Africapitalism: a philosophy for sustainable business in Africa?

July 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

Kenneth Amaeshi

As with most developing economies and emerging markets, sustainable business is a hard sell in Africa – especially in sub-Saharan Africa. As an academic and practitioner in this space, I often blame the weak institutions and poor governance characteristics of these regions. In addition, the slow uptake of sustainable business across the continent clearly shows the absence of a developed, indigenous philosophy about the role of business in Africa.

Please continue here (Guardian UK)


The burden of the Nigeria Brand in African Markets: Can Africapitalism help?

July 15, 2013 § 1 Comment

Kenneth Amaeshi, PhD

I recently had a knowledge sharing session with a group of Nigerian business leaders in Lagos to explore the subject of Nigerian firms doing business abroad. These business leaders have first-hand experience of internationalisation given that each of them has business operations in one or two African countries. The session was particularly interesting. Two things stood out for me at the end of the encounter. The first impression I got was that “brand Nigeria” is a hard sell, if not a burden, in Africa. One of the business leaders expressed his frustration much more bluntly, thus: “they (referring to other African countries) will watch your Nollywood movies, but will not patronise your business”. The second impression was the level of antagonism and poor economic relations amongst peer nations in the continent. Whilst the former could be interpreted as a firm level challenge, and the latter as an intergovernmental issue in Africa, the two can dangerously combine to work against Nigerian firms in other African countries. No wonder some Nigerian banks are still counting their losses and licking their wounds in this regard.

Nigerians are not easily loved, and neither do they make themselves so. This could be an average Nigerian business’ perception. However, the typical stereotypes out there include that Nigerians are: extremely aggressive, obnoxiously materialistic, loud, domineering, and criminally minded in their entrepreneurial quests. Despite the fact that these stereotypes are often manifestations of cultural biases, they may constitute what is technically known as the liability of foreignness, which is typical of non-indigenous firms. One of the CEOs gave an account of how his company did not break-even in a neighbouring West African country for the first five years of being there mainly because a Nigerian was the face of the company. The change in fortune only occurred after they hired an indigene, with a Nigerian as a deputy. This was a big lesson for this CEO. In their subsequent internationalisation endeavours within Africa, they have consciously and tactically chosen to mask the Nigerian origin of the firm and its identity. This makes me wonder if other foreign firms – especially those from outside Africa – suffer the same fate. Will a German, British, Chinese, Japanese, or American firm in Africa face similar challenges? One may also wonder if the home country of a firm truly matters.

Research suggests that the home country of a firm is a reasonable part of its corporate brand and identity; and where a brand originates matters for many reasons. It might signal high or low quality, for instance. Arguably, Chinese products are to a large extent regarded as inferior to either European or American products. With the passage of time, China as the country of cheap labour and production is no longer a sustainable brand proposition. Chinese firms and government understand this and are doing their best to enhance their brand value. The gradual emergence of global brands with Chinese origin – such as Huawei and Lenovo – is a classic expression of the brand building efforts of the Chinese government and firms. These brands usually signal quality, value and benign-ness. In that regard, the Nigerian government and firms may need to look to the East for some useful lessons in brand positioning, market penetration, and country reputation management.

Whilst one might see reason with regards to the liability of foreignness, the antagonism amongst African countries and the poor economic relations inherent in the continent is rather strange, disappointing, and unhelpful. Despite the advantages of the globalised world economy, regionalisation and regional economic blocs are veritable mechanisms of withstanding and minimising the negative onslaughts of globalisation and its discontents. The European Common Market and Monetary Union are all attempts to take advantage of, and cope with, the excesses of globalisation. The European investment in Airbus is a clear strategy to push back on the dominance of Boeing – an American firm – in the global aerospace industry.

Regional economic integration holds significant positive benefits. It is almost impossible to see a French company rejected in the UK simply because it is French, and vice versa. Unfortunately, African countries are yet to wake up to this reality. The many boundaries and structural obstacles in the continent – represented and sometimes orchestrated by the multiple regional blocs – will continue to frustrate economic relations in the continent and dampen entrepreneurial pursuits. Ultimately, the quest for a better and developed Africa through private sector engagement will be pushed back and made much more difficult to realise.

