered enhanced survival opportunities. This migration resulted in the movement of Bantu-speakers across the Cameroon Gabon area to East Africa around the Lake Victoria by 300 B.C. Small groups formed small states in what is today known as Hausaland and Yorubaland in modern-day Nigeria, as well as in the forest belt of the Volta River. Long-distance trade developed in gold and kola nuts. In West Africa the kingdom of Ghana was founded around 400 but was later succeeded by the kingdom of Mali around the eleventh century and the Kanem-Bornu Empire in the region of Lake Chad, after the thirteenth century. The next massive Bantu migration occurred from around 400 from the Shaba in the central part of Africa, to the south and southeast regions as far south as the Kei River in current South Africa. This massive migration drove the dispersion of Bantu culture, iron-manufacturing skills and agricultural knowledge across sub-Saharan Africa. Ultimately the Bantu migration continued for almost a thousand years and ended with the settlement of the Bantu-speaking peoples through Central, East, and Southern Africa (Wickins 1981; Fage and Tordoff 2002; Andrea and Overfield 2001a).
The significance of the Bantu migration is that their sociopolitical organization was transferred to the largest geographies of the continent. Economic activities were performed through a social organization around a central authority, a king, as the core of social organization and management. It is significant that the sociopolitical organization and economic functions displayed stability. In the ancient kingdom of Ghana, the king exercised control over smaller kingdoms, permitted smaller tribes to control trade routes across the Sahara, but extracted gold from the different smaller sociopolitical entities under its control. The king succeeded his predecessor as the son of his predecessor’s sister, thus not the son on the predecessor became king, but the son of the sister of the former king, succeeded as the next king. He sometimes presented himself as a woman, wearing necklaces, bracelets, and turban headgear. He ruled as an autocrat. This king, as in the Egyptian empire, was served with divine honors as the center of the indigenous cult. The king used priests and an army (of around 200,000 soldiers on command) to secure his position. State power centralized in the state, personified in the king, who simultaneously controlled economic activities: permitting cultivation, pastoralism, trade, and exchange. Control of trans-Saharan merchant routs meant commercial control, strengthening the power of the king. It was only late during the twelfth century that an environmental crisis rendered the kingdom of Ghana to disintegrate, paving the way for the rise of other empires in the Sudan. The kingdom of Ghana was originally a non-Muslim kingdom, but the king once accepted the Islamic faith when a Muslim preacher prayed, and it suddenly started to rain at a time when the kingdom suffered severe drought. The entire kingdom was not converted to Islam, but subsequent kings accepted the title al-usulmani, depicting a title of a leader in the Muslim faith. Muslims were allowed to settle in the kingdom alongside non-Muslims (Fage and Tordoff 2002: 59, 67; Andrea and Overfield 2001a: 382–386).
To the east of Ghana was the Kanem Empire, known for the worship of their king, who they believed to be the source of “life and death, sickness and health.” Kanem later formed part of the Bornu-Kanem Empire. With the demise of the kingdom of Ghana and Muslim invasions, the thirteenth century witnessed the rise of the kingdom of Mali to include all of the former kingdom of Ghana. Mali became a powerful kingdom, with wealthy caravans crossing the Sahara up to Cairo, but was succeeded by the Songhai Empire during the fifteenth century. This empire was closely aligned to Islam, but also disintegrated to pave the way for the nomadic Negroid hunting and fishing societies of the Kanem-Bornu and Hausa states.
Successive raids by nomadic pastoralist groups could be withstood through the military power of the state/king. The incoming pastoralist groups swelled the size of the kingdom and contributed to the revenue stream of the kingdom. The political institutions of the state were flexible enough to retain internal stability in the wake of adjusting and incorporating adjoining populations. African kingdoms also went through different stages of internal stability and turmoil. A dispersion of power between contesting chiefs could undermine internal stability. Few indigenous black kingdoms remained stable, centralized, and strong for very long. Kingdoms rose to power, but were challenged, either by migrating pastoralists or by internal strife. Strong centralized government was the exception in sub-Saharan Africa (Wickins 1981: 228), and July (1998) called them “ephemeral political entities without great intrinsic unity” (July 1998: 63). It was the king who succeeded with varying degrees of success, to stabilize his position through a personal allegiance of priests, soldiers, and other subjects. The personal agency of the ruler was decisive. Generally African kingdoms did not constitute a strong centralized state, but rather a sociopolitical organization aligned to the king. The absence of a strong centralized state administration, an effective executive function, and fragmented public functions undermined the emergence of strong states. These limitations impacted on longevity, stability, and sustainability.
