The Political Economy of Ways and Means: Procurement Contracts, Entrepreneurship, and Development in Africa
Conventional wisdom with regard to political and economic development in Africa gives weight to the colonial origin of the modern state and institutions. Although there is no agreed upon definition of what colonialism is in the social sciences, domination and hierarchy are assumed in colonial relationships. However, since the seventeenth century until World War I, African political leaders entered into economic and political agreements with foreign firms, multinational companies, and signed political agreements that were to define future relationships with European states and economic actors. These contracts present an interesting challenge: where (if anywhere) do we place these procurement practices in the hierarchy of important episodes in interest groups formation, institution building and state development? Were these contractual activities mere colonial tactics of dispossession through which western agents acquired tangible and intangible assets in foreign lands? Were they one of the many organizational initiatives during colonialism, the impact of which was more or less mitigated by competing interests among European powers only? This work analyzes historical contractual agreements in Africa from 1620 to 1919 using process tracing and analytic narratives methods. It establishes a historical precedent in public procurement practices in Africa through in-depth review of the procurement transactions of city-states in North Africa and various coastal groups. By showcasing African agents' bargaining strategies in contractual agreements, this work fundamentally challenges existing notions of empire, colonialism, domination, and inequality. The project is innovative as it constructs a framework of strategic heuristics that improves existing theory of decision-making under uncertainty. It further brings to light new data that support additional research on new models of economic and political development given limited resources and inequality of means at the disposal of developing states.