Upon reflection, my recent encounter with the business leaders suggests that Africa needs a common voice to harmonise economic relations within and between African countries and economic regional blocs. It is the primary responsibility of policy makers to do this, and bodies like the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) and the Nigerian Ministry of Trade and Investment, for example, and probably their counterparts in other African countries, might be in this space already. Notwithstanding, it behoves on African entrepreneurs to creatively work with the different governments to achieve this goal. This is where responsible business-government relations becomes a critical strategic option for businesses in Africa. Thought leadership is also necessary. In this regard, Tony Elumelu’s Africapitalism agenda – “an economic philosophy that embodies the private sector’s commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through investments that generate both economic prosperity and social wealth”– needs to be encouraged, supported, and developed as a robust economic philosophy for the continent.

Africapitalism is a creative push back on the disadvantages of globalisation. It is an entrepreneurial quest and mindset, which challenges the conventional win-lose mentality of entrepreneurs and businesses in Africa to create shared value (i.e. win-win outcomes) in and for Africa, instead. If adopted and mainstreamed, Africapitalism has a strong potential to offer an antidote to the negative Nigeria brand and the antagonistic trade relations in Africa, which have continued to set Africa backwards.

Nigeria is the second largest market in Africa and has a relatively open economic culture. The government of Nigeria and business leaders should be at the forefront of this economic agenda. The idea of capturing national governments for personal gains, which seems rather prevalent in the continent, is anachronistic, unfair to the African society, and ultimately unsustainable. Economic patriotism, which is at the heart of Africapitalism, is unashamedly good for Africa, and should be promoted within and for the continent.

Amaeshi is an Associate Professor (Reader) in Strategy and International Business at the University of Edinburgh, UK, a Visiting Fellow at the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility, Cranfield School of Management, and a Visiting Professor at the Lagos Business School, Nigeria. He is also a member of Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria

Africapitalism in search of Africonsciousness: the emergence of an economic philosophy for Africa?

June 24, 2013 § 1 Comment

Kenneth Amaeshi, PhD

There is no gainsaying the fact that Africa is riddled by a plethora of challenges – poverty, diseases, conflicts, bad governance, poor infrastructure, et cetera. A special report on Business in Africa by The Economist (Sept 9, 2006, p. 79) succinctly states thus: “the prospect of investing in sub-Saharan Africa can cause businessmen to break out in a cold sweat. The region is often seen as a corporate graveyard of small, impossibly difficult markets, where war, famine, AIDS and disaster are always lurking… For many African entrepreneurs, operating legally brings too many headaches and too few benefits”. Conceding that this perspective is gradually changing 7 years down the line, The Economist is not alone in such perceptions of dire conditions of entrepreneurship in Africa. Notwithstanding, in the midst of these harsh challenges, there are equally sparks of untapped opportunities including – natural resources, population, endogenous energy, et cetera. Hence, while Africa might well be a challenging business environment, the continent also offers significant opportunities and latitude for business involvement in addressing some of its inherent challenges. The potential opportunities in Africa are undoubtedly driving the new rush towards Africa as the last frontier of capitalism and the focus of Africapitalism.

Tony Elumelu’s injection of Africapitalism into the business lingua is a welcome development. According to him, “Africapitalism is an economic philosophy that embodies the private sector’s commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through investments that generate both economic prosperity and social wealth”. Mr Elumelu argues that “Africa’s renaissance lies in the confluence of the right business and political action” – The Africapitalist, Q4, 1(1), 2012. This is a desirable call for many reasons.

