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About Kenya

by: Gert Jan van Reenen, Associate partner of Hofstede Insights
Currency: Kenyan Shilling = $0,00816 (
Capital: Nairobi
Time Zone: UTC +3
In this profile our experts have compiled the most important information for you to start doing business in Kenya. The country profiles are meant as general introduction and are linked to other documents from the platform that go into much more detail of each culture.
Kenya has a very diverse population that includes most major ethnic, racial, and linguistic groups found in Africa. The total population is around 50 million. Swahili and English are the official languages. Swahili is compulsory in primary education, and, along with English, serves as the main lingua franca between the various ethnic groups. Kenya's largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, make up less than a fifth of the population. Other big ethnic groups are: Luhya, Kalenjin, Luo and others.
Since Kenyan independence in 1963, Kenyan politics have been characterised by ethnic tensions and rivalry between the larger groups, devolving into ethnic violence in the 2007–2008 Kenyan crisis. (Wikipedia)
At micro level the culture of Kenya is extremely diverse, as expressed by different rituals, languages, etc. However, at the level of values, as expressed in Hofstede model, they have a lot in common. Implications for work and life in those countries for foreigners are quite similar.
Please note that the description below is based on estimated scores.
Kenya scores high on Power Distance, 70, indicating an appreciation for hierarchy and a top-down structure in society and organisations. The meaning is that there is much inequality in society in general and in organisations. Especially if your own cultural background is one of less power distance, this may be challenging. For doing business, there are important implications: your behaviour in general in terms of dealing with other people, decision making, etc.
Kenya, with a low score of 25 on IDV (Individualism), is a society with predominantly collectivistic traits. Apart from many other things, the implication is that all people are members of large in-groups (your direct family, your village, your tribe). Mutual loyalty, responsibility and trust are important characteristics, applying only in the in-group.
Kenya scores 60 on MAS and is thus considered a Masculine society. Status symbols, like titles (Mr., Dr., etc.), gadgets, cars are important symbols of who you are and your achievements in life.
Kenyia scores 50 on UAI (Uncertainty Avoidance); it is a mix of characteristics. For example, rules are important and yet applied with flexibility.
Probably Kenya has a short term orientation about 30 on LTO - Long Term Orientation); the focus on today is stronger compared with their focus on the future.
Kenya has a low score of 40 on IVR (Indulgence versus Restraint), meaning that it is a culture of restraint. The practical meaning is that Kenyans take life and work seriously, yet not extremely. There is also need for enjoying life.

Some cornerstones of Kenyan culture

There are some major differences between Kenyan and most western cultures. The differences relate to, amongst others, inequality in society and the way people relate to each other.
A striking feature of Kenyan culture to most westerners is the way people deal with each other in hierarchical terms. Inequality between people is considered ‘normal’. Inequality depends on the relative position of a person in a particular situation: elderly people are respected, as well as anybody else in a more senior position. For foreigners from more egalitarian cultures, this might be complicated: who is who, and what is his/her position?
In most western countries private and working life are, more or less, completely separated, while in Kenya relatives come in first place - always. The expression ‘time is money’ does not necessarily apply in Kenya, as it does in many western countries. Therefore, don’t be offended if appointments start late or are cancelled unexpectedly; it could be that something more important (i.e. family related) had to get priority. An apology will or will not be offered.
In spite of the fact that Kenyans are generally very dutiful, the merry characteristics of Kenyans can simply be described as jolly. Kenyans love to celebrate and have fun. Kenyan festivals feature a vibrant culture, heritage and most importantly pride. For an overview of holidays, see:

When in Kenya  

Good to know  

  • The best period to go to Kenya is not easy to determine as weather conditions are rather unpredictable. Roughly speaking: January through March and June through October are dry and hot seasons. Tourists come December - January and July - August.
  • ‘Jambo’ is the customary and informal way to say hello
  • Formal but hospitable welcome. Handshaking is the customary greeting in business; don’t rush it. Kenyans do this by paying a lot of attention compared to westerners; this is to show respect to the other person. While greeting and shaking hands, it is expected and normal to ask about the family, their health and well-being. To show respect to elderly people or people of higher status, grasping the right wrist with your left hand is the correct way to show respect.
  • Other ways to show respect: use professional titles such as «Professor» and «Doctor» or courtesy titles like «Mr.», «Mrs.», or «Miss.»
  • No shaking hands with women in Muslim areas.
  • In Muslim areas people greet each other by touching the heart with the left hand
  • Always hand over your business card, make clear who you are. It should be clear what your background is, your position and who or what you represent
  • Omit politics and talking about specific persons in conversations, unless you are familiar with someone.
  • Generally Kenyans are tolerant about drinking alcohol. In Muslim areas, or in the company of Muslims, it would be better to refrain from drinking alcohol
  • At business lunches or dinners, eat as much as possible with your right hand as the left hand may be considered as impure
  • Going out for lunch or dinner is a way to get closer in a relaxed and informal way.
  • Typically, the person who has initiated the invitation will pay for a meal in a restaurant, although you may have to fight for the check, even though you have issued the invitation
  • Check appointments the day before the meeting.
  • Take into account that Kenyans may be delayed. Apologies from their side are not necessary. Just accept this without comments.
  • In case you are invited to a wedding (this often happens in collectivist cