Displaced, excluded, moving on: a study of refugee entrepreneurship in Kenya




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Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship



Peer reviewed



The global refugee crisis has grown in scale over the last 30 years. There are currently 25.4million refugees worldwide of whom 85 percent reside in developing countries (UNHCR, 2019). As a result of the protracted violence and instability in the East African region, Kenya has been on the frontier of receiving refugees and asylum seekers since the 1970s. However, the official approach of the Kenyan government has been to enact a unique encampment policy that has effectively stripped the refugee community of the right to free movement and employment across the country. Most refugees are restricted to camps located in predominantly arid and semi-arid areas that have often been subjected to socio-political marginalisation (Campbell et al, 2011). In effect, these refugees are denied the opportunity to contribute to the economy of the host country by using their entrepreneurial skills and resources to create value and enhance national productivity. In the same vein, the imposed restrictions make it difficult for the refugee households to support themselves, raise household income, and forge a path to long term resettlement or return. However, in spite of these constraints, the refugees are employing new strategies to overcome institutional and infrastructural barriers and challenges. This paper therefore presents a study of refugee entrepreneurs within Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. We examine the role of social capital- in its bonding, bridging and linking forms. We draw from in-depth interviews of key stakeholders, supplemented with archival documents and policy papers, to review existing policies and interrogate the models of refugee entrepreneurship in Kenya. We also examine the link between refugee resilience, self-reliance and ingenuity on the one hand, and entrepreneurial success and livelihood recovery on the other hand. We then propose a conceptual framework that highlights the role of social capital in overcoming institutional and infrastructural constraints to entrepreneurship among refugee populations.



Refugee Entrepreneurship, Social capital, Encampment, Kenya


Luseno, T. and Kolade, O. (2019) Displaced, excluded, moving on: a study of refugee entrepreneurship in Kenya. Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship Annual Conference 2019, Newcastle England. 14-15 November.


Research Institute

Centre for Enterprise and Innovation (CEI)