In the first instance, it is a subtle push back on global capitalism, which does not pay appropriate attention to the unique factor of “place” in economic production and consumption. Globalisation prides itself on its ability to extract value wherever value is found irrespective of place and space. This view tends to see the opportunities of a globalised world and cares less about the global distribution of wealth. Despite the positive attributes of globalisation, it, more often than not, ends up creating a lopsided world of immense inequality and injustice. Then again, globalization leaves the world open to raw competition and the demise of the relevance of place (location) in cross border trade. It also leads to the so-called “north-south” dichotomy in trade relations, a distinction that ensures that the south (i.e. the developing economies) remains worse off. Africapitalism consequently becomes a pragmatic way to rein in run-away globalisation and its discontents, and a platform for refocusing attention on the significance of place in capitalism. The reintroduction of place in capitalism is not necessarily new as economic patriotism remains an essential part of western democratic institutions. What is rather novel, on this score, is the focus on Africa – the dark continent of diseases and poverty – as the last frontier of capitalism.

Another positive element of Africapitalism is its anchor on the Creating Shared Value (CSV) concept of Porter and Kramer, and the repurposing of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a phenomenon beyond mere philanthropy. Africapitalism embodies the desire for the private sector to contribute to the development of Africa. Indeed, CSV emphasises the need for businesses not to divorce societal benefits in their pursuits of economic goals. CSV sees the intersection of business and societal needs as a superior expression of entrepreneurship and manifestation of capitalism. Unfortunately, CSV is global in outlook and geography-less. Its articulation of society is as broad and meaningless as the society of the globalised world. The focus of Africapitalism on Africa is a significant mark of distinction, and is a courageous aspiration to save geography (location and place) from the onslaught of globalisation. Nonetheless, it comes with its consequences, implications, and challenges. One of the challenges and implications is that Africa will be prioritised in economic/business decisions, even when that prioritisation does not necessarily meet the strict tenets of the global economic world order. For instance, the choice and decision to prioritise Africa should not necessarily be made on the basis of cost and profitability alone. In some cases, especially where the trade-offs are marginal and inconsequential, Africa could be prioritised against other economic geographies as a result of the pursuit of Africapitalism. While this appears as a laudable agenda on the surface, it will require a complementary mindset – i.e. Africonsciousness – to be realised and sustainable.

Capitalism has historically been regarded as a form of economic coordination with strong cultural influences and undertones. The European form of capitalism is different from the Anglo-Saxon variant. While the former is socially oriented, the latter is very economic in outlook and orientation. These varieties of capitalism are informed by distinct socio-cultural philosophies. The emergence of capitalism in China, for instance, has its peculiarities and uniqueness given the role of the State in furthering economic advancement. All these forms of capitalism are reflections of how the different societies have chosen to be organised. They are products of much deeper intellectual project. In other words, what are seen today as mere expressions of markets, are historical products of well-articulated socio-political philosophies. As such, Africapitalism needs to be founded on a robust philosophy and worldview. This philosophy and worldview will in-turn embody an Africa-consciousness. This consciousness will be a form of re-imagined Afrocentricism, which places the interests of Africa and her people at the epicentre of business decisions, and will guide Africa’s renaissance.

Africonsciousness is a socio-mental awareness of Africa and her people first as a continent and human beings with genuine needs, before being a market with viable consumers. The former is empowering and humane, and the latter is exploitative and dehumanising. The sudden characterisation of Africa as the last frontier of capitalism bears the hallmarks of the exploitative form of capitalism, which will not be good for the continent. Africonsciousness helps to neutralise the onslaught of globalisation and redirects the positive energy of capitalism in Africa to meeting genuine development needs of Africa and her people. Otherwise, Africapitalism without a strong philosophy behind it runs the risk of being hollow and ungrounded.

As much as Africapitalism is still work in progress, Mr Elumelu deserves the credit to pioneer its articulation. However, it now needs to be engaged as an intellectual project to enhance its robustness and application. The suggestion of Africonsciousness as a complementary business philosophy to Africapitalism is an attempt in that direction.

Amaeshi is an Associate Professor (Reader) in Strategy and International Business at the University of Edinburgh, UK, a Visiting Fellow at the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility, Cranfield School of Management, and a Visiting Professor at the Lagos Business School, Nigeria. He is also a member of Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria

Poly-tricks, Belly Politics, and New Politics in Nigeria: Challenging the Status Quo?