The Muslim Arab invasion of Africa from the seventh century established Arab domination and Islam as religious-political power in Africa exposing the vulnerability of the indigenous African kingdoms. The Muslim invasions revealed the existence of the ancient indigenous kingdoms of the Sudan, as educated Arab persons documented their experiences and findings in the unknown parts of the continent they penetrated. A dynamic period of complex challenges to power, realignment of authority, and new and intensified networks of exchange put Africa on a trajectory of rapid transformation. The Islamic invasions perhaps had the most profound long-term impact on the history of Africa. More than European colonial control that lasted only for around 60–70 years (1885 to between 1950 and 1960), Islamic Arab invasions transformed Africa permanently. The Islamic conquests since the eighth century resulted in longer and more persistent conquest of indigenous African empires and the development of Islamic states as people of Africa were converted to Islam. Conversion to the Muslim faith seemed popular. Relatively small Arab armies conquered vast parts of Africa. The conquered were subjected to pay poll tax, since they were non-Muslims. Accepting the Muslim faith ruled out the payment of the tax and therefore Islam spread relatively smoothly across sub-Saharan Africa.
A major new chapter in the history of Africa commenced with the Arab Muslim invasions of the seventh century. Systematically Muslim armies invaded and conquered Africa. Starting in the mid-seventh century with the conquest of Egypt, Muslim armies advanced along the Mediterranean coastline to Gibraltar and Cordoba by 711, thereby controlling al-Maghrib, or North Africa. Islamic expansion also proceeded south across the Sahara into the Sudanese black indigenous kingdoms. The success of the Islamic invasions was grounded in the religious and therefore non-secular calling to submit themselves to the will of “God” of whom they believed, Mohammed was the Prophet. Strict adherence to the principles of submission to the teachings of the Prophet translated into a disciplined religious army driven with the calling to make all humanity subordinate to the will of one God. The concept of the universal submission (Islam) of all mankind to one God served to encourage the Arab tribes to unite if they wanted to succeed in achieving the calling of the Prophet. This conviction also served to motivate the conquest and submission of non-Muslim believers, as well as the organization of conquered societies according to the rules of the Islam faith (Fage and Tordoff 2002). After the Muslim conquest began in the seventh century, the penetration of Muslim beliefs and Arab culture followed new waves of Arab out-movement. The Fatimids’ conquest of Egypt, in 969 particular, consolidated Arab control over the fertile lands and resulted in massive trade expansion, across the northern African coastline, but also internationally. Merchants accumulated impressive wealth, despite the high taxes extracted by the new rulers (Oliver 1977). In North Africa the Islamic invasions resulted in several Muslim states – the Merinid kingdom (1248), the ABD Al-Wahid kingdom (1248), the Hafsid kingdom (1229), and Egypt. The conquest of the al-Maghrib took a lengthy period of time, because of resistance by the Berber tribes. From the initial expansion across the al-Maghrib, the conquests proceeded across the Sahara into the Sudan.
The infiltration by Islam into the Sudan or sub-Saharan lands of West Africa had a profound impact on the indigenous kingdoms, but did not usurp them entirely. Internal struggles for power undermined Islamic expansion. It was only in 1076 that a Muslim army under Abu Bakr conquered Ghana. From the kingdom of Ghana, Islam domination penetrated into the kingdom of Mali, which resulted in King Mansa Musa accepting the Muslim faith. When Mali fell to the rising Songhai kingdom during the sixteenth century, the Songhai king had already been converted to Islam. Also in the kingdom of Kanem-Bornu the indigenous ruler, mai Umme (mai is the title of the king) converted to Islam in 1086. The kingdom was thus not conquered by Islam, but accepted aspects of the faith in public and private life. The loosely constituted Hausa states to the east of the Sudan, accepted aspects of the Muslim faith and implemented administrative systems inherited from the Songhai Empire. These were closely molded to Islamic directives.
The North African Muslim states were strictly organized along Islamic principles. The governor of the state or province occupied the central state power, supported by a military and civil administration. Finances were managed by a separate Department of Finance, responsible for the extraction and management of revenue from the conquered territory. The Islamic bureaucracy was characterized by professional officials/bureaucrats each assigned specific specialized duties of state administration. All conquered land came under the ownership of the Islamic state. Indigenous peoples were permitted to work their lands and work as artisans or craftsmen but were incapable of taking administrative office. Social stratification developed. The Arab Muslims were the aristocracy or highest class; the indigenous people who had converted to Islam were subordinate to the Arab Muslims. They were exempt from poll tax, but had to pay land and poor taxes, and shared in the material benefits of all Muslims. The third class, or lowest social stratum, was the non-Muslims. These indigenous peoples were heavily taxed and had to support the military. A fourth category was the Jews and Christians, who maintained cultural and religious autonomy, but were subject to Muslims in society (Baulin 1962; Trimmingham 1968; Holt et al. 1970).
