Business Ethics in Africa

A European Review Out of Africa: an introduction Gideon J. Russo Business ethics as academic field began Its existence In North Daintier. Its early development was dominated by the North American discourse about ethics and Its relevance In the business context. The various approaches to the study of business ethics, as well as the Issues that emerged there, made a lasting Impact on the landscape of this area of study. Since this period of Inception In the sass business ethics has become an established academic field In other parts of the world (Ender 1997).

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It first came of age outside North America In European countries, and Is now maturing In most regions of the globe. The formation of business ethics networks on all continents is indicative of the way In which activity In this field of study has taken root. Thus we can say that a true globalization of business ethics has occurred over the last three decades. Although the dominance of North American approaches, textbooks and case studies is still often lamented in academic circles outside the USA (Sorrel 1 998: 88-89, Cotton and Dundee 1995: 334), other new and distinct voices are now being heard around the globe.

Admittedly some of these voices, specifically those on the European continent, are better developed and institutionalized and therefore more audible than others elsewhere. Nevertheless, a striking variety of voices from all parts of the globe is nowadays heard in conferences and in publications on business ethics. Courses on business ethics are also to be found on all continents. As part of the current focus of this Journal on global issues, the ear will be tuned in this issue to one of the newer voices to be heard in the global business ethics academic discourse, namely the voice out of Africa.

The first signs of academic life in business ethics on the African continent can be traced back to the O Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2000. 108 Cooley Road, Oxford OX JIFF, UK and 350 Main SST, Maiden, MA 02148, USA. Sass. Since then an ever-increasing number of modules and courses have been Introduced at institutions of higher learning, and the corpus of academic publications has been growing steadily. However, all these efforts have occurred largely In Isolation from one another, as academics were often not aware of what their colleagues elsewhere were doing In this regard.

There are various reasons for his Isolation, the most Important being the vastness of the African continent and the difficulties and cost of communication and transport In Africa. This factor, together with others, has meant that Isolation between those working In this field has Impeded both the growth of the field and the nurturing of Its unique African character. Academic interaction and discourse are essential to the development of any academic field, as well as to the emergence of its uniquely regional characteristics. Such a discourse serves to identify the main areas of concern and study, and the main challenges can be recognized.

Self-awareness about the way in likely to become evident in such a regional discourse. Two recent developments may have a significant positive impact on the lack of interaction in the African context. The first is the formation of the Business Ethics Network of Africa (BEN-Africa) in April 1999. The guiding objective of this network is to build a database of Africans with either an academic or practitioner interest in business ethics, and to facilitate interaction between them. The second is the completion of the first comprehensive survey on business ethics as academic field on the African continent.

This survey, which is the first contribution to this issue of the Journal (by Barneys and Russo), provides for the first 225 Volume 9 Number 4 October 2000 time a comprehensive picture of the amount and kinds of academic activity within the field of business ethics on the African continent. The identification of the academic players, the institutions and disciplines where they are working, and the kind of academic activities they are involved in, together provide a basis for reflection on what has been achieved thus far. At the same time this exercise also unmasks the areas within this field that are in need of further development.

It thus provides both an agenda and a motivation for intensifying the discourse within this field. The findings of this survey reveal some striking similarities with previous surveys on business ethics conducted on other continents (Disgorge 1987, Mahoney 1990, Shaw 1996). In particular, they replicate the division of opinion about whether courses in business ethics should provide students with the theoretical tools for dealing with ethical issues in business or whether they should be geared towards the improvement of moral behavior in business.

There are also other similarities guarding the ways in which courses have been integrated into the curricula of the host-disciplines in which they are taught. The multi-disciplinarian of the field is yet another feature of the field that is in line with previous findings elsewhere. The more interesting question relates to the way in which African business ethics differs from the discourse elsewhere.

Although this aspect did not emerge sufficiently from the above survey, early indications are that the unique features of business ethics in Africa include the following: ; On the macro-level Africans colonial and neocolonialism sat (represented in South Africa by apartheid) has a marked influence on the business ethics discourse. The search for macro-economic policies capable of addressing the historic imbalances and injustices caused by colonialism and neo- colonialism, as well as relations between the so-called first and third world and the cancellation of third world debt, provide the context for debate on this level.

The fact that the state is often the main economic player in many African economies gives a moral debate about whether this should remain the case. On the other hand this dominant ole of the public sector in many African economies has resulted in business ethics not focusing exclusively on ethical issues related to economic activity in the private sector, but also including within its scope the ethical dimensions of economic activity in the public sector. ; On the mess-level the unique features of the business ethics discourse in Africa centre around the moral responsibility of business towards the reconstruction of African societies.

Businesses are often portrayed as having been in collusion with colonial and neo-colonial powers, and are now expected to play their art in undoing the wrongs of the colonial and neo-colonial era. The question of whether the African ethical values of the societies within which business operates are in collision with capitalist business values, or whether these values can and/or should be integrated and turned into a competitive advantage for business, constitutes a key feature of discussion on this level. On the micro-level the legacy of a history of injustice is reflected in the way in which individual businesses deal with affirmative active measures to overcome the consequences of racism, sexism and economic exclusion. The overriding reality of the rampant AIDS epidemic in Africa shapes much of the moral discourse on this level. Many of the above features that are emerging in business ethics in Africa are reflected in the contributions to this issue of Business Ethics: A European Review.