June 9, 2013 § 2 Comments

Kenneth Amaeshi

Apparently, the battle in Nigeria today is between those who want to keep the status quo (the political dominance of a region and religion) at all cost, and those who want a new Nigeria where merit, hard work and opportunity for all will be the order of the day (irrespective of region and religion). The former is mere primordial sentiment, and the latter has a positive potential to be ideological. At the end, it comes across as a battle between what could be an ideology for a good Nigerian society and the emotional predisposition for self-destruction which have held us back since independence. Despite the visible tensions, both views are likely to form the battleground for the emergence of new politics in Nigeria. It will be definitely a battle between poly-tricks and sensible politics.

Many of those who parade themselves today in Nigeria as politicians do one thing extremely well: they whip up regional, ethnic, and religious sentiments for personal gains and ride on that wave. They do this because they have mastered the gullibility of the average Nigerian, which has become a collective problem. True to their nature as politicians of ‘poly tricks’, they will always be good at what they do best: gross deceit and unfathomable manipulation. They set us against each other. They achieve their personal selfish goals of power acquisition. The status quo of stagnation remains. Nigeria continues to suffer from ineptitude. We moan and die. They dance on our graves.

As 2015 approaches, the politrickians have started their games. Posturing and pretending to be super heroes – grand defendants of the masses and their regional interests. They have started fanning the embers of regional hatred across the ethnic groups – North, South, East and West. This could be seen from many current happenings in the polity – from the Nigerian Governance Forum (NGF) debacle to the clamour for the return of power to the proverbial and imaginary “Northern Nigeria”. Selfishness is present in all these political intrigues and manoeuvring. What is obviously absent is a genuine sense of national patriotism and common good. Despite their attempts to hide their selfish interests through packaging them as regional or religious interests, they manifest as primordial and unenlightened quest for naked power. This is in no way surprising given that enlightenment is a rare commodity in a country ravaged by poverty of the mind, brute craze for all things material, and obnoxious level of ignorance. The politrickians understand this too, and work effortlessly to use it to their benefits at our collective expense.

The period before 2015 and its madness presents an opportunity for us to sit back and think carefully before the politrickians run us over in their usual style. The power is with us and not with them. They know this too. That’s why they do all they can to sway us to vote for them even when they know very well that they do not have our interests at heart. Sieve through their messages with more care and rigour. Do not be in a haste to form an opinion. Remember the difference between a politrickian and a chameleon is very negligible. When they come with their sweet tongues and deep pockets, it will be sensible to always explore what their vision for Nigeria and the Nigerian society in Africa and in the World is, and how they think we can achieve it. This is new politics! Avoid engaging with them on the basis of where they are from and the God they believe in, for they are usually rootless and godless. The very few among them who are sensible and civilised may not have very deep pockets; it is our duty to discern these people and support them. They may not be as loud as the majority; they will need our collective voice to trump the mighty in our land who have held us hostage in similar patterns and styles characterised by deep seated corruption and underdevelopment. Again, this is new politics!

All things being equal, 2015 is a year of battle between the politrickians and the Nigerian people. They have started their games of deceit and divide and rule in earnest – playing one group against the other. Let’s not fall for their antics or allow ourselves to be sucked into their unpatriotic and destructive powers. Let’s unite, stand up to, fight, and defeat the politrickians in 2015. If you are still at sea about who the politrickians are, they only fly flags of two shades: ethnic and religious sentiments. With a close eye on these, you will not miss them despite their adeptness in portraying their selfish goals as common goods. They will never present a clear and practical ideology of Nigeria as a good society, which is quintessentially new politics.

The battle line is drawn. Spread the message. By their fruits we shall know them, and victory shall be ours if we put Nigeria first in all things.

Amaeshi is a member of Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria, and an Associate Professor (Reader) in Strategy and International Business at the University of Edinburgh, and a visiting professor at the Lagos Business School.

