By Jon Chabun. Photo credit: UVic Photo Services

Aloysius Newenham-Kahindi sees Africa as presenting many puzzles that challenge conventional management wisdom. There are things happening there business-wise that aren’t easy to explain. The Gustavson associate professor says that while traditional research does provide some insights, there is still a lot more to learn and explore.

“It does not tell the whole story about business in Africa,” he says. “Something is missing.”

Newenham-Kahindi recently received a boost to his research in this area. The University of Reading’s Henley Business School made him the first recipient of their Dunning Africa fellowship. The Dunning Africa Centre’s goal is to bring together the best and brightest minds in African business, academia and policymaking.

“I look forward to contributing new international business knowledge on Africa,” says Newenham-Kahindi. “Historically, international business has had a very western-oriented perspective. I am honoured to be working with the Centre and partners across Africa to change this.”

Newenham-Kahindi’s fellowship will focus on stimulating dialogue through seminar and research.

“I want to shift the emphasis from what Africa possesses to people-centric issues,” he says. “In doing so, we would be in a better position to explain and predict business activities in Africa.”

Newenham-Kahindi says there is considerable diversity and variation from country to country. Access to the internet can range from 70 per cent in Nigeria to below five per cent in other countries. Despite having very different political systems, Mauritius and Rwanda are two of Africa’s fastest-growing economies.

“Africa is a place of untapped opportunities for academic research and practitioners. There are opportunities for research that defy easy explanation.”

There are many questions that he finds fascinating. Why have Ethiopia and Cote d’Ivoire had rapid economic growth despite continued strife and conflict? How has a country like Rwanda with its troubled past become a model of peace and institutional stability in Africa? Why is Kenya outperforming Tanzania, despite greater corruption, ethnic divisions, and weaker institutions?

Africa presents several puzzles that he would like to focus his research on.

He says that in 2019 the median age in Africa was 18 with 41% of the population below the age of 15. By 2100, the United Nations projects that 40% of the world’s population will originate in Africa.

“This youthful population is technologically-oriented and innovative,” he says. “This is an interesting observation for academia and practitioners. I am trying to understand how this emerging culture will impact job creation, the environment and societal well-being.”

Newenham-Kahindi says there has also been a surge of entrepreneurship across the continent in recent years. According to him, there are more than 600 technology hubs now located across Africa.

He says that Africa offers some remarkable examples of technological “leapfrogging.” The introduction of mobile phones has been a solution to infrastructure-challenged land lines.

“Many people in developing and emerging markets lack bank accounts,” he says. “Technology makes payments much more accessible to the general population. For example, M-pesa uses mobile technology to allow people to make payments outside the standard banking system.”

Traditional theories on international business tend to focus on institutions. Newenham-Kahindi sees a new way forward for African businesses.

“People are an important level of analysis in the context of Africa,” he says. “It is also more consistent with the way diverse African societies organize and govern themselves. This differs from the macro-economic approach that dominates international business theories. The focus on people lets us study entities and phenomena smaller than the state and account for Africa’s vast diversity.”

The prestigious Dunning Africa fellowship is a huge honour for Newenham-Kahindi. It is also an acknowledgement of his expertise in the field of international business. He is looking forward to using this position to contribute new insights on Africa and leading change on how we see the continent.