Towards a pragmatic approach to the colonial heritage in firm internationalization strategy: The case of French and Portuguese firms in Francophone and Lusophone Africa

Fabio Pereira & Lennart Clerkx

Student thesis: Master thesis


Although the statistics show that the French and Portuguese colonial past still resonates in Africa, and some studies provide a broadly defined explanation for the ongoing ties between countries that share a colonial past, they do not adequately address pragmatic benefits that could be achieved from these ties. Referring to the aforementioned benefits of lower perceived distance between business partners, one could argue that despite the negative colonial connotations, the close relations between these countries, linguistic similarities and knowledge of each other’s culture, rules and norms could have the power to leverage business cooperation. As a preliminary step to establish what these benefits might consist of for French and Portuguese companies, it is necessary to look into how these perceptions of vicinity manifest themselves on a micro-level. It must be investigated whether the benefits for a Portuguese and French individual who does business in Africa are primarily based on economic rationale or whether factors such as perceived similarities such as common identity and shared language play a role in determining cooperation opportunities. It is for this reason this thesis preliminarily answers the following research question: How do Portuguese and French managers justify entry in the former colonies in Africa? tackle this research question, we have selected two French and two Portuguese case companies, from which we interview managers that have to varying degrees been involved in making such decisions. Their justifications are subsequently analyzed to find mention of the benefits of common language, culture or identity, and efforts are then made to aid in the recognition of concrete competitive advantages of being present in the former colonies. This thesis therefore relies on an incremental process of analysis, where the main research question, i.e. looking for foreign market entry (FME) justifications, serves to reach the overarching goal of defining concrete benefits of operating in former colonies for French and Portuguese managers. For the research question to serve this goal, the managers’ justifications must therefore exhibit at least an awareness of the colonial regime – which is why the ubiquity of the colonial context as it resonates today is given much attention in this thesis. Also, given that the colonial context is relevant throughout and after market entry, we can intentionally blur its application to both investment decision and the subsequent presence of companies in the market. As is shown in this thesis, because of the recurrence of the colonial context, analysis of justifications for entry can be used to aid in the recognition of competitive advantages of being present in the former colony. Recognizing the benefits of operating in the former colonies is a potentially valuable, but as the literature review will prove, theoretically underdeveloped dimension of conducting business in the African colonial context. Increased knowledge of this dimension can have many practical applications – a supposition that has motivated the authors significantly.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2011
Number of pages151