My oga at the top: a collective expression of powerlessness?

March 16, 2013 § 6 Comments

Kenneth Amaeshi

I was taken aback when a friend sent me the now viral and infamous ‘my oga at the top’ video. I was not surprised because of the gaffe; I was rather surprised by how it has occupied the collective imagination of many Nigerians, in a way akin to a mass hysteria. The surprise quickly dissipated into an anxiety, because mass hysteria is sometimes described as a psychogenic illness. A classic case of this illness was the rumored Tanganyika laughter epidemic of 1962. Some people died as a result of it. Tanganyika is modern day Tanzania. Similar examples of death from laughter abound: Zeuxis, a 5th century BC Greek painter, was “…said to have died laughing at the humorous way he painted the goddess Aphrodite – after the old woman who commissioned it insisted on modeling for the portrait”. Chrysippus, the 3rd century BC Greek Stoic philosopher, allegedly “…died of laughter after he saw a donkey eating his figs;…told a slave to give the donkey neat wine to drink to wash them down with, and then, ‘…having laughed too much, he died’” .

These accounts of death from laughter brings a different twist to the ‘my oga at the top’ gaffe. In my view, the main mistake of the key actor in the interview was his amateurish approach to questions. In isolation, I don’t think I would have thought the interview was humorous. I suspect some other people wouldn’t have been able to read fun into it as well. However, it has become a potent force capable of sucking many into its hilarious space. It is trending on twitter and a market has already cashed in on it via sales of T-shirts, souvenirs, et cetera.

What I find really amazing about this gaffe is its ability to captivate Nigerians. This is further intriguing given the fact that the National Council of States (NCS), in the same week, accepted the presidential pardon granted to some very dodgy persons. As controversial as the presidential pardon was, it has been eclipsed by the ‘my oga at the top’ conundrum. I wonder why this was the case. Was it just a mere coincidence? Why have Nigerians preferred to go via the least resistant path and prey on the vulnerable key actor in the video clip?

Upon reflection, I am inclined to think that there is a subtle association between ‘my oga at the top’ slogan and the horrors of the immorality of the presidential pardon. This association is locked in the depth of our collective social psychology. It is a subconscious attack on power albeit expressed through powerlessness. The exploration of power, in this instance, is not coincidental or accidental. The portrait of the key actor with his index finger pointing upwards has come to represent the quintessential characterisation of this saga. The upward pointing finger, if one were to borrow from Freud, is a semblance of phallic power.

In mythological expression, the phallus is a symbolic representation of fertility and potency. The invocation of potency in this case does not necessarily exist in isolation; but brings to the fore its rival – i.e. impotency. Another word for impotency is powerlessness. This phallic representation of power is culturally meaningful in a male-dominated country where infertility is mainly misconstrued as failure.

This masculine expression and representation of power is silently re-echoed in the ‘my oga at the top’ discourse. A simplistic linguistic engagement with this discourse reconfirms the masculine power embedded in it. “My Oga” is a male figure, and “at the top” is an expression of superior power whose abode is metaphorically and literarily in the high heavens. In the presence of this masculine super power, one could be emasculated, objectified, and dehumanised. It is from the perspective of the terror unleashed by this potential fear of emasculation, objectification, and dehumanisation that powerlessness could be further appreciated.

‘My oga at the top’ therefore is a collective expression of powerlessness. It is a collective transfer of aggression on a vulnerable victim who inadvertently made himself a scape goat. In this case, he is not the true Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world, but rather the scape goat of Judah who is fetishly banished to Azazel (Leviticus 16:8) bearing the sins of all for atonement. This collective powerlessness merely re-packages itself in a psychologically soothing form as humour and relief. Simultaneously, but contradictorily, it finds new power in ridicule.

