According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s 2015 report on the Regional Economic Outlook, Sub-Saharan Africa economic growth is expected to weaken to 3.75 percent in 2015, a downward revision relative to 4.6 percent of earlier projections. The economic slowdown is attributed to low global oil and commodity prices, sluggish growth in the developed world and a slowdown of industrialization in China. Notwithstanding the expected economic slowdown, Africa has been described by many market participants as the world investment frontier over the past decade. Africa has been enjoying an economic dynamism that is expected to continue in the future despite the current weakness. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the region is expected to pick up to an average of 4.4 percent and 4.8 percent in 2016 and 2017, respectively. According to the World Bank, the expected increase will be driven by domestic demand supported by continuing infrastructure investment and private consumption and by lower oil prices. External demand is also expected to support growth because of stronger prospects in high-income economies.
The Economist in its March 2013 special report on Emerging Africa recognized the potential of the “hopeful” continent, after having characterized the continent as “hopeless” thirteen years ago. Africa has indeed changed and is continuously changing thanks to its abundant natural resources, fast growing population, particularly its increasing middle class and urban population. It is also due to the spread of democracy with greater political stability, an improved investment climate associated with the ongoing structural economic transformation and the fast penetration of new technologies. Because of these opportunities, Africa has become one of the preferred destinations for investors from the World, both emerging economies like the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and developed economies.
For example, at the recent summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in Johannesburg in South Africa from December 4 to 5, 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced several measures to boost cooperation with Africa in the coming three years. The proposed package aims at improving the business environment and supporting the industrialization in African countries. The proposed Chinese assistance will help African countries “break the three development bottlenecks of backward infrastructure, talent shortage and inadequate fund, accelerate industrialization and agricultural modernization, and realize independent and sustainable development”.
Other summits with a similar focus on supporting the economic development of Africa took place before. Examples of such summits include the third India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) in New Delhi on October 26-29, 2015, the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit on August 4-6, 2014 in Washington, to name a few.
With the increasing interest in the continent economies, African policy makers face the challenge of creating environments to enable businesses to benefit from this influx of external investments and demands. According to the African Development Bank, Africa’s private sector is largely comprised of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which play a major role in job creation and foster an inclusive economic growth. Despite this positive aspect, the MSMEs in Africa continue to face major constraints, particularly the regulatory burdens and the lack of access to finance. African MSMEs also face major obstacles to growth such as under-capitalization, shortages of skilled labor, weak market linkages, as well as the lack of sufficient business development services and networks. Women entrepreneurs particularly often face legal impediments in using and owning property, among others.
Nevertheless, over the past decade, the business environment has improved in many African countries. According to the 2016 Doing Business report from the World Bank team, five out of ten economies that improved the most in 2014/2015 in areas tracked by Doing Business were in Africa (Uganda, Kenya, Mauritania, Senegal and Benin). The same report estimated that Sub-Saharan Africa alone accounted for about 30% of the regulatory reforms to make it easier to do business in 2014/15. Africa is followed closely by Europe and Central Asia. Notwithstanding these improvements, challenges remain on eliminating bottlenecks confronting existing private sector enterprises and designing adequate policies to encourage the creation and development of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
It is against this background of rising Africa that the Africa Business Program of the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University together with its partner universities has initiated in 2010 a series of annual conferences “Business and Entrepreneurship in Africa” to help contribute to the debate among academics, practitioners and decision makers on issues related to the development of businesses and entrepreneurship in Africa. The first and second conferences were hosted by the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University in Syracuse (USA), respectively in 2010 and 2011. The third conference took place in Quebec City (Canada) in 2012 and was organised by the Faculty of Business Administration of Université Laval. The fourth and fifth conferences were hosted by Makerere University Business School in Kampala (Uganda) in 2013 and 2014, respectively. The sixth annual meeting was held on April 16-18, 2015 in Syracuse (New York, USA) and was organized jointly by the Africa Business and Entrepreneurship Research Society (ABERS) and the Africa Business Program at the Kiebach Center for International Business Studies at Syracuse University.
All these conferences followed the same tradition and, as such, they served as a forum to discuss and present current works on business and entrepreneurship in Africa by scholars, practitioners and policy makers from around the World. The general interest in the conference has been growing and since the 2015 conference, the number of partner institutions has expanded and now includes: Université Laval’s (Canada) Faculty of Business Administration, Makerere University Business School (Uganda), Université Paris-Dauphine (France), École Nationale Supérieure de Statistique et d’Economie Appliquée d’Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire), Université Cheikh Anta Diop (Senegal), State University of New York at Oswego (New York), University of Canberra (Australia), Institut national polytechnique Félix Houphouët-Boigny (Côte d’Ivoire), University of Edinburgh Business School (UK), Virginia Commonwealth University (USA), University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), Delaware State University (USA) and Wilfrid Laurier University (Canada).
Moreover, the ABERS created in 2012 in Quebec City, started operating fully with an elected Board of Directors and an appointed Executive Director. The annual conference not only serves as a discussion forum on current issues pertaining to business and entrepreneurship development in Africa, but also seeks to offer the participants the possibility to disseminate their research outcome to a larger audience through publication of papers presented at the conference. In the past, the Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship has published special issues of selected papers presented at the conference. The 2015 conference follows the same tradition and this special issue of the Transnational Corporation Review is dedicated to the publication of selected papers presented at the 2015 conference.
The accepted papers presented in this volume spanned several areas of business and entrepreneurship development on the continent. It starts with a special study by Professor Horace Campbell on Chinese social transformation and its implications for African reconstruction. In the featured articles, the first article by Van R. Wood and Whitney Harrison presents a case study on how SMEs can analyze and select African countries for their foreign direct investments. The second article, written by John M Parkinson, George K. Riro and Nelson M. Waweru, proposes simplified accounting information systems for small-scale Kenyan businesses, while, the third article by Josée St-Pierre, Luc Foleu, Georges Abdulnour, Serge Nomo and Maurice Fouda, proposes an exploratory analysis of SME development challenges in Cameroon. The fourth article by Sukanya Kemp proposes a performance review of sexual and reproductive health centers in Sierra Leone using the data envelopment analysis approach. The review essay by Dunia P. Zongwe discusses the seven myths about Chinese migrants in Africa.
As one may notice, the topics covered in this volume are diverse and offer a range of issues pertaining to African business and entrepreneurship development. Africa is rising after several years of political unrest and economic mismanagement and the continent now has a bright future ahead. Of course, the opportunities ahead also come with challenges and ambushes to be overcome on the road. Academics, practitioners and policy makers need to stay vigilant and explore all avenues to keep on improving the business environment of African economies, which will in the long run lead to the creation of more quality jobs and improve the life of many Africans, and hence lift more people out of poverty.
The ABERS conference series in the coming years, as in the past, will continue to be crucial in feeding the debate and providing tools to the stakeholders to foster business and entrepreneurship development on the continent.
We thank you for your interest and wish you pleased readings.
- Prof. Ben Amoako-Adu
- School of Business and Economics, Wilfrid Laurier University
Prof. Issouf Soumaré
Faculty of Business Administration, Université Laval
- Prof. Pierre Yourougou
Martin J. Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University
 The Economist, Special report: Emerging Africa. Africa rising: A hopeful continent, March 2, 2013. Available at: www.economist.com/news/special-report/21572377-african-lives-have-already-greatly-improved-over-past-decade-says-oliver-august.
 World Bank Doing Business 2016: Measuring Regulatory Quality and Efficiency, October 27, 2015. Available at: http://www.doingbusiness.org/reports/global-reports/doing-business-2016.