A farming ‘makeover’
Kroesen begins the interview by establishing a chain of reasoning for why the entrepreneurial tribe is necessary in the context of food security in African nations. Africa at large still does not have food sovereignty, which is in part due to the fact that much farming on the continent is still subsistence based, looked down upon, and mostly executed by women or those who did not find other jobs. As such, there is a need to improve the image of farming on the continent as a whole so that it doesn’t have a negative association.

You don’t invest [in farming], because that is too risky, but you try to survive with little means outside the imperial structure
Here, it may be important to point out other regional specificities that hinder large scale and more centralised farming practices in many African countries. One of these is a lack of trust in authority above and beyond the tribal level. As Dr. Kroesen explains in his book (Cross-cultural Entrepreneurship and Social Transformation), the lack of a universalist state, as well as in-group tribal bonds that are stronger than any sense of national loyalty are huge barriers to economic development on the continent. Thus, the problem lies in “how to get an effective and accountable hierarchical authority above and beyond tribal and clannish loyalties”. Herein comes the entrepreneurial tribe, which may be the answer to this problem.

The entrepreneurial tribe: an introduction
What does ‘entrepreneurial tribe’ mean and entail? The former part of the concept is quite self-explanatory, as entrepreneurship has a major role in the world economy today. As Dr. Kroesen writes, modern day entrepreneurial networks are “exemplifications of the introduction of tribal bands and strong group loyalties right in the heart of modern society.”

The tribal aspect stems from the rich history of tribes in Africa, dating back centuries. As Dr. Kroesen explains, in the past, Africans went about agriculture with tribes at the centre of the system. Tribes, typically didn’t trust each other, engaged in extensive low cost agriculture to feed only their own. This was particularly because they wanted to exist and be self-sufficient to avoid taxes, a trend which continued through colonialism. However, after colonialism and the formation of new countries and borders, the tribes no longer had the same freedom to move around. Thus, though the in-group tribal mentality and bonds stayed, the self-sufficiency was now on a lower level, which explains trends in modern day African household subsistence farming.

So you need a tribal team, as it were, so that people from a different background work towards a common goal
So, is the entrepreneurial tribe just a group of African small-farm owners who share a common national/ethnic background? Not quite. In Dr. Kroesen’s words, the entrepreneurial tribe is not a traditional tribe, because it is based in economics, and not politics. Therefore, members of an entrepreneurial tribe would not be tied together by traditional bonds such as identity politics, but by their entrepreneurial spirit instead. In other words, the proposal of an entrepreneurial tribe is an attempt to apply traditional African concepts of loyalty and partnership that fuel in-group tribal mentality to the economic sphere, thus decreasing mistrust between groups and increasing opportunities for more effective and efficient farming. In his book, Dr. Kroesen points this concept in action in the guilds of the Middle Ages in Europe, which were highly successful in uniting their members.

...[in the West] we have fragmented individuals in big machine-like societies, and they are all in search of their identity
De-tribalisation in Africa, re-tribalisation in the West
Along similar lines, the most interesting and thought provoking part of the interview is perhaps when Dr. Kroesen takes the discussion a step further and points out that the West could learn from Africa and re-tribalise itself. Dr. Kroesen makes an astute observation that, “Africa has too many ‘we groups’ which do not trust each other at all, but in the West, we don’t have any group at all anymore.” Thus, it seems that while the West is set on the entrepreneurial aspect, there would be even more added value to society if traditional tribal values were re-introduced.

Is tribal entrepreneurship and trust-building the answer to food sovereignty in Africa? Furthermore, what thoughts and patterns would be necessary to change at the grassroots level before such a concept could be introduced and welcomed? And: do you think Western countries would benefit from a touch of new tribalism as well? What is your opinion?

Dr. Otto Kroesen was trained as a theologian and still preaches every now and then. Since 1997 he teaches at Delft University of Technology. He is now an associate professor in Philosophy and Technology Dynamics. His projects and research focus on cross-cultural entrepreneurship in various African nations. His book, Cross-cultural Entrepreneurship and Social Transformation, discusses the concepts above in even more detail, as well as other research in the fields of development and entrepreneurship.

Kroesen considers the “entrepreneurial tribe” as an emerging solution for the predicament of both Africa and western societies. The distrust between different ethnic groups in Africa, vertical networks of dependency and patrimonialism, institutional voids, create serious obstacles for successful entrepreneurship. In the old days extensive low cost agriculture was the solution for clans and families to stay out of the (taxing) regime of empires. Now strong “entrepreneurial tribes” are required to navigate an environment of adverse institutional conditions. Western societies need the “entrepreneurial tribe” for the opposite reason. Here increasingly people are without any belongingness or identity. Right wing politicians exhibit the promise of a petrified national identity and belongingness. But the “entrepreneurial tribe”, not in politics, but in the sphere of economics, is the solution also for the Western societies. Student teams operating on behalf of African enterprises, community projects, startups, are examples of such involvement. The “entrepreneurial tribe” also enhances the capacity and resilience of its teammembers. Human faces become more human if they are able to face challenges.