Accepted Paper:

The Politics of Big Business in Kenya  


Pritish Behuria (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the politics behind the varied trajectories of the development of Kenyan conglomerates since independence. It highlights how the state's relationships with local businesses have impacted the trajectories of their development. Fieldwork was undertaken in February 2018.

Paper long abstract:

The subject of why African countries have failed to catch up to the same extent that East Asian countries did continues to be a central question for those working in international development. One reason for this has been the failure of African governments to nurture a domestic capitalist class, which works as a partner in national projects for economic transformation. Some (Boone 1994) argue that this is a legacy of decolonization where political classes came to power, which were largely out of touch with existing agricultural capitalists. This led to private economic interests co-opted by government officials, which was associated with unproductive rent-seeking and a lack of attention to investments towards structural transformation. Other studies have also examined the 'missing' African capitalist classes and the consequences it has had for structural transformation on the continent (Handley 1993, Whitfield et al. 2015).

Despite very little protection for domestic businesses, Kenya's private sector presents an array of examples of large local conglomerates - both Asian-Kenyans and African-Kenyans. During the 20th century, there has also been a great deal of literature studying the emergence of Kenyan capitalism and Kenyan capitalists (Kitching, Leys, Himbara, Chege). Though some scholarship (Himbara 1994) emphasised how a large portion of Kenyan capitalists were of Asian descent, this has changed. This paper highlights how politics has impacted the variation in historical trajectories of the expansion of Kenyan conglomerates.

Panel J03
The political economy of industrial policy and state-business relations in the 21st Century (Paper)