Public Governance and Technological Capabilities in the Kenyan Leather Industry

Giovanni Pasquali, Valentina De Marchi

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This article focuses on small-And medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Kenya's leather sector. It explores how public governance impacts SMEs' technological capabilities and access to global value chains (GVCs). By public governance, we mean all government regulations and interventions set in place to shape the organization of value chains. Drawing on interview data, the article compares Kenya's leather handbag and footwear manufacturers. On the one hand, handbag SMEs have succeeded in upgrading and entering GVCs through a combination of foreign knowledge and partnership with local universities. Despite meeting with public governance barriers, this process has enabled the transfer of technological capabilities from foreign-owned firms to a number of emerging SMEs owned by Kenyan nationals. On the other hand, leather footwear production was developed during the 1970s by large firms under state support. As protectionist measures were lifted in the 1990s, firms shut down and producers moved into the informal economy, replicating outdated capabilities in a context of price-driven competition, thereby limiting upgrading and participation in GVCs. The article concludes by comparing these findings with the experience of Kenya's apparel manufacturers and highlighting the critical need for GVC research to account for the role of public governance in shaping firms' technological capabilities and access to global markets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-441
Number of pages23
JournalAfrican Affairs
Issue number484
Early online date19 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2022

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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