Even though the Muslim conquests were associated with the setting up of well-organized administrative structures and introducing sophisticated financial management, including mathematical calculation of taxes and other revenue, Islam had a limited influence on the source of state power or the execution of power. Despite conversion to the Muslim faith, most of the indigenous African kings crafted a unique blend of pagan religion, from which they derived their authority, and Islam. This was very obvious among the Berber tribes – they were conquered by the Islamic armies, but essentially remained loyal to their tribes, tribal traditions, and tribal dialects. Fage and Tordoff observed, “Kings and their machineries of government might seem to be Islamised, but the principles of Sudanic royal power remained pagan” (Fage and Tordoff 2002: 188). In the last resort, the authority and legitimacy of the king originated from the acceptance by his subjects that he was the descendant of the ancestors of the people. Islam was nevertheless often used to strengthen the authority of the king, to improve state organization, to enhance his legitimacy through association with a specialized educated merchant class, and to promote education through Islamic schools. It is important to remember that the monarch determined the degree to which Islam was put to use in his kingdom.
The organization of the state in North Africa before the invasion of Islam, and in indigenous kingdoms in the Sudan, during the period up to around the first two centuries after Christ, was fairly simple. The king or monarch was the sole ruler, assisted by persons of his selection, from designated social categories. As the primary owner of factors of production, such as land and other natural resources, he determined the scope and scale of agricultural production. The monarch also controlled trade and revenue collection. The history of successive kingdoms since earliest Neolithic times to the Iron Age and thereafter tells of the centralization of all management functions in the ruling monarch. This monarch may have been reigning a large and strong empire. He may have been reigning a small state, sometimes a single city-state, or a group of weakly integrated states, such as the Hausa states in the eastern Sudan region. The degree of undisputed authority fluctuated – some states operated under strong central authority of the king, such as the united Egyptian kingdom after 400 B.C. Other states experienced different factors contributing to weakening central authority, the demise of the power of the kingdom and the succession of either a new ruler or another kingdom. The sole underlying principle of management was power – derived through descent or conquest.
Individual merchants and traders exercised their entrepreneurial capacities within the confines of the permission of the absolute monarch, who controlled all economic activities. On the macrolevel he gave permission for commercial activities and collected the taxes from such profitable transactions. Business was not an autonomous enterprise, but an extension of state authority. The Islamic rulers exercised strict control over trading caravan routes and merchant activities in ports and markets at intersecting caravan routes. Depending on the strength of the centralized authority of the indigenous monarch, commercial operations were organized by individual businessmen, working with members of his/her family or community. As central authority collapsed, contesting tribes competed for trade routes and markets. The disintegration of the Songhai kingdom, for example, enabled the formation of a confederation of pastoralist tribes, themselves causing instability as they competed for trading routes, markets, and grazing fields (Fage and Tordoff 2002: 191). Where Islam penetrated the indigenous society, it also caused profound ethnic shifts. An example of this occurred when Fulani pastoralists began to gradually join Muslim towns in sub-Saharan Africa during the sixteenth century. Many joined in the rights and privileges of Muslims. Much later the Fulani used the Islam jihad to extend power in the region.
African Societies in the East and Southern Africa
The Christian peoples of the Kush kingdom and later the Aksum Empire (current state of Ethiopia) experienced constantly changing dynamics in their relationships with the Egyptian kingdom and, subsequent to Muslim conquest of Egypt, successive Islamic sultans. The peoples of the Horn of Africa lived in a dynamic coexistence of Christians, Muslims, and pagan indigenous African communities. The eastern coastline and the Red Sea were the location of extensive trade between Asia and Africa, but as the Bantu-speaking migration from the western regions gained momentum just before the Christian era, a new period of agriculture and pastoralism started in East Africa. The Bantu-speaking peoples took with them their knowledge of agriculture and animal husbandry. They had also acquired the skills to manufacture iron tools. These indigenous African black people’s migration from the western Sudan proceeded across the Congo Basin toward the south and eastern coast of Africa. These pastoralists pushed the hunter-gatherers south, and by the sixteenth century, the Bantu-speaking peoples had arrived from the Shaba/Katanga region of the current Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in the region of the Kei River in what is currently known as the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. The ethnic changes resulting from the migration included the settlement of the Lund and Luba kingdoms in the Shaba and Kasai regions of the DRC, and the Shona/Mbire kingdom to the south in the Great Zimbabwe. Further migration of Nilotes (people from the Upper Nile region) and Muslim Arabs into the region gave rise to economic competition, cultural integration, and political contestation. Muslim traders from Asia met with fierce indigenous defense, resulting in the appearance of permanent inland Muslim city-states, such as the city-state of Harar (located in modern-day Ethiopia). Muslim traders used Harar to source ivory, gold, and slaves to distribute through the cross Indian Ocean trade routes to Asia and beyond. Along the Eritrean coastline, colonies of Arab merchants and settlers were converted to Islam after the Islamic invasions commenced. By the twelfth century, Kilwa (located in modern-day Tanzania) was the most prosperous east-coast trading city and firmly under Muslim control. Kilwa emerged as the center from which Indian Ocean trade routes were reestablished after the Greek control was unseated. Regular upheavals of conquests and resistance between Islam, Christian, and pagan indigenous communities occurred. The Christian kingdom of Ethiopia succeeded in sustaining its sovereignty and between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries expanded its territory (Fage and Tordoff 2002; Wickins 1986; Oliver and Atmore 2001).
