Accepted Paper:

Founding a business in the absence of employment - Turning points in life- and business trajectories  
Maike Voigt (University of Bayreuth)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores two instances of the changing economic climate of the 1990s in Kenya and its effects on business trajectories. In the cases businesses were founded because employment was unavailable, however, only one became a successful enterprise while the other struggles to uphold this image.

Paper long abstract:

Based on in-depth biographical data of small-scale entrepreneurs in the Western Kenyan town of Kisumu, this paper explores two instances of the changing economic climate of the 1990s and its effects on business trajectories. The first instance is the abolishment of the employment guarantee offered to graduate students by the Kenyan government. With the help of a case study, I will show how this policy change affected the life plans of graduates at the time and how they made alternative plans, in this case subsequently leading to a prospering business.

The second instance are retrenchments following from the structural adjustment procedures the Kenyan economy underwent in the 1990s up to the early 2000s. The loss of long-term employment and a shrinking labour market drove many into small-scale business. My second case study details a failed transition from employment into self-employment, which is nonetheless maintained in the absence of other alternatives.

The paper, hence, presents two cases where the foundation of a business was perceived as the solution to economic troubles, as it is presented in the developmental narrative, but only in one case does this promise hold true, while in the other the image of a successful enterprise is only scarcely upheld. By employing a life course perspective, it furthermore becomes obvious that business trajectories don't usually follow the 'rising star' narrative so often depicted in the media, but are characterized by continuous ups and downs as nascent businesses face hurdles and struggle to overcome these.

Panel Anth30
Business at work: new ethnographies of private sector dynamics in Africa