Tyce, M. (2020) ‘A “Private Sector Success Story”? Uncovering the Role of Politics and the State in Kenya’s Horticultural Export Sector’, Journal of Development Studies 56(10): 1877-1893.


Kenya’s horticulture sector is often heralded as one of sub-Saharan Africa’s principal success stories. The country has become the region’s largest exporter of fresh fruits, vegetables and cut flowers to Europe and the sector is a major source of foreign exchange, employment and poverty reduction. Generally, the existing literature presents this as ‘ a private-sector success story’ , whereby a supposed limited role for the state allowed the private- sector to develop independently and innovatively react to shifting global market dynamics and sourcing strategies of European lead firms. This reflects the fact that research on Kenya’s horticultural sector has been dominated by scholars from a Global Value Chains/Global Production Networks (GVC/GPN) tradition, who tend to neglect the explanatory power of domestic political economy.

This paper challenges these market-focused readings, arguing that the Kenyan state – and particularly the broader political context in which it is located – has played a more important role in Kenya’s horticultural success story than has generally been acknowledged. Using an historically- grounded form of political settlement analysis, this paper shows how domestic political economy and state- business dynamics have fused with the more transnational factors identified by GVC/GPN scholars to drive rapid and constant growth in Kenya’s horticultural exports since the 1970s.