Working in Kenya

As the economic hub of East Africa with a strong tradition of entrepreneurship, Kenya is a land of business opportunity for expats who can navigate the red tape and economic pitfalls.

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Doing business

Kenya presents a dynamic yet challenging business opportunity, with a rapidly expanding IT and telecoms sector and increasingly strong connections to both Eastern and Western business communities. Other thriving sectors include energy, construction and agriculture, while many expats also get involved in education and development supported by NGOs.

Kenya was ranked 92 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2017, up 21 places since 2016. The country has also passed reforms in the areas of starting a business, getting credit and registering property to make it easier to do business.

However, the Kenyan economy is in many ways undermined by rampant corruption, poverty and ethnic divisions. To succeed professionally in Kenya, expats will need patience, respect for cultural differences, tolerance of uncertainty, and an ability to build personal relationships with business partners.

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Business culture

Business culture in Kenya is governed by the concept of harambee, which involves a sense of community, responsibility, and mutual assistance. In contrast to the individualism of Western cultures, Kenyans prioritise respect for family, community and elders, and focus on building solid relationships in business. Making the effort to get to know Kenyan colleagues will be beneficial for building trust in business.

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Management style

Business structures are hierarchical and senior employees will seldom consult with those of lower status, but corporate environments usually remain very cordial and friendly. Social standing is important and you should include official titles when introducing or addressing someone.

Communication style

Kenyans avoid conflict and favour evasive or subtle remarks rather than outright refusal, so you may need to interpret their responses. Avoid blunt statements as they may appear rude and avoid displaying anger or using profanities.

Relationships

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

Punctuality

The Kenyan concept of time is traditionally fluid, but though you may experience ‘Kenyan Time’ in every day interactions, punctuality is becoming more important in the business world. Meetings should begin on time, although there's little chance of an end time being adhered to.

Fast facts

Business Language

English is the language of business.

Business hours

Usually from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Dress

Formal or smart casual attire is the norm in the Kenyan workplace. Men tend to wear suits and ties, while women cover their shoulders and wear dresses or skirts that go over the knee. Suits are also becoming more widely accepted for women.

Greeting

Kenyans shake hands in greeting and make sure to greet everyone in the group individually, starting with the most senior person. Address people by their name and title at first.

Gifts

Gifts are appreciated, and it is customary to bring a gift when invited to a colleague’s house.

Gender equality

Kenya remains a very patriarchal society, and women in the workplace tend to require more experience and better qualifications before being hired for the same job. Gender relations tend to be more progressive in Nairobi than in the rural areas.

Expat salaries

Expat salaries in Kenya may vary depending on the region and industry, but salaries are usually highly competitive. Most large companies also include benefits like housing and education allowances, a company car and private health insurance.

It's a great opportunity to earn more money, see the world and meet different people.

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All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in June 2017. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you are aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.