Understanding the circular economy in Kenya
Over the last decade the circular economy has become popular in the Global North and is beginning to gain traction in the Global South. Yet analysis of this sustainability concept is notably lacking in the Global South, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, this study analyses the concept to answer what forms the circular economy is taking in Kenya. Doing so reveals where and how the concept is manifesting within this particular context, and how this compares to the archetype of the circular economy established in the Global North. Research was conducted through case studies using an inductive approach to theory development, built upon interview data. The empirical evidence illuminated three different forms of the circular economy: the ideal type that could not be identified in practice as it is unrealistically idealistic, an actually existing type generally articulated by small and medium-sized enterprises, and lastly an instrumental type mostly performed by multinational corporations. Notably the Kenyan forms of the circular economy identified conflicted with the dominant technocentric conceptualisation and often demonstrated ‘quiet sustainability’. This was largely due to the lower-middle income context of Kenya. This highlighted how the technological fundamentalism of the dominant conceptualisation excludes quiet sustainability contributions that are vital to realising the ideal type of the circular economy in Kenya. In doing so, the dominant conception of the circular economy from the Global North is generally instrumental and subsequently is at times enabling new forms of greenwashing in the Kenyan context.