The Rise and Fall of Kenyan Entrepreneurs: Social Mobility in Kisumu


Maike Voigt

Research Area:


The aim of my PhD is to link two current debates in anthropology, those about entrepreneurship and the middle classes in Africa. African entrepreneurship has mainly been addressed under the heading of the informal sector, paying little attention to the successful business people that chose self-employment over employment. The debate on the African middle classes has focused mostly on income and expenditure levels, consumption styles and investment. Middle class jobs have been described as steady and well-paying, but apart from governmental employees fitting this category few occupations have so far received attention.
This study, therefore, focuses on entrepreneurs whose lifestyle and consumption patterns place them in the middle class and seeks to establish why these people chose self-employment over employment and how their businesses have evolved to a certain level of success allowing for such a lifestyle. However, the focus of this project will also include the involvement of the entrepreneur’s family in his business and the relation between the business person and the state, both factors which can either support or hinder business development.
This project is conducted in Kisumu, Kenya, where small-scale entrepreneurs have first received recognition by the government in the late 1980s, and where the debate on the middle class has already taken hold. Using anthropological methods of participant observation, life course interviews and network analysis, a complete picture of the successes and challenges facing entrepreneurs shall be achieved.