The organizational structures of the dispersed African societies in East and Southern Africa differed greatly. The kingdom of the Great Zimbabwe displayed strong central authority in the hands of the king, supported by a bureaucracy and kinship support. The royal power of the king controlled all trade, exchange of gold and ivory. The ruling elite lived in an enclosed compound, served by ordinary people loyal to the kind. As in other indigenous kingdoms, land ownership was with the king, and he determined usage. He also owned the crops and distributed food. The most significant achievement of the Great Zimbabwe was the building of the large “houses of stone” (dzimba), using crafted stone and iron, to secure safe living to the Shona people. The king, just as had been the case with the construction of the Egyptian pyramids, provided leadership in planning, organizing, and executing the massive stone construction of walls at some places 30 ft high and at base 15 ft thick. A similar strong and powerful king reigned the Bakongo people in current-day DRC. The Manikongo (king for the Kongo people) headed up a hierarchy of provincial and sub-provincial chiefs, appointed by the king, and on their part ruled over traditional villages with traditional headmen. The king depended on his “lords,” which was not much more than a bodyguard of soldiers, to appoint him from members of the royal family. Social stratification entrenched a class structure. The king used the social organization to accumulate wealth through trading and taxation (Fage and Tordoff 2002).
The same strong inward-looking power structure was not present among the indigenous black African peoples of what today is known as Tanzania and Kenya. In Tanzania the organization of the monarchy was on a lower and more limited scale. The organization of the kingdom was much smaller and less centralized. The land was less suitable to agriculture and therefore fewer people settled there to sustain themselves. There were simply far less people in Tanzania than in the kingdom of the Great Zimbabwe. Further other the region of what is today known as Kenya emerged almost “stateless.” Smaller chieftainships defended the livelihood of smaller groups of black African peoples. A less powerful central tribal structure allowed the extensive network of Muslim Arab trading settlements to gain relative permanency. By the middle of the fifteenth century, these traders had penetrated deep into the central parts of the region, but indigenous societies, despite being less organized than the kingdoms of West Africa, resisted permanent Arab settlement into the interior. The relations among the Arab Muslim traders, the indigenous black African tribes, and Christian societies in Ethiopia between the Islamic invasions and European penetration in East Africa were dynamic, volatile, sometimes collaborative, and coexistent, but did not afford any single entity permanent domination. During the fourteenth century, the Christian empire of Ethiopia was superior to the Arab Muslims. The Christian army of Ethiopia was better organized and had better manpower, which secured them the upper hand against the Muslims. The Christian empire expanded during the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, but then Islamic expansion to Mogadishu halted the Christians. The arrival of the Portuguese fleet during the fifteenth century supported the indigenous Christian societies in Ethiopia in the wake of existential threats by advancing Islamic forces (Oliver 1977). This contributed to the coexistence in the region.
Management and Organization
The unfolding of the history of statehood, power, and economy is a prerequisite to the understanding of the foundation of management and organization in the diverse African contexts. Before the onset of scientific management, the organization of society, polity, and economy developed within the realm of traditional culture. African societies were no different from other ancient societies in Asia, the Americas, or Europe. Society was organized according to a hierarchical social system involving distinct classes of royal and ordinary people, an elite or aristocracy/nobles, free persons, occupational casts, or classes (such as jewelers, blacksmiths, tanners, tailors, workers, and unfree persons/slaves) (Andrea and Overfield 2001a). The history of management in Africa is an extension of the sociopolitical trajectory of its people. The earliest management of society was, as in the rest of the world, in the hands of a chief. This position depended on wealth, which evolved from the ability to organize, manage, and control resources and ultimately lead her/his subjects to sustain and improve their existence under her/his authority. As illustrated vividly in the early history of the Egyptian and subsequent indigenous black African societies, centralized sociopolitical power was directly linked to the mobilization of resources, natural and human. In different form and substance, power resided in a single person, irrespective of the title. Various succession paradigms existed – hereditary, paternal ancestor, and maternal ancestry. In all societies kinship relations determined social position, either in political management, economic management, or military or bureaucratic management. The history of Africa shows the inherent stratified nature of society and the prolonged perpetuation of privilege, inequality, and power. The inherent instability caused by military power to defend authority meant repeated challenges to power, succession insecurity, and, as described in the history, succession of kingdoms or empires.
