A Venture in Africa: The Challenges of African Business

In This Review

A Venture in Africa: The Challenges of African Business

By Andrew Sardanis
I.B. Tauris, 2007
288 pp. $45.00
Purchase

Sardanis offers an unusual perspective on the last three decades in Africa in this rambling but often entertaining review of his business career around the continent. Of Cypriot origins, Sardanis befriended Zambia's first president, Kenneth Kaunda, in the independence era and subsequently advised the government on its disastrous decision to nationalize much of Zambian industry. He then established a wide-ranging business empire throughout southern Africa, initially focusing on the trading of heavy machinery and eventually branching out into banking. Some ill-advised investments -- for which Sardanis blames subordinates and the bad faith of business partners -- led to his bankruptcy in the early years of this decade. His account seems less than completely trustworthy on a number of details, but the narrative is hugely revealing of the way in which business was conducted in the region in the 1970s and 1980s, before economic crisis there devastated the formal private sector. At his peak, Sardanis appears to have had access to top state officials all over the continent: he crisscrossed it constantly in his Learjet, and he enjoyed healthy profits (thanks to state-enforced monopolies and friends in high places) despite extremely high operating costs. Sardanis is no fan of the economic liberalization efforts promoted in the region by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, but his defense of the ruinous economic nationalism of the decade after independence rings hollow, and his account includes evidence that, despite all the lofty rhetoric, liberalization was undone at least in part by a good deal of politically mediated cronyism.