East Africa’s green economy shift off to shaky start

Saturday May 25 2019

Plastic ban

The plastic ban in Kenya, Rwanda and now Tanzania has had an impact on the export and manufacturing sectors as cheap and good quality alternatives are not easily available. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

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East African countries lack the institutional capacity to implement policies on clean and environment friendly technologies, which is stifling sustainable growth of green economies across the region, according to a new report by UK-based research firm Chatham House.

The report, released last week and titled An Inclusive Circular Economy: Priorities for Developing Countries, shows that although Rwanda and Kenya have imposed total bans on plastic bags in an attempt to reduce pollution, there are still a large number of plastic bags being smuggled into the countries.

The two countries have also failed to give retailers, manufacturers and consumers cheap and good-quality alternatives to plastic bags.

“In Kenya, the ban has affected exports of food and flower products as there is not enough alternative packaging,” the report says.

It is understood that Burundi, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda are also considering imposing bans on plastic bags.

In 2015, East African countries proposed a ban on imports of secondary textiles to protect their domestic industries, over concerns about large volumes of cheap second-hand clothes from China entering the market.


However, when the US threatened to retaliate, the ban was replaced with an import tax.

Weak regulations

According to the report, weak regulations have also led to substandard practices in the construction sector and compromised the sector’s ability to recycle.

The report notes that a shift to a circular economy would allow countries to reduce environmental degradation and reap the benefits of industrialisation through a green economy.

A circular economy is one in which products and materials are recycled, repaired and reused rather than thrown away, and in which waste from industrial processes becomes a valued input.

Among other constraints to implementing a circular economy are lack of access to finance and technology, lack of appropriate infrastructure and skills and resistance from incumbent industries.

“For all of the excitement around the circular economy as a new development paradigm, progress in its implementation has been slow. Although many countries have shown improvements in energy efficiency and resource productivity, these gains have not translated into a reduction in absolute resource use at the global level,” said the report.

“Even in countries generally perceived to have advanced waste management systems, a circular economy is taking time to take shape,” added the report.

International support

Kenya has emerged as a regional leader in pursuing sustainable growth, but its efforts may not yield fruit without the support of the international community.

The international community has recognised that a transformation in the way countries use natural resources is a precondition for achieving prosperous, secure and resilient societies following the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change and the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.

“The circular economy can be a win-win for sustainable growth in emerging countries—not only helping to protect the environment, but meeting consumer demand and creating jobs in the process,” said Laura Wellesley, research fellow at Chatham House.

“As a regional leader on the circular economy, Kenya has huge potential to foster greater co-ordination in East Africa, before a critical window of opportunity passes,” added Ms Wellesley.