While societies were organized around a social kinship nucleus, the leader managed society, polity, and economy. Management is concentrated centrally and functions delegated according to the prerogative of the individual leader. African societies were essentially communal, which does not imply collective decision-making. The undisputed authority of the ruler translated into the management decisions of the entity. In the absence of codified law, both domestically and internationally, the ruler’s power was curtailed only by the degree of adherence to tribal customs.
The organization of the polity was integrated with the mobilization of economic resources. At no stage in the history of Africa can be contended that there were no markets. Market always existed. Exchange was in the form of barter and was actively pursued with neighboring regions in the Arab world, the Greek civilization, and the Phoenicians. The Arab Islamic invasions opened up trading routes, as explained. Extended markets existed for natural resources, such as salt, gold, iron, copper, kola nuts, food, etc. The merchant exchanges were planned, organized, and controlled by the political authority sanctioning trade. Macroeconomic management was part of the central state function, and micromanagement of merchants, traders, or producers was simply the extension of the authority of the king or emperor. In the Muslim states, the Muslim ruler exercised oversight control over the caravans. Literate Muslim merchants from the urban centers, however, organized the collection of commodities for exchange, the routes of travel, the conditions of exchange, and control over the finances by systematic bookkeeping. In some cases the merchant appointed an agent, or employee of the merchant, to accompany the caravan on behalf of the owner. These caravans were sometimes organized in a firm-like business structure, with owner of the assets, and employees engaged in the actual business of exchange or barter. Islamic law recognized “partnerships” between merchants, as well as the extension of credit between merchants, which reflects collaborative management. The management paradigm was centralized direct owner-managed business control of entities, sanctioned by the state (Oliver 1977; Wickins 1981; Oliver and Atmore 2001; Fage and Tordoff 2002; Verhoef 2017).
In the indigenous black African kingdoms of the Sudan, the king exercised direct control over the core economic activities – production and trade – but private individual merchants were allowed to compete with the large state enterprises. Authorized by the king, private businessmen operated as middlemen between producers and the state. Management of economic activities therefore operated on three levels: overall macro-management on the state level by the ruler, intermediation as middlemen by strategically thinking entrepreneurial merchants, and on the lowest level of kinship and the tribe, where the chief manages peasant production and delivery. The management of the production function fell within the responsibility of the chiefs. They also organized localized market exchange or the so-called petty trading in communities. Local merchants organized the trade expeditions (similar to the Muslim traders’ organization of caravans) in urban centers as well as between urban centers and states/kingdoms. These merchants appointed transport agents to accompany the trade expedition in return for commission. The merchants were typically rich, influential members from respected families, private owners of the trading business, operating under state sanction in ways that complemented state business/trading operations. The merchants also depended on the military protection of the state to engage successfully in the trans-Saharan trade. In these Sudanese kingdoms, state formation and trade development were mutually reinforcing and not competing processes (Austin 1996; Austin and Cordell 2002; Verhoef 2017). Despite central state authority, albeit sometimes weak, multilayer management of commercial activities existed.
The organization of the lucrative salt trade offered a case in point of state management of a key economic activity. Salt production was a family enterprise, but the trade depended on state permission. Again, the merchants facilitated the acquisition of the salt, organized the trade on routes they managed, and earned commission on their endeavors, and the state collected the taxes on the salt production (Lovejoy 1986). The extensive organization of trade in humans (slaves) in Africa, especially in Sudan during the eighteenth century, illustrates the importance of strategic management of trade by indigenous kings. The permission of the king was required for the selling of slaves. He also determined the numbers of slaves to be offered on exchange, and thereby he could manipulate the price. Slaves were sourced from both inland and coastal kingdoms, but the king had preemptive rights on offering the sale of his slaves. During the heyday of the transatlantic slave trade, kings and their military structures dominated that specific trade (Law 1977). A significant dynamic in management appears at this juncture in Africa’s history. The king/state’s unchallenged power to plan the state economy, that is, to decide on organizational goals and devise a strategy to achieve the plan, remained her/his sole right. That right was exercised in collaboration with lower levels of management – i.e., the merchants and chiefs. The organization of the task (manufacturing salt, extracting, selling, or extract slaves, determine price, exchange the slaves), constituted her/his sole authority but was again exercised through mutual input. The king depended on the lower levels of management for success in realizing organizational goals. Leadership in execution was not limited to the king, but actually in most cases more dependent on the skills, professionalism and competency of the merchants. The final dimension of management, namely, control, was primarily exercised by lower levels of management – merchants, the military, and bureaucracy. Despite changes in the political authority, be that Muslim caliphate of indigenous African kingdom, the relation between producers and merchants remained the same (Lovejoy 1986).
