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The Tribe and Organizations in Africa

Submitted by AFAM on Thu, 03/26/2020 - 10:06pm

The Tribe and Organizations in Africa

Guest Editors:

Constant D. Beugré, Delaware State University; Delaware, USA;
Joseph Eyong, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK;
Baniyelme D. Zoogah, Xavier University, Cincinnati, USA.

As a follow-up to the Professional Development Workshop (PDW) on Tribal Identity and the Challenge of Building Inclusive Organizations in Africa, held at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management in Boston, we decided to organize a special issue to explore in-depth the topic of tribal identity, diversity, and inclusion in African organizations. Since the beginning of the 21st century, there has been increased interest of management scholars and practitioners in Africa as indicated by conferences, symposia, and academic publications (Nkomo, Zoogah, & Acquaah, 2015; Walsh, 2011, 2015; Zoogah, Peng, & Woldu, 2015). One of the key motivations is to understand the continent which is “marked by fast growth, limited growth, or no growth at all, Africa’s business, government, and civil sectors all need world-class management.”1 As a result, several scholars have called for examining the different factors that may affect institutional and organizational effectiveness in Africa. Among such factors is the tribe (George et al., 2016; Zoogah, 2016) which undergirds not only socio-economic and political interactions but also entrepreneurial, organizational, and relational aspects of management (Zoogah, 2019). As George et al. (2016: 389) indicate, the profusion and diversity of tribes in Africa “raise interesting questions of managing and motivating employees to perform, as well as challenge the assumptions and boundary conditions that underpin constructs such as trust, justice, and identity.”

Africa has the greatest number and variety of tribes in the world. Unfortunately, there is limited research on how they influence organizations. Most scholars have not integrated the tribe in their attempts to understand management in Africa. Hence, the relationship between the tribe and organizations represents a missing link in the management literature on Africa. This is surprising because the tribe is at the center of the life of Africans (Lentz, 1995). It is the daily reality that the tribe represents a ‘salient feature’ in the lives of Africans. For example, within the same nation, ‘tribal affiliations’ often dominate political appointments.

According to the Afrobarometer survey, which has been examining ethnicity2 since 1999, a significant proportion of respondents (56%) across all the countries surveyed indicate a strong or equal preference for their tribe and nation; about 44% of all respondents in Africa have strong feeling for only the nation ( In fact, the tribal dynamic is such that it not only influences interactions and relations in the workplace, but it also affects cross-country interactions. Some ‘overlapping tribes’ (tribes that were split into different countries) tend to relate with each other more than with other tribes of the same country. For instance, the Akan tribes of Ghana and Ivory Coast were split. Yet, the Akans of Ghana and Ivory Coast tend to relate with each other more than with other tribes of the same country. The same is true for the Kru tribe in Ivory Coast and Liberia. The interactions of the ‘overlapping tribes’ likely have differential effects on organizations.

In the management and organization domain, research has focused on the structural components of ethnicity as a demographic variable in the dominant debate on diversity (see Proudford and Nkomo, 2006). It is only recently that interest in the tribe and its effects on organizational processes and outcomes (George et al., 2016; Zoogah, 2016) is emerging.

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