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Key findings
  • Half (49%) of Kenyans say pollution is a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem in their community.
  • More than half (55%) of respondents say the primary responsibility for reducing pollution and keeping the community clean rests with ordinary citizens. About one- third would assign this responsibility to their local (25%) or national governments (10%).
  • An overwhelmingly majority (91%) of Kenyans say the government should do more to limit pollution and protect the environment, including 74% who want the government to do “much more.”
  • Public opinion is evenly divided as to whether the benefits of natural resource extraction, such as jobs and revenue, outweigh associated environmental costs.
  • A large majority (85%) of Kenyans want the government to regulate natural resource extraction more tightly in order to reduce its negative impacts on the environment.

Kenya’s rich diversity of wildlife and landscape makes it a top tourism destination. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism sector generated $7.9 billion in 2018, contributing 8.8% of gross domestic product (GDP) while providing jobs for about 1.6 people (Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife & Heritage, 2020; Muli, 2021). Recovering from pandemic shutdowns, tourism grew by 83% in 2022 compared to the previous year (Miriri, 2023).

As such, tourism is emblematic both of Kenya’s wealth and of its stake in environmental protection, as pollution of the air, water, and soil due to urbanisation, poor waste management, agriculture, and industry – including the tourism industry itself – threatens the health of the economy as well as of the population (UNEP, 2023; ASAP East Africa, 2019; Health Effects Institute, 2020).

At the same time, Kenya has emerged as a leader in the fight against environmental degradation and climate change. Home to the Green Belt Movement founded by the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Muta Maathai, Kenya has been a pioneer in banning single-use plastic bags, joining the Clean Sea Initiative, and, as of 2020, banning single-use plastics from its beaches and parks (UNEP, 2021; Ighobor, 2011; Kimeu, 2023).

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 questionnaire to examine Kenyans’ experiences and perceptions of pollution, environmental governance, and natural resource extraction.

Findings show that about half of Kenyans consider pollution a serious problem in their community, ranking deforestation and trash disposal as their most important environmental issues. A majority expect action from fellow citizens to address the menace.

But they also expect “much more” from the government, including tighter regulation of the natural resource extraction industry, and think environmental protection should be prioritised even if that should be at the expense of job creation.

Richard Kweitsu

Richard Kweitsu is a PhD student in political science at the University of Florida.