New Thinking in Political Economy series
Edited by Laura E. Grube and Virgil Henry Storr
Chapter 16: Indigenous African institutions and economic development
In the attempt to establish institutions which foster economic development in the third world, economists often look to the West as a model. This indeed has been the case in Ghana, West Africa. In Ghana’s urban centers, the large buildings which house Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, and Ghana Commercial Bank loom over the traditional market stalls and street traders. This sight might be heartening to those who recognize third world entrepreneurs’ limited access to capital as the primary constraint in advancing economic development. Indeed, these institutions play an important role in financing large scale industry and high volume import and export exchange. But this is only a small proportion of market activity in Ghana. The majority of business people never enter the doors of such institutions. The most striking feature of West African markets is the overwhelming proportion of female traders. While a few items will traditionally be sold by men, most of the trading activity is conducted by women. For example, the United Nations Development Fund estimates that 80 percent of all food production, processing, and marketing in West Africa is carried out by women. While limited access to capital is of general concern to development theorists, the limits facing female entrepreneurs are considered to be particularly severe (Simms 1981). The presence of formal Western-style credit institutions has done little to alter the situation.
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