A significant phenomenon in the management of African economic activity is the hierarchy of management. The ruler, irrespective of her/his source of power, managed with varying degrees of intensity on the macrolevel. On the operational level, a middle order of management exercised managerial control. As the massively lucrative slave trade came to an end (with Britain’s abolition of slave trade in 1833 – slave ownership remained legal), an interest developed in the exchange of other commodities. While the kings and Muslim rulers exercised almost monopoly control over the slave trade, the trade in other goods was open (Hopkins 1973; Coquery-Vidrovitch 1972; Law 1977). An interesting example was the development in palm oil in Dahomey. The demand for other raw materials from Africa after the period of active slave trade offered an opportunity for trade in palm oil. This developed into a successful enterprise and finally the Dahomey king declared a royal monopoly on palm oil. The king appointed the private merchants in that market as his agents. The royal monopoly secured the king control over the trade as well as the proceeds, but private business was still permitted alongside the royal operations. The private entrepreneurs were more successful, since they had experience and skills acquired through their development and organization of the industry. The royal appointment of experienced merchants as agents and permission to other merchants to operate independently resulted in a dynamic coexistence between the royal monopoly and independent merchants. It was apparent that the king acknowledged the efficient and successful managerial expertise that had developed on the operational level of business (Law 1977).
A fine example of the evolving hierarchy of management in West African societies is the organization of management by the Asante in Ghana. King Osei Kwadwo (1764–1777) organized the bureaucratic administrative system of state management. Trade in the Asante kingdom was organized as delegated authority to the middle level of management, to officials of the king. The king selected officials on the basis of skills, merit, and performance. These bureaucrats derived their authority directly from the king. They developed into a managerial officialdom with systematically evolving duties. These duties evolved around specific “departments” of administrative offices (dampans in Asante), but were also allowed to have their own independent business activities. These officials were therefore remunerated by the king, but could also establish their own private fortunes. The officials performed explicitly defined administrative duties to organize trade. Systematic records of transactions were kept according to the traditional accounting method using cowries. In this respect the king used educated Muslims and members of his own household, trained in the Muslim schools, to maintain the records. The extension of this system of administrative management spread across the kingdom as a display of royal authority. The decentralized “offices” of administration served as locations of further training of new officials. These positions were nevertheless not hereditary – a successful father could not count on his son inheriting his position. An extensive administrative class developed. Some were diplomats, who had to engage with neighboring kingdoms and cities. This position as an appointed official of the king gave these bureaucrats the opportunity to earn state remuneration and permission to accumulate personal wealth. Royal sanction thus created and perpetuated hierarchy and class formation (Wilks 1966, 1967, 1975; Andrea and Overfiled 2001b; Austin 2002; Wariboko 1997, 2002).
The reality of ethnic differences played out in another distinct form of management. In the eastern region of the Niger delta, a federal system of collaborative management developed. The management of business during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was a joint enterprise between managers and employees. Independent business people engaged in transatlantic trade along the western African coast. The business entities were organized in so-called trading houses (war), which constituted the control centers of trade and warfare. The leader of a business unit, or wari, was the manager who was responsible for the performance of the house. This manager was an indigenous chief, but he could not rely on the chieftainship to become or remain a manager of the wari. Success in the managerial position depended on the performance of the house. Promotion depended on performance and failure to perform could result in removal of office. Different houses competed with one another and failure to perform could bring an end to the managerial position of the leader. Individual ambition, intelligence, and responsibility toward the interests of the entire house were the traits which secured successful leadership of the house and a prolonged career to the manager. Since performance determined sustained leadership, both in business and warfare, the wari brought together like-minded, equally ambitious and dedicated persons working for their own prosperity. None of the positions in the wari was hereditary, but clearly conceptualized in indigenous law and customs. Merchants surveyed markets for the commodities in demand, sourced the goods they could trade and transacted in the most efficient way so as to manage transaction costs for the wari. Merchants invested in transaction-specific assets on the basis of the successful transaction conducted across various boundaries (each wari operated in a specific region, but was not confined to that operational space). These transaction-specific assets included human capital assets for trading and security protection, links to other trading partners, and transport equipment (Jones 1963; Horton 1969; Alagoa 1964; Wariboko 1998, 2002).