Apart from the first contribution, which focuses on business ethics as academic field in Africa, the other contributions are organized round a single theme, that of fraud. Although the economic and social cost of fraud to Africa is enormous the topic is by no means the most prominent issue on the business ethics agenda in Africa. On the contrary, as I have argued elsewhere (Russo 1999: 19-20), it often struggles to find a place on the agenda: it is either pushed aside or subsumed under the more prominent and dominant issue of corruption. 226 ) Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 000 The focus on fraud here was chosen for a variety of reasons. Firstly, fraud is an issue that affects both the private and public sectors. In this sense it differs from corruption, which is often portrayed as a phenomenon associated with politicians and government officials (which, of course, is not entirely true since corruption can also occur in the private sector). The perception that corruption is a public sector phenomenon can and does result in a tendency by business to shift the burden of responsibility for curbing corruption to the government.

The same cannot, however, be done with fraud, as the private sector is equally affected by it. In this way fraud constitutes a business ethical dilemma in Africa involving both private and public indicated that the private sector regarded the decline in moral values as the major cause of the sharp increase in fraud. When it came to the recommendations of that port, all kinds of remedies were suggested for restricting fraud in business, but none of these related to what the business community regarded as the main cause of fraud – I. E. He decline in moral values. This clearly indicated that although the business community acknowledged the role that ethical values were playing in causing (and by implication also in curbing) fraud, there was an inability to apply this understanding to solving the problem of fraud. This clearly signaled the need to develop greater expertise concerning the ethical dimensions of fraud. In this way the equines ethical debate about fraud can be seen as a direct response to a real African need and not simply as a mere intellectual exploration.

Thirdly, a pan-African conference on Fraud and the African Renaissance (Russo and Carbine 1999) was held in Uganda from 8-10 April 1999. This was the first time that a pan-African conference with a distinct business ethics focus was organized. The contributions on fraud in this Journal all originated at that conference, although none of them was presented in their current form there; they all represent work that was done as a follow-up to that conference.

They were thus born out of the business ethics discourse that took place at that conference, and accordingly reflect some of the thinking on African business ethics that emerged there. Some of the distinguishing features of the business ethics discourse in Africa discussed above are also mirrored in these papers. In the first of these contributions on fraud, Christine Euchre of Kenya provides an overview of the extent to which Africa is affected by fraud: in doing so she unmasks its immorality. She argues that the prevalence of fraud in Africa poses a serious threat to the continental ideal of an

African Renaissance, echoing a conviction held by Taboo Imbibe who coined the phrase, ‘African Renaissance’, and who remains one of the prominent champions of this African dream (Imbibe 1998: 297-300). In Euchre’s discussion of the role that the fight against fraud can play in the realization of the dream of an African Renaissance, some of the distinct features of business ethics in Africa emerge. They include the relevance for ethics in business of macroeconomic policies at regional and international levels.

Her paper also highlights the important role that the public sector, as a major economic player in Africa, must fulfill if the dream of renaissance is to be realized. It further provides insight into the ambivalent relationship between traditional African values and the values of capitalist business: it becomes clear that these values can either facilitate or frustrate moral behavior in business. The role that African ethical values can play in curbing fraud, which Euchre touched on, is explored in more depth in the contribution by Peter Kangaroo.

He deliberately refuses to call these African ethical values ‘traditional’, as that might indicate that they belong to a previous era. His contention is that these values are still alive and ingrained in the African communitarian ethic. These African values can play an important role in curbing fraud, but that requires more than a personal appeal to individuals to adhere to these values. Equal recognition must also be given to the impact on individual behavior of the values underlying the economic system within context of the economic system that produces it in the first place.

His contribution thus brings another voice to the Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2000 227 debate about whether capitalism and the individualistic values on which it is remised can be merged with a communitarian culture (see Hampered Turner and Trampers 1993: 165-200, Trampers and Hampered Turner 1997: In contrast to the two previous papers which situate the problem of fraud within the ‘macro’ socio-economic context, the paper by Tina I-lays approaches it on a micro- economic level within its intra-organizational setting.

She starts with a case study where fraud was revealed through weightlessness in a financial institution. In taking the case study approach she makes a much-needed contribution towards increasing the number of home-grown business ethics case studies in Africa: such case studies re still very scarce. In her analysis of this case she illustrates how the reactions of management can turn weightlessness into a power struggle between the whistler’s and organizational power structures.

This almost inevitably shifts what started as an internal ethical dispute into a public political dispute and turns the whistler’s from an ethically concerned employee into a political activist. This shift from the intra-organizational level to the poetical level illustrates the point recently made by Kale (2000) concerning the inevitable interplay of management and political issues in business ethics. The last contribution in this group of papers is a practitioner’s perspective on fraud by the fraud awareness consultant of a major banking group in South Africa.

In his contribution Steve Crummier outlines the strategy that his company successfully implemented at Needed Bank to reduce losses due to fraud. He then goes on to demonstrate how the total strategy is based on ethical values and considerations, and reaches the conclusion that ethics cannot be a mere add-on in the effort to curb fraud, but must be both a foundational and integral part thereof. His paper is a good indication of the role and responsibilities that equines have to assume regarding public safety and order in African societies where the govern- meet lacks the ability and infrastructure to do so.