African History through the Lens of Economics

In July 2022, the UN published its World Population Prospects 2022 report and predicts that Sub-Saharan Africa will almost double in population by 2050 and Nigeria will become the world's fourth largest country matching the US in population size. However, both in business and academia, the continent has been largely neglected. Companies still use the EMEA label, covering Africa from Europe. Many academic studies show a continent largely shaded in grey, indicating "no data available". Well, it's about time that we shift our attention to this fascinating continent.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege to participate in and contribute to African History through the Lens of Economics, a 11-week course by the London Business School's Wheeler Institute for Business and Development. What a journey it was! Stelios Michalopoulos (Brown University), Nathan Nunn (Harvard), Elias Papaioannou (LBS) and Leonard Wantchekon (Princeton) put together a fascinating programme with great insights from faculty members and well-known speakers such as James Robinson, the co-author of "Why Nations Fail", former World Bank economist and NYU professor Bill Easterly and Joseph Henrich, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard and author of "The WEIRDest people in the world". However, the course clearly tried to address the ethnocentric bias in academia, global business and politics by giving Africans a voice. Mo Ibrahim, Leonard Wantchekon, Awa Seck, Amma Panin, Kwabena Krah and others shared their research but also personal stories and all sessions were moderated by young African scholars such a Tanaka Chiimba and Chinemelu Okafor who did an excellent job in asking those critical questions that have not been asked in the past.

Being not only an interculturalist but also an economist, so much of the content strongly resonated with me. The links between current research in economic history, changing paradigms in the intercultural field and the future of societies and global business are apparent and fascinating. As Westerners, we need to learn to see the perspectives of people who are not from WEIRD (Western, Industrialized, Educated, Rich, Democratic) cultures because they constitute the majority of the world's population.

Intercultural trainings that are still based on ethnocentric perceptions of the world and neglect the impact of history, demographic shifts, political and social trends and economic developments should be a thing of the past. Working with a multidisciplinary approach to the address the world's complexities is an absolute must.