An extension of the phallus symbol in the ‘my oga at the top’ discourse suggests a sublime caricature of the powers that hold many Nigerians hostage without “giving a damn!”. Unfortunately, this disguised expression of power in powerlessness is not as potent as visible and undisguised power. As such, it doesn’t last. It becomes a victim of its invisibility as the super power spoken to, is either deaf or too thick to decode such coded messages; or where it does, it is either selfish or unconcerned. One thing raw power understands very well is the powerlessness of the powerless – in this case, the Nigerian electorates. Even 2015 doesn’t mean much and doesn’t induce any sense of accountability.

In all these, I choose to see the hilarious victims of bad governance and inept leadership, who are rather gainfully distracted by the mass humour of the ‘my oga at the top’ gaffe. My only fear and concern is that the key actor in this gaffe is not driven to anything untoward by this barrage of aggression. That will not be funny at all. I pray for him and his family. I wish them well.

Amaeshi is a member of the Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria.

Nigeria and Nigerians: A Short Reflection

February 24, 2013 § 5 Comments

Kenneth Amaeshi

There is something about Nigeria I have grappled with, without luck. Each time I visit the country I get disorientated for some time. I feel a different sense of reality. The only thing that is constant is MONEY, MONEY, and MONEY. The rich and the poor, the holy and the unholy, are all lured by this singular attraction towards money. This attraction is powerful and crowds out other interests. I listen to people talk about money and what they do to make this money; as laudable as they are, they often don’t appeal to me. In such instances, I feel I am either wasting my time and life or I am simply lazy. But I don’t feel the same way outside the country. I also know that I am not lazy – although that’s relative. Notwithstanding, the more I think of this, the more I sense insecurity as the source of the material drive in Nigeria. This insecurity lies at the very heart of the accumulation culture – saving for the raining day; making hays whilst the sun shines; identifying the black goat before it gets dark. The burden of tackling insecurity is left on the shoulders of individuals. You provide everything needed for survival for yourself and your dependants. You go the extra mile to make these happen, because no one knows tomorrow. In some other countries, this burden of insecurity is borne by societal institutions and safety nets, which then allows people to focus on ideas and matters of self-fulfilment. In the Maslowian order, we are at the bottom of the pyramid of human needs, and that tends to order our behaviours. Even the clamour for social status through the use of power and display of materialism is an expression of physical and psychological insecurity. On the surface, it’s all well. Beneath the surface is a void; and an emptiness in search of true meaning and security. Even our consumption of God doesn’t escape the clutches of insecurity. I guess one way to understand a Nigerian is to explore his/her fears. Just a thought; I may be wrong.

Amaeshi is a Visiting Professor at the Lagos Business School and a Member of the Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria.

CSR and Civic Education in Nigeria

December 29, 2012 § 1 Comment

Kenneth Amaeshi

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has gradually become a buzz word in the Nigerian private sector landscape. This is obviously a good sign. CSR is also seemingly becoming more sophisticated, shifting away, albeit sluggishly, from its overly philanthropic outlook of the recent past. In my over 10 year experience of researching and studying the evolution of CSR practice in Nigeria, I think there is some reasonable progress in this area. At least the practice is now beginning to attract the right attention in organizations and is being professionalised. The financial services sector, for instance, has gone a step further in initiating an industry level programme on sustainable banking. These are all positive signals.

However, the more sophisticated it becomes, the more shadowy it gets through its pursuit of seemingly exotic and foreign tastes whilst ignoring the basic things. It doesn’t take a genius to recognise corruption, bad governance, and unenlightened followership as the main problems of contemporary Nigeria. Some of the challenges currently borne by the private sector through philanthropic activities – e.g. provision of health care, portable water, greening of the environment, poverty alleviation, et cetera – are all clear symptoms of a failed government. Tackling these symptoms without carefully addressing their root causes will only perpetually lock CSR into philanthropy.

In my opinion, the best CSR in Nigeria should focus on addressing the problems of corruption and bad governance in the country. Often times, corruption and bad governance are fruits of ignorance and poor education. One way of fighting corruption and bad governance is through civic education for value re-orientation. The average man on the street is aware that Nigerians need to change their orientation, but the question has always been HOW?

