Management In African Organizations Commerce Essay

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This paper is intended to analyze the role of management in Africa and its direct relation with the organization's culture. As being a challenge for foreign and local managers working in African Organizations, the cultural environment in directly affects the way they work and the specific type of culture they develop. Aspects as historical and social background and heritage, job satisfaction, the relation between culture and business management, the effects of the adoption and application of foreign management styles and some African environmental critical factors will be explore in order to understand how they might affect the way an organization is organized and run. Several examples were taken, on one hand Nigeria is analyzed from the Human Resource Management (HRM) challenge point of view, while the example of Kenya is taken to analyze the organizations culture and the cross-cultural management challenge. Due to the fact that is widely studied and accepted, this paper takes as an imperative the application of a locally designed or structured management style application in African organizations, where foreign management knowledge and expertise blend with local ones.

It is important to understand that most of the African philosophers and academics related that have worked on management issues are focused on the Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), meaning that countries located in North Africa do not play an important role on the analysis we took as a base for this paper. Additionally, based on the research articles and books that were used for this paper, the application of western management styles in Africa are constantly questioned but at the same time the importance of the cultural/management background of the African managers is highlighted in order to understand not only the effects of the external (western management styles, colonialism, explotation, MNC) but also of the internal factors (Culture, religion, values, tribes, language, historical background, socioeconomic division).

General Overview

Management can be easily understood as a decision-making and implementation process to achieve certain goals within a human organized group (organization/society), in which the knowledge, values, experience and beliefs of the people involved in that organization affects the way those processes are applied. As a consequence, management can be defined as a culturally-guided process of resource utilization and transactional arrangements (Grey. et al, 2008). Or as it was described by Shrestha, Smith, and Gra (2005) the management process is both cultural value contingent and cultural value forming; meaning that is certain that management is affected by culture but that is not the only issue involved in the decision-making process and even arguing that new processes can even affect the values of the people within the organization. There are two main practical impacts of culture on management practices. First, culture influences management behavior and outlook. Second, culture influences the perceptions, which individuals in organizations have of the world around them. (Grey. et al, 2008).

Normally, the western management styles are applied on several bases that cannot be applied on Africa. For example American management styles assume that inside a country the culture is isomorphic, meaning that there are no relevant differences between the social groups. On a second stage, they assume the concept of Nation-state in which, as the later, all the population of the country shares the same beliefs and values under the term of nation.

Organizational Culture and Management in Africa

The "African social man" (Imafidon, T.. 2009), as described by several African philosophers and academics explains the core of the African culture as being socially active and intensively trying to break away from the authoritarian and individualistic management style taken from the western schools and applied since the colonial period.

As seen on the figure "Comparison on different management attributes in Africa" (Jackson, T. 2004) we can see that there are many different management styles that have been and are still being applied all over Africa.

Taken as a whole, management in Africa is cross-cultural issue both internally and externally because of the existent multiethnic and socioeconomic differences, but also because of the great influence that outsiders have had on Africa. For example, the effects of pre-colonial trade, slavery colonialism, immigration and neocolonialism affect directly the culture; therefore transforming the management style that is being used. An example of the effects of colonialism on culture are clearly described by the former president of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta when he said: ''When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the Land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught (us) how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible''. Here the effect of the colonialism on African society is clear, including the concept of management.

As a consequence of that influence, it is very likely that in most of the SSA countries the approach to management reflects the colonial inheritance instead of those resource management practices common on the indigenous groups. Furthermore most values and practices have been imposed by large western corporations working in Africa (most of them exploit some natural resource) therefore affecting the way they behave and organize themselves.

According to Georgie Tasie (2009) the problem in the managerial system of Nigeria, Ghana,

Zimbabwe, Kenya, (In his article he emphasizes that most people in Africa live thinking about the present and not the future, that makes the problem solving process urgent and stressful) is deeply rooted and widespread and, although these countries are not completely homogeneous in terms of religion and other aspects, they do share certain characteristics in terms of culture.

The average executive in Africa works at least 45 h a week and faces increased complexities posed by globalization, domestic competition, government regulation and shareholder pressure. The task is further complicated by rapid change, inadvertent disruption as well as minor and major crises such as the current economic, financial and political crises in Africa. In this context, managerial efficiency-the use of the limited resources judiciously and in a cost-effective manner should be given priority by managers in African organizations. The second emphasis should be on managerial effectiveness in terms of making the right decisions and successfully implementing them. This is because managerial efficiency and effectiveness are compliment to each other.(Tasie, 2009, Grey et al 2008)

Human Resource Management in Nigeria

One of the most important countries in Africa is Nigeria which is a developing country, located in West Africa. Its capital is Lagos and is the most populated country in Africa. Nigeria has been a really important place through the history of Africa because it is rich in natural resources, as well as human resources. Nigeria has the highest rates of migration inside Africa, and also has attracted foreign awareness for many years, although its development and progress have been obstructed by political instability.

