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Global Development Institute

The comparative political economy of plastic bag bans in East Africa: why implementation has varied in Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda

Pritish Behuria

Abstract

The environmental damage that plastic waste is causing has catalysed government action against plastic bags around the world. Despite anti-plastic bag policies gaining traction globally, there has been limited investigation of how the implementation of bans has varied. This paper is the first to comparatively examine why there has been variation in implementing bans on plastic bags, using the examples of three East African countries: Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda. Explanations of why anti-plastic bag policies have been blocked in other countries usually rely on business power-based explanations, with the assumption that plastic manufacturers (and the broader manufacturing sector) have obstructed implementation. The comparatively limited strength and size of plastic manufacturers in Rwanda, as compared to Kenya and Uganda, suggests that business power may partly explain why the ban in Rwanda has been implemented. However, business power-based arguments do not explain the variation between implementation in Kenya and Uganda. In both countries, anti-plastic bag actions have been announced repeatedly but implementation has stuttered, with commitment to implementation stronger and less contested in Kenya than in Uganda. Criticisms of the existing business power literature tend to be weak on examining why governments may go ahead with policies that are against the interests of businesses. This paper argues that developing country government’s ecological modernisation initiatives may be shaped by pressures from three levels – business power, the local environment and the external environment – to explain why implementation of plastic bag bans has varied in Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda.

Keywords

Plastic, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, business power, structural power, instrumental power, plastic bags, East Africa, comparative politics

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