Firms can engage with anti-corruption and promotion of good governance in many different ways. They may decide to have CSR programmes in these areas targeting their different external stakeholders – particularly their customers, the government, and local communities. They can also empower and collaborate with the civil society and international institutions to champion these changes in society.

Another option is for them to look inwards and focus internally on their employees and their organizational culture. In this regard, CSR becomes a business philosophy and a way of life. Some firms are beginning to play in this space – i.e. institutionalising employee oriented CSR activities, for example, employee volunteering, protection and promotion of human rights and equality in the workplace, et cetera. Some have also embedded these in their human resources management functions through policies and routines. These are all positive steps, but more needs to be done.

It is embarrassingly tragic that corruption has become our second nature. One can also appreciate that some of the private sector players are products of the corrupt system. Some may even be sustained by the same corruption. To that extent therefore, they become beneficiaries of the status quo and do all within their reach and means to ensure the status quo remains. At this point in time in the year (keeping in mind the oil subsidy saga of 2011 and its consequent demonstrations in early 2012), one struggles to ignore some oil marketers who have continued to cheat and wallow in corrupt practices. But on a second thought, it is obvious that they do not act alone. The proverbial ‘value chain’ supporting their equally proverbial ‘bottom line’ is both long and wide. It will not be surprising to find the so-called visible champions and progressive leaders of CSR in the corporate Nigeria dotted in and around this nefarious value chain.

Unsurprisingly, corruption in Nigeria cannot be eliminated solely by executive fiats, neither is it the sole responsibility of the government and its institutions. Corruption poses collective problems and requires collective actions to deal with. What is rather surprising is the seeming reluctance and lack of courage on the part of the private sector to make anti-corruption a core CSR objective. Firms need to show interest and willingness to fight corruption in Nigeria. If not for anything, corruption adds extra burden to the cost of running business in the country. As a business leader once put it, “…in a corrupt country, you are only as good as your last bribe”. This extra cost is either passed to the consumers or to the shareholders. In dire situations, corruption can inhibit entrepreneurial developments and or put businesses out of business. In other words, it is all in our short and long term interest to fight corruption.

Firms can contribute to the fight against corruption and bad governance through their training and manpower development systems. They can make it a point of duty to ensure that all employees are aware of their civic rights and duties and enact them. They can embed such requirements in their performance and promotion systems and processes. Employees should be encouraged and supported to be politically literate and exercise their democratic responsibilities. This does not mean that firms should steer their employees towards any particular parties or candidates, or engage in irresponsible political lobbying. This in itself will constitute institutional corruption and abuse of power. Instead, employees should be empowered through good civic education to exercise their democratic rights and duties. Research has shown that firms who promote good values suffer less internal corruption by their employees. This is an immediate benefit for firms to consider fighting corruption in all forms and promoting good governance in the country.

In addition to influencing the value orientation of their employees, businesses can work with schools and the Federal and State Ministries of Education to ensure that civic education is firmly integrated into the national school curricula and properly taught. Given the state of our education system, this may require some extra financial and manpower resources to deliver. Besides, businesses interested in education as a form of CSR can actually create a coalition or interest group on this and pull their resources together for much more collective impacts. Going solo, which appears to be the preferred option for the sake of brand value, may not be an effective measure given the magnitude of the challenge at hand. Collaboration can be an effective CSR strategy to address complex issues in complex business environments.

In summary, CSR in Nigeria ought to reflect the peculiarities of our local needs. Fight against corruption and the promotion of good governance through civic education should be central to this pursuit, and there are many creative ways to realise this objective. Otherwise, CSR devoid of local content is only as good as tasteless salt.

Amaeshi is an Associate Professor (Reader) in Strategy and International Business at the University of Edinburgh, UK, a Visiting Fellow at the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility, Cranfield School of Management, and a Visiting Professor at the Lagos Business School, Nigeria. He consults in the broad areas of strategic corporate responsibility & governance, sustainability strategy & sustainable investing, and stakeholder strategy & reputation management. For details see my website.