Kenya is a popular business destination due to its free enterprise economy, and boasts the largest economy in East and Central Africa as measured by gross domestic product (GDP). The service industry is strong, particularly the telecommunications sector. The capital, Nairobi, is a regional commercial hub providing plenty of growth opportunities for companies.
Direct communication is not common, particularly between strangers. Diplomacy is very important, and Kenyan people will always offer evidence and additional points so that their ideas and arguments are delivered sensitively. Closer relationships may involve a greater direct of direct communication. But protecting the sanctity of the relationship is always important.
Because of this, a number of tools are used by Kenyans to get their points across, such as metaphors and stories. You must listen carefully and ‘read between the lines’ to avoid messages getting lost in translation. Directness will not go down well, nor will blunt statements with no attempt to be sensitive.
Avoid showing anger, as Kenyans are proud of their ability to keep control and calm. In business situations, loud voices are occasionally used in disagreements but you should avoid doing so unless the relationship is more established.
You should also bear in mind that honour is so important in Kenya that often people will say avoid telling the truth if it could be hurtful or misconstrued, or could shame someone.
Company structures are normally well-defined throughout Kenya, particularly in businesses owned by families. Opinions of all employees are welcomed, but senior managers will always make decisions. Authority and credibility is generally conferred on the basis of experience and education.
When networking do consider the person’s title and position in the company; the hierarchical nature of business in Kenya means that unless you’re talking to a decision-maker you may not make much progress.
Meetings differ depending on the companies involved so don’t assume an agenda will be set. It is considered rude in Kenya to begin proceedings without enquiring as to the health participants’ families; small talk is essential and you should allow it to flow freely.
As is probably expected in a culture where relationships and honour is highly valued, meetings rarely have a scheduled end point, and will continue until all participants have had their say and are happy with the outcome.
Ethnic groups: Kikuyu 22 percent, Luhya 14 percent, Luo 13 percent, Kalenjin 12 percent, Kamba 11 percent, Kisii 6 percent, Meru 6 percent, other African 15 percent, non-African (Asian, European, and Arab) 1 percent
Language: Swahili (official), English (official), Kikuyu, Kamba, Dholuo, Ekegusii, plus around 60 other languages
Currency: Kenyan shilling (KES)
National holidays: January 1, (New Year’s Day), April 22 (Good Friday), April 25 (Easter Monday), May 1 (Labour Day), June 1 (Mandaraka Day), August 31 (Eid al-Fitr – end of Ramadan), October 10 (Moi Day), October 20 (Kenyatta Day), November 6 (Feast of the Sacrifice), December 12 (Independence Day), December 25 (Christmas Day), December 26 (Boxing Day)
Business hours: 9am – 4pm (1 hour for lunch between 1 and 2pm). Some businesses open on Saturday mornings
Kenyan people are natural team players; they are keen to avoid shaming or embarrassing others and are very diplomatic. This makes it easy to organise and facilitate team work, but do bear in mind that Kenyans often favour the right thing to say if it is less hurtful than the truth. Therefore progress may at times be stifled because participants may wish to avoid potentially harmful statements. A strong leader may be required.
Business-casual wear is best although you are more than welcome to wear business suits and more formal wear if you wish. Generally speaking the dress code is conservative so bear this in mind if attending social functions outside of your business activities. Kenyans generally dress up for important social occasions, such as going to church or going out in the evening.
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