Doing Business in Kenya

Expats who've found success doing business in Kenya bring several key skills to the boardroom table: patience, respect for cultural differences, tolerance of uncertainty, and an ability to build personal relationships with business partners. The country achieved a ranking of 61st out of 190 countries in the World Bank's 2018 Ease of Doing Business Survey.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, foreigners who've done well in Kenya have realised there's little that can be done to avoid the corruption and ethnic division which undermine the country's economy.

For those who can get through the red tape and pitfalls, however, Kenya presents a dynamic business opportunity, with a rapidly expanding IT and telecoms sector, and increasingly strong connections to both Eastern and Western business communities.


Fast facts

Business language

English.

Business hours

9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Greetings

A handshake is an appropriate greeting – start with the most senior person in the group and be sure to shake hands with each person present.

Dress

Dress neatly and presentably. Dark formal suits are standard.

Gifts

Gift-giving is common practice in business. However, gifts should be small and tasteful. Stationery branded with one's company logo is usually an appropriate choice.

Gender equality

Traditionally, Kenyan culture tends to be patriarchal and the corporate environment does sometimes reflect this. However, this is slowly changing as the country modernises.


Business culture in Kenya

Business culture in Kenya is governed by harambee, a concept involving mutual assistance, responsibility and community. Harambee also relates to Kenya's group orientation, in contrast to the individualism of Western cultures, and respect for family, community and ancestors is key.

Management style

Kenya is largely a hierarchical society in which deference to seniority is rigid and in which senior employees will seldom consult with those of lower status. Social standing is important and official titles should be included when introducing or addressing someone.

Communication style in Kenya

Blunt statements are best avoided as they may appear rude. This can make it hard to decipher people’s true meaning or intentions as outright refusal is rare. Instead, evasive or subtle remarks may need to be interpreted. It's also important that expats control their emotions and avoid displaying anger or using profanities, especially in public settings.

Concept of time in Kenya

Meetings should begin on time, although there's little chance of an end time being adhered to. Spending time on small talk is important – rushing this aspect of a meeting will make a bad impression. The Kenyan concept of time is traditionally fluid, and expat businesspeople that value punctuality are likely to be frustrated.

Business meetings in Kenya

Tradition and history are greatly respected. Kenyan businesspeople have a low tolerance for risk and decision-makers tend to proceed cautiously, committing only once all information has been considered. This may take a long time and requires patience on the part of the expat businessperson.

Networking in Kenya

Business success is closely connected to interpersonal success, so it's vital to invest time in getting to know potential partners and understanding their culture and background. Building a relationship should always take priority over adhering to a deadline.


Dos and don’ts of business in Kenya

  • Don't rush greetings

  • Do enquire about the health and family of associates

  • Don't get angry or emotional about a business issue. Always maintain a friendly tone at meetings.

  • Don't rush proceedings or decision making

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