Aligning Different Worlds: A Transnational Perspective on the Use of Capital by Ghanaian Returnee Entrepreneurs in the Creative Arts Industry

Ellen Amanda Haarman

Student thesis: Master thesis


As the European migration crisis dominates the news, it can become hard to image that Africans choose the opposite direction. Still, booming African economies like Ghana attract highly skilled African migrants back to their birthplace. African governments welcome them with open arms, as they believe these returnees gained new and innovative skills, knowledge and ideas, ready to benefit the country’s development (brain gain). Migration and development policy tells a celebratory story and portrays returnees as super- entrepreneurs. However, scholars warn that empirical evidence is too thin and call for more studies to support realistic policy-making. This thesis presents a step into that direction. Combining a practice approach to entrepreneurship with a transnational perspective, this thesis aims for a more realistic representation by exploring how highly skilled Ghanaian returnee entrepreneurs use capital in operating a firm in the creative arts industry. To answer the research question, the thesis analyses the use of capital in a case study as a pragmatic approach to creating an in-depth and in situ understanding. The empirical findings are based on the narrative accounts of seven highly skilled Ghanaian returnees with a creative enterprise in fashion design, cultural arts and digital media in Accra and Kumasi.
The thesis shows that having acquired capital in the West does not improve the abilities of returnee entrepreneurs as such. Rather, they enhance their abilities by aligning the virtues of having a transnational toolkit (capital), a transnational sense of doing business (habitus) and access to a transnational market space (social field). This thesis identifies that in the use of capital, they combine qualities of localness and transnationality through an act of, what this author calls, “constant configuration” and “chameleoning”. Returnees are not outsiders on foreign grounds but belong to different worlds. Through their ability to adapt their colour like a chameleon, they reduce their liability of foreignness. Moreover, as they combine an eye for business with a heart for Ghana, their entrepreneurial practices have a strong social motivation. The creative arts industry presents a particular interesting context to explore the use of capital as the undeveloped state of industry in Ghana forces returnee entrepreneurs to rely on their transnational affiliation. The thesis finalises with two recommendations demonstrating how these findings could impact local government leaders and international development practitioners involved in the brain gain discussion.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture - Business and Development Studies, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages201
SupervisorsThilde Langevang