Nigeria's population is made up of 200 ethnic groups, 500 dialects, and two major religions (Islam and Christianity). The largest ethnic groups are the Hausa-Fulani in the north, the Igbo in the Southeast, and the Yoruba in the southwest. Nigeria is also the second largest economy in the Sub Sahara Africa and accounts for 41 percent of the region's GDP. [1] 

The country's economy greatly depends on the oil and gas sector. The agricultural sector dominates the economic growth. Thanks to the large reserves of human and natural resources, Nigeria has the potential to construct a prosperous economy, reduce poverty considerably, and provide the health, education and infrastructure services its population needs. The Nigerian economy has undergone major structural changes, over 200 multinational companies are now based in the country, and it is among the fifty-four developing countries considered to be emerging economies, due to is instituting policies and practices device towards embracing a capital market economy. Foreign capital investment has brought foreigners and their ways of organizing to the country, Nigeria has become exposed to western Human Resources Management thinking (Azolukwan, et al 2009)

Management in Africa is often framed within the context of a divided developed-developing worldview that not only gives a negative view of management in Africa, but also assumes the need to shift toward the developed world approach. According to Jaeger an Kanungo management is seen in these countries as fatalistic, resistant to change, reactive, short-term, authoritarian, risk-reducing, collectivist, context dependent and basing decision on relationship criteria rather than impartial criteria. The problem with importing strange Human Resource Management to the country is that they do not adapt the practices to their own environment and organizations. Employees do not feel comfortable with the procedures, means that they cannot fully identify with the organization, possibly leading to frustration and sometimes failure in the search for return on foreign direct investment. What more some academics argued that western Human Resources Management practices may be harmful to the development of Africa-style management procedures. Several scholars say that transferring management practices from developed to developing economies worked up until the 1970's, when organizations operated in a relative stable environment with distinct domestic markets and minimal complexities. However, From the late 1970's, this model has become more and more problematic in light of recognition that companies have become more dynamic and complex, involving the possibility that management practices which works in one country could be lethal in other one.

Nigerian people are collectivist which assert its identity, protecting and promoting its interests. Nigerian Communities have ancient traditions covering work relationships in organization long preceding the introduction of HRM through multinational companies. For example, under traditional organization, village chiefs and elders settled disputes between employer and employees. Using the same model, the western management style imported to Nigeria and other African countries may be characterized as informed by an individualistic culture, where the tendency is for individuals to care only for themselves and their immediate family, in contrast to the extended family institutions attributed to Nigeria and other African countries. These HRM alien practices bring with them labor movement which could make feel local chiefs and elders threatened by foreign employment, posing resistance to change, for fear that they might experience a diminution of power. (Nnoli et al 1995)

Sub-cultural factors play a significant role on management practices. Employees from a multiethnic culture like Nigeria bring values to the workplace inherent in their identity, and ethnicity may impact on employee behavior. The ethnic groups in Nigeria differ in culture, religion, and sometimes even physical appearances. Different ethnic groups speak their own native languages too which could affect the communication within the organization. Ethnic diversity may contribute to the exclusion of talented and capable employees because groups tend to favor their families and friends. Managerial values and related organizational experience among Nigerians may be subject to alternative influence beyond their immediate cultural surroundings.

There are many points of view which try to forecast the future of HRM in Africa. One of them is the possibility of hybridized managerial values influencing HRM practice. According to Kerr et al, industrial societies will gradually converge around common values with regard to economic activity and work behavior; values and behaviors that will extend to developing countries as they industrialize and embrace free market capitalism and technology. The implication is that the application of relatively similar HRM procedures to those encountered in other countries will be observable in multinationals in Nigeria. By contrast, a divergence perspective stresses national and cultural differences. The value system influencing managerial action will remain mainly unchanged following the adoption of western capitalist ways of industrial production. In fact, divergence supports contend that national or regional cultural differences will continue to produce value diversity among even fully industrialized societies.

National culture in any particular country influences organizational culture, including that which the multinational companies have brought with them. Local employees may work in those companies but afterwards go back to the wider communities where their live.

Cross-Cultural Management in Kenya

As described by Gray et. al (2008) Kenya share a historical background very similar to the other countries in the continent. Basically their boundaries were set regardless the indigenous groups and their traditional borders. Furthermore, the European settlers took most of the land displacing the indigenous groups in this case from the Kikuyu and Masai, which were the most prominent tribes in the actual territory known as Kenya. There was also big influence from Indian merchants who moved to the coast. As a consequence management of the resources was in the hands of Europeans. The case of Kenya its really interesting for the porpoise of this paper because there are many different cultural influences that helped to build up the existing Kenyan Management Culture; for example there are Arab-Muslim, White European, South Asian and the Indigenous Kenyan African groups (Grey et al. 2008). All of those groups had an important role on developing the management culture since they were all related with economical activities as agriculture, trade and mining. Taking those indigenous groups as a basis, the indigenous management style in Kenya (as in many other tribes around Africa) is characterized by its collectivism and its intra-group orientation. Another really important factor on the organizational culture is the perception a group has on another one (For example Kikuyu and South Asian), because it affects the way they behave and also the dynamics of the work in group. For a Kenyan (international) manager, there is a great challenge to be face due to the great variety of cultures and sub-cultures affecting the way organizations are run and resources are managed.


As we analyzed through this paper Africa-style management has been influenced by many different theories from diverse parts of the world. The problem with these theories is not the management procedures by themselves, it is a matter of adaptation to the internal culture of the specific country, which means, if a practice works in one country, you cannot implemented in another one without any modification because each place has different backgrounds.

Culture plays an essential role in an organization because employees bring with them values to workplace that cannot be ignored by managers. Companies are affected by Culture, religion and customs which could cause the failures of the organization's objectives. It is crucial for international managers to understand a nation's sociopolitical history, economic conditions, geography and internal cultural dynamics.

Figures and Tables

Elements in the management approach of African Countries: Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Zimbabwe.

Source: Tasie, 2009 (Author´s creation)

Source: Shrestha (2008) p. 17


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