Doing Business in Kenya

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doing business in KenyaExpats 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. They ranked 92 out of 190 countries on the World Bank's 2016 Ease of Doing Business Survey.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, foreigners who've done well have realised there's little that can be done to avoid the corruption and ethnic division which undermine Kenya’s economy. Businesses have only recently started employing staff from various ethnic groups, and resulting cultural differences can be a hindrance rather than a source of strength.

For those who can get through the red tape and pitfalls, Kenya presents 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 among colleagues

Dress

Formal suits or smart casual

Gifts

Expected and appreciated

Gender equality

Patriarchal business environment

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.

Concept of time in Kenya

Meetings should begin on time, although there's little chance of an end time being adhered to. 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. Invite questions and only proceed once the deal's pedigree and history is thoroughly established. Kenyan businesspeople also have a low tolerance for risk and decision-makers tend to proceed cautiously, committing only once all information has been considered. This make take a long time and patience on the part of the expat businessman.

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

  • Do take your time over greetings and enquire about the person’s health and family.
  • Don’t start eating until the eldest member has – and don’t leave food on the plate.
  • Do convey respect to an elder or key business associate by clasping his wrist with one hand while shaking with the other.
  • Don't get angry or emotional about a business issue. Always maintain a friendly tone at meetings.
  • Do be patient because business processes and decisions take longer in Kenya.

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