The wari operated in a federal form or association. A single wari operated under the management of a chief or manager, while a group of wari formed a polo for the purposes of collaboration in bigger trade enterprises. A number of polo’s combined to make up a “corporation” (Wariboko 1998), which functioned loosely, but in a coordinated fashion in the interest of all the polo’s. Each wari strove for optimal performance, thus motivating employees to work hard for the common prosperity. Employees operated semiautonomously, since their functions were outlined only broadly as the objectives of the wari. Employees enjoyed a high degree of discretion on operational strategy, but the benchmark of conduct was optimal performance. If the wari underperformed, employees were at risk, since weaker performance could lead to the absorption by better performing wari’s of underperforming ones. The employee is driven by the potential adverse effects of underperformance. The employee is managed by the manager but also afforded semiautonomous room to act according to her/his assessment of the context. The fundamental underpinning of trust – among employees mutually, between employee and manager – constituted the strength of the management “coalition” (Jones 1963; Wariboko 1998, 2002). Wariboko (2002) considered the wari (or canoe house system) not to constitute a systematic management strategy, but rather a collective assessment of context and decision-making toward realizing mutual goals. There was no doubt about the leadership role of the manager, but rigid hierarchies did not characterize this approach to management. He concludes: “Management was not a planned process of ‘analysis and logic, but of emotion an intuition’, and ad hoc responses to immediate needs” (Wariboko 2002: 245).
This case of the wari approach to management in western Africa illustrates the middle layer of management in Africa, where royal permission allows relative autonomy at the lower levels, both formal and informal, of management. The risk posed by this approach is the intuitiveness and lack of exact or precise boundaries to discretion. Under conditions of mutual trust and integrity, the wari succeeded, but once the underlying trust was broken, the entire system was at risk. More personalized individual “firms” also emerged as the indigenous African population responded successfully to the opportunities of coastal trade with European merchants passing the shores. Several interesting studies on successful entrepreneurs have been recorded. Such Ghanaian coastal merchant entrepreneurs were John Sarbah, John Kabes, and John Konny, who built prosperous family trading enterprises (Dummett 1973; Daaku 1970; Verhoef 2017). These developed into family enterprises trading with European firms on the coast. These indigenous black African enterprises functioned as the “middlemen” between suppliers in the interior and the European traders on the coast. The form of organization borrowed from the European firms as the entrepreneur operated as the private owner, the risk taker, and the beneficiary of profit. Extensive businesses developed under these conditions, but when European firms and chartered companies penetrated the African interior after colonization, the frailty of these businesses were exposed by international competition. Dummett held the following reasons responsible for the demise of many a West African trading firm: excessive competition, overextension of credit, ineffective accounting, natural disasters, lack of succession planning and death of the owner, fragmentation of business and property, oligopolistic price fixing by European traders, and finally the extensive rate-fixing and rebate policies of the West African shipping companies (Dummett 1973: 687). Many of these factors lay outside the control of the African entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, they exposed the shortcomings of the indigenous management system. Wariboko put the demise of the family trading firms down to the “…the non-European strands were short-circuited in their development. The European trading firms in the face of competition from African middlemen called in their governments to protect their trade” (Wariboko 2002: 249). In the colonial and postcolonial eras, Africa’s entrepreneurs experienced a different form of managerial hierarchy. The newly independent state intended to achieve economies of scale and scope. The state intervened to coordinate and monitor the flow of business activities and to plan for the future allocation of resources (Drucker 1964). This exposed entrepreneurs to a new world of management.
The smaller African kingdoms, the strong presence of Muslim Arab and Indian traders from the seventeenth century, and the Portuguese presence gave rise to a more contested, dynamic business environment in East Africa. Zanzibar was the center of complex trading networks between the indigenous African kingdoms, the Omani Arab Indian Ocean traders of Zanzibar, other Indian trading families, and the Portuguese. The Omani traders established trading posts on the coast, from where exchanges were made with the indigenous African kingdoms (Austen 1987; Andrea and Overfield, 2001b; Abu-Lughod 1991; Seligman 2015). The African kingdoms managed trade as explained. Direct authority was with the king, who allowed his subjects, officials, or military men, to operate on his behalf. Ultimately, however, it was the king who collected the taxes. The Arab and Indian Muslim traders all operated in the family firm paradigm, led by a father, or manager. The managerial structure of the Arab and Indian Muslim family firms was simple: centralized control by the founding father and collaboration and execution by family members. The indigenous African people were less inclined to commercial trading, but intermarriage between them and the immigrant Indian trading families assisted in the transfer of some business acumen. The Indian families did not ravel in caravans as the Muslim traders in North and West Africa, but lived in closed family communities where sociopolitical organization overlapped with the family enterprise. The Indian trading firms controlled the export trade from East Africa across the Indian Ocean and therefore exercised strict control over credit and the sourcing of commodities for export. These family enterprises had access to capital either through accumulated savings or credit lines from families in India. They also extended credit to Arab-Swahili traders in the region (Oonk 2011, 2015; Brown and Brown 1976). Similar Indian family enterprises develop on the natal east coast during the nineteenth century. The Natal Indian family firms were also closely knit enterprises, managed by the founding father, employing family members and living in relatively secluded family compounds (Pachai 1971; Hiralal 2000a, b; Padayachee and Morrel 1991; Guest and Sellers 1985). Indian entrepreneurs also moved to the Transvaal after the discovery of gold to take advantage of new markets and the rapidly exploding population (Collier 1965; Huttenback 1971). Indian family firms emerged in nineteenth-century Transvaal and are today still operating under the fourth-generation family control. Similar family enterprises were started in East Africa (current Tanzania) during the late nineteenth century by Kanji Jeraj Manek, Subrash M. Patel, and Manu Chandaria (Sutton 2012) and by the Madhvani brothers in current-day Uganda and Mohan Kothari in modern-day Ethiopia (Sutton and Kellow 2010; Verhoef 2017). The management structures of East African trading firms, primarily in the hands of Arab Muslim or Indian families, offered no unique form of management in Africa. These were basically small and centrally controlled family enterprises. The longevity of these firms is testimony to the capable leadership, strategic planning, organization (succession planning and execution), and control by family members. This characterized management of family firms along the entire East African coast.
