Consumers and Markets in Francophone Africa

ABSTRACT - This paper is an attempt to identify the major developments in the study of consumer behavior in the countries of west and central Africa formerly part of the French colonial system. In presenting a survey of this work, it should be recognized that Africa, and particularly sub-Saharan black Africa, has been ignored in the literature of marketing and consumer behavior, and anthropologists, rural sociologists, and geographers have provided most of the information on marketplace activities in this area.


J.M.McCullough , E.J. Arnould, and H. Defoundoux-Fila (1985) ,"Consumers and Markets in Francophone Africa", in SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, eds. Jagdish N. Sheth and Chin Tiong Tan, Singapore : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 182-185.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 182-185


J.M.McCullough, Washington State University

E.J. Arnould, University of Arizona

H. Defoundoux-Fila, Marien N'Gouabi University


This paper is an attempt to identify the major developments in the study of consumer behavior in the countries of west and central Africa formerly part of the French colonial system. In presenting a survey of this work, it should be recognized that Africa, and particularly sub-Saharan black Africa, has been ignored in the literature of marketing and consumer behavior, and anthropologists, rural sociologists, and geographers have provided most of the information on marketplace activities in this area.


In most developing countries, consumer behavior has been examined from a different perspective from, that taken in the economically developed western countries. Access to individual consumers is often difficult and, as a result, the market system or individual markets have been the usual point of analysis. When the consumer has been considered, it is generally to briefly mention the impact of the marketing system on the consumer, rather than to examine the behavior of the individual consumer within the system.

The consumption situation in the least developed countries appears to be social than economic. The consumer in these societies views the purchase situation as an opportunity to engage in social communication and assigns that role an importance at least equal to the activities of economic exchange. When the importance of the social role is compared with the limited quantity of purchases actually made, it is not surprising that most studies of consumer behavior in the developing world have been ethnographies rather than surveys, conducted by anthropologists and geographers rather than by consumer behaviorists and marketers. Because these studies have examined social interactions and geographic relationships rather than consumer decision making, they are typically ignored in the consumer behavior literature. An examination of these perspectives, however, provides a richness of understanding not commonly found in western studies of consumer behavior. They provide a broader picture of marketplace activities and include more consumption roles and players than are typically considered in developed markets.

Only recently, and only in a few selected countries, have consumer behaviorists and marketers begun to examine consumption activities from those perspectives. In this paper we trace the development of understanding about markets and consumer behavior in this region, beginning with the findings of the anthropologists and continuing to the recent work of marketers looking at behavior in modern societies.


Francophone Africa includes the formerly French and Belgian colonies of West and Equatorial Africa and the Congo. These include the countries of Niger, Bourkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Benin in the west, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Central African Republic, and Chad in the equatorial region, and Zaire. Political boundaries and the realities of the economic situation often do not coincide in this area. For example, the Hausa-speaking region of the central Sudan includes parts of Niger, Nigeria, perhaps Chad and Cameroon, and other areas in which a well established market system operates with minimal attention to the political boundaries of the region. This situation exists as well in northern Ghana and Bourkina Faso.

Although these countries represent diverse cultures and geography, there is a commonality in the generally low level of development in the marketing system from a western perspective, with much of the region dependent on periodic market systems for consumer goods. Typical of the literature of consumer behavior in this region is material on the Hausa-dominated region of central west Africa, particularly Niger. This material is discussed below.


Anthropologists have long been concerned about the economic organization of the West African region, but until recently, marketing has been treated as a secondary activity of a particular community or group. Anthropologists have been largely concerned with the transactional and socio-cultural aspects of market involvement rather than economic structure (Bohannon 1961, Bohannon and Bohannon 1968, Bohannon and Dalton et al. 1965, Polanyi 1957, Cook and Diskin 1976, and Piault 1971). Many of the anthropological studies take the view that marketing and markets are intrusive elements in traditional and primitive cultures because of the inherent change agent function of the introduction of new consuming behaviors (Polanyi 1947, Bohannon and Dalton 1965, Meillassoux 1971, Godelier 1977, Salisbury 1962, Sharp 1968, Hill 1969, Nicolas 1962a, 1962b, 1967, 1970). Other work in peasant societies has indicated important roles for markets in the society (Mintz 1959, Nash 1966, Cook 1976) and has led some anthropologists to reexamine the role of marketing in precapitalist societies (Uberoi 1962).

In general, anthropologists have viewed marketing and consumer behavior related to the marketplace from a distinctly macro perspective, examining the impact of trading patterns on societies rather than studying the marketing activities at the individual, or micro level. One popular approach has been the relationship between long distance, interregional trade and the formation of specialized trading groups, such as the Hausa of lbadan (Cohen 1965, 1966, 1971), the Diakhanke (Curtin 1971), and the Kambarin Beriberi (Lovejoy, 1973). Sociocultural interpretations rather than structural relationships is the central issue in most studies (Lovejoy 1970, Salifou 1972, Yusuf 1975, Hill, 1969, 1972, Fleuret 1978, Nash 1966, Gallais 1964, B.D.P.A. 1962, Waterbury and Turkenik 1976). The political implications of trade on ruling groups has provided other insights (Polanyi 1956, Hopkins 1971, Coquery-Vidrovitch 1977, Dunbar 1971, Meillassoux 1971).

Regional systems analysis has provided an important methodology for examining economic structure and social organization. This is, however, an even more macro approach to examining consumer-market interactions (Smith 1976a , Schwimmer 1976, Jones 1976).

Anthropologists have recently begun to examine several types of marketing landscape which have resulted from colonial policies. These include network systems (Bohannon and Bohannon 1968, C. Fleuret 1978, A. Fleuret 1978, Arnould 1980b, M.G. Smith 1955, 1965), dendritic mercantile systems (Smith 1976a, Kelley 1976, Mintz 1960, Johnson 1970, Schwimmer 1976, Pehaut 1970, Amin 1973, CILSS 1978), and solar systems (Nash 1966, Jones 1976, Handwerker 1978). As these studies have concentrated on the. marketing system rather than the consumer, they have provided only limited insight into consumer behavior in the African societies.

Geographers, or anthropologists taking a geographic perspective, have also examined the African marketplace, usually taking central place models (Christaller 1966, Losch 1959) as a starting point (Bromley 1976, Hill and Smith 1972). Additional studies have provided maps of the market systems giving insight to the behavior of traders in the central place systems (R.H.T. Smith 1971, 1978, Hodder 1961, 1965, Hodder and Ukwu 1969, McKim 1972, Smith and Hill 1972, Gilberg 1969, Scott 1972).


The behavior of buyers and sellers in the rural market system has been examined from a consumer behavior perspective by Arnould and McCullough (1980). Defoundoux (1984) has examined changes in consumer behavior in an urban context where supermarkets are introduced to supplant traditional market systems. These studies represent the only studies of these markets utilizing survey methodology and taking a consumer behavior perspective.

Research into the nature of markets and market systems is on-going in Anthropology and Rural Sociology, while limited market studies are being proposed as part of development projects sponsored by the United States government in this area (McCullough et al. 1980).


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J.M.McCullough , Washington State University
E.J. Arnould, University of Arizona
H. Defoundoux-Fila, Marien N'Gouabi University


SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives | 1985

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