[Featured Resource] Can Business Rights Alleviate Group-Based Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa? Understanding the Limits to Reform

This week’s featured resource is Can Business Rights Alleviate Group-Based Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa? Understanding the Limits to Reform by Scott D. Taylor, from The Journal of Development Studies, 55:3, 420-436, DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2018.1451634

This paper explains the relative failure of the business rights agenda among indigenous groups in Africa and how expanding the legal access to business rights can be a powerful tool in reducing poverty.

Despite the growth of business in Africa and celebratory assertions of an ‘Africa Rising’ in the past two decades, certain communities on the continent have been systematically excluded from pursuing or benefitting from opportunities in business and entrepreneurship, even on a small scale. These groups, which can be defined in ethnic or racial terms, have historically been denied, explicitly or implicitly, the ability to alleviate their poverty through access to entrepreneurship and, more formally, private sector development opportunities. Recent changes in the legal and regulatory environment in many countries have nominally expanded the rights and opportunities to engage in business activities, but achieving the outcome of sustainable enterprise beyond subsistence remains a formidable challenge. Although beginning about 2000 Africa became self-consciously ‘open for business’ and certain sections of black African business and capital have thrived, severe disadvantages persist that find many existing small business people and potential entrepreneurs alike facing protracted competitive challenges that limit or preclude altogether their commercial activity. Defined in group terms, rather than in terms of the rights and achievements of individuals, many African communities can be considered poor and lacking full business rights: their very economic and business marginalisation is inextricably linked to their ethnic identity

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Can Business Rights Alleviate Group-Based Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa? Understanding the Limits to Reform

This paper argues that the failure of business rights to meaningfully transform the livelihoods of marginalised minority groups stems from elite capture of resources, dependency on external validation, and a contradiction between a collective problem (group poverty) and an individualist solution (business rights). African states could alter conditions through active pursuit of affirmative action policies, but lack socio-economic and political incentives.

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