Pre-colonial Management in Africa
When Frederick Taylor developed his theory of the scientific management of business during the late 1890s, indigenous African managers generally considered their managerial function as an extension of the political system. Management was centralized and authoritarian, an outcome that reflected traditional African cultures, as well as Muslim perceptions of authority at the time. That was the “culture” of the time. European powers decided at the Conference of Berlin in 1884 on a framework for the division of Africa. From the last decade of the nineteenth century, European colonial powers systematically “scrambled” for control over parts of Africa which were considered in the interest of the metropolitan nation. Prior to this, international commercial enterprises commenced a new era of global expansion during the seventeenth century. The Dutch East India Company was the world’s first “multinational” enterprise. The British East India Company operated in the East India region. Several other chartered companies received royal sanctioning to operate outside Britain. These internationally operating companies were managed by experienced businessmen, capable of directing operations across vast geographical areas. By contrast, management theory was in its infancy during the pre-colonial era in Africa. As the theory of scientific management theory introduced the concept of “thinkers” and “doers,” or the distinction between managers and workers (Senge 1990; Schachter 2010), in Africa the ecosystem of diverse traditional indigenous cultures shaped the historical trajectories, capabilities, and cultural nuances giving rise to the African management sociopsychological norms (Honig 2016). The trends in African management emerging during the long pre-colonial era are twofold. First blurred boundaries between state power and economic power typified the sociopsychological integrated conception of power. Centralized and authoritarian power manifested on three levels – national or macro-state political level; intermediary ruler-appointed middlemen, bureaucrats, and military officials; and on the lowest level of primary producers and small traders. In the absence of the institution of property rights, decision-making and, therefore, original managerial decisions were only taken on the basis of delegated authority. The second trend is found in the ways that the nature of power led to social hierarchies and was perpetuated by Muslim penetration and expansion. The only evidence of collective social capital formation on the grounds of traditional culture is in the wari and family business contexts.
The distinction between state and enterprise management in western society emerged from the transition from mercantilism into laissez-faire during the nineteenth century. European nations, the Netherlands, Portugal, Britain, and France, encouraged extensive international voyages of discovery and establishment of trade connections. Up to the late nineteenth century Africa, both under indigenous African and Muslim Arab control, the management function was integral to sociopolitical power. As explained through the unfolding of the history of Africa before colonial penetration, managing the state implied managing the economy as an extension of royal power – either indigenous kingdoms or Muslim religious authority. In the sphere of business management in Africa, the separation of state power from the sphere of business was comparatively rare, since market-oriented policies were not implemented. Operational freedom depended on the political authority. Societies were highly hierarchical, thus hampering entrepreneurial freedom and the development of business-facing management. This culture of centralization and authoritarianism is still prevalent today (Jackson 2004; Mapunda 2013; Honig 2016).
In the case of the West African wari and in the Muslim-dominated family enterprises of East Africa, performance-driven collective culture contributed to the adoption of management practices supporting successful enterprise. The longevity of enterprise is supported by capable management. Business-facing management in Africa was seriously handicapped by the ecosystem, which is the concentration of state and economic power. This was prevalent during its history and persisted deep into the independence era. This chapter outlined the historical development explaining the failure to implement strong management in business under the “omnipotent” god-like king, religious ruler, or traditional indigenous all-powerful chief. In the wake of colonial control and subsequent authoritarian post-independence state systems, the dichotomy between collective culture and authoritarian sociopolitical power exercises a profound impact on the development of management practices in Africa.
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