Can Africa’s growing body of business literature help change the narrative on Africa’s economies

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Publications catering to demand for information about Africa’s business space are picking up pace, highlighting growing global interest in the continent’s economic potential and promising to fill gaps in business knowledge about the continent.

“It is important to have on record the stories of businesses and industries on the continent. We urge publishers and writers to take the plunge and I am sure we can have a larger array of books in this particular category; something we have seen in the world of fiction,” said Arnold Ekpe, chairman of the Business Council for Africa (BCA) in a statement on July 4.

The BCA — a nonprofit that connects African business to international investors — in July unveiled the winners of its second edition of the ‘African Business Book of the Year’ awards.

With the growing visibility of African fiction, the surge in business publications by both African and non-African authors promises to deepen understanding and investor engagement in Africa’s rapidly evolving markets, bolstered by efforts to establish a unified market through the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement.

According to the award’s organisers, it serves to “encourage and promote serious discussion and analysis of businesses and economies in Africa.”

African books in the business and economics category have historically been underrepresented. A 2022 review by Brittle Paper of 45 African books found that the majority spanned genres like women’s fiction, sci-fi, romance, and historical fiction.

The review showcases 15 books focused on feminine themes, 9 on absurd narratives, and another 9 on Africa’s historical milestones. It also includes 6 books delving into philosophical reflections and 5 capturing African migrant and refugee experiences. However, none of the 45 books covered business, commerce, or economics.

The BCA Awards attracted nearly 30 submissions from authors and publishers across Africa, along with suggested books from African Business magazine’s editorial team. An Awards Committee shortlisted eight books from these submissions, from which the winners were chosen.

David Luke, the Professor in Practice and Strategic Director at the Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa at the LSE is this year’s winner for his book ‘How Africa Trades’.

“His book was recognised for its lucid storytelling, evidence-based research and its accessible writing style,” the press statement explains in part.

Luke is a former director of the African Trade Policy Centre at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the book highlights his considerable understanding of the continent’s business environment.

Published in 2023, How Africa Trades aims to demystify African trade policy, provide accessible information on Africa’s trade data and policies, and empower stakeholders to evaluate trade agreements and policies from a pro-development perspective, according to the book’s preface.

Apart from Luke, other contributing authors in the book include Jonathan Bashi, an international trade lawyer from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Geoffroy Guepie, a research associate at UMR Transitions Energétiques et Environnementales, Université de Pau, France. The book also features contributions from Jamie MacLeod, Kulani McCartan-Demie, and Colette van der Ven.

“As Africa pushes through the African continental free trade agreement, this book is highly relevant and as one of the judges put it “is an excellent primer to understanding the often-tangled world of African commerce,” a statement from BCA explained.

Nigerian author Dipo Faloyin was also honored, with his ‘Africa is not a country’ emerging first runner-up. The Lagos-born author is a senior editor at VICE, where he focuses on race, culture, and identity around the world. His work was described by judges as “very well written and researched; rich in content, captivating, engaging and funny.”

‘Africa is Not a Country’ portrays modern Africa, challenging common stereotypes about the continent. Reviews published on Faloyin’s personal website, diplofaloyin.com, provide a glimpse into the critical and transformative narrative it offers.

Sally Hayden of the Irish Times, reviewed Faloyin’s book describing it as a “necessary book that deserves its place in the canon as essential reading for anyone seeking an introduction to this vast continent — as well as the rest of us, who need to be regularly challenged on what we think we know about Africa and the damage done by that.”

In third place was Belgian economist Jozef Mols whose copy, ‘Ethiopian Airlines: the African Aviation Powerhouse’ dives into the successful story of the continent’s biggest airline.

According to judges, Mols was honered for “being brave enough to tell the unique and fantastic story of Ethiopian Airlines.”

Since Ethiopian Airlines was established in 1945, it has grown into an aviation powerhouse, serving more than 125 destinations across the world with an efficiency evidenced by excellent ratings including a 4-star rating from Skytrax.

This year’s winner of the BCA African Business Book of the Year Awards will receive US$10,000 in prize money, the runner up US$5,000 and the second runner up US$2,500.

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