Hannah Chadeayne Appel

2016 Hellman Fellow


Assistant Professor, Anthropology

Project Title: Pan African Capital: Finance, Banking, and Economic Self-Fashioning


As my first decade-long ethnographic project on U.S. oil companies in the central African country of Equatorial Guinea comes to a close, Pan African Capital continues my inquiry into the licit life of transnational capitalism. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Accra, Ghana, with Ecobank Transnational—a self-labeled “pan-African” commercial bank owned and operated by the African private sector—this project is situated in the emergent world of African corporate finance and investment banking, as well as unique banking platforms designed to facilitate microfinance, Internet, and remittance transactions. Theoretically, this project insists on an empirical and analytic place for Africa in the burgeoning anthropology of finance literature, while also engaging critical development studies, histories of Pan Africanism, and global inequality.

EcoBank Transnational Incorporated operates in 36 countries across the African continent, more than any other bank in the world. The only bank in the world to trade in Middle Africa’s 16 currencies, EcoBank also reaches outside the continent with representative offices in Paris, Beijing, Dubai, and London. My own research will start in Accra, Ghana. Preliminary framing questions include: how might our view of “global finance” shift with Africa at the center of the inquiry, rather than the periphery? (I intentionally invoke the continent as a whole, rather than Ghana in particular, because the project aims to take the Pan African idea and geography of the bank seriously.) Critical development studies has long argued that strong local institutions and locally-managed capital including south-south collaboration would destabilize the deleterious effects of international financial institutions like the World Bank or the IMF. Do we see evidence for that here? How do Pan-African histories of utopian socialism and visionary anticolonial struggle fit, if it all, with EcoBank’s mission? Narrower questions will focus on everyday operations of the bank and the scope and effects of its work, from growing mortgage markets and personal finance to intra-African corporate financing, to securities and currency trading. Ecobank’s invocation of Pan Africanism in the age of global finance offers a poignant opportunity to think through that shifting historical signifier. This project resists hasty dismissals of Ecobank’s Pan Africanism as either the cynical invocation of a visionary history to sell financial products, or a simple collapse of the breadth of Pan Africanism into sheer market logic. Rather, this project insists that the effects of African owned and run transnational financial institutions across the continent and beyond are unknown, and thus a proper and timely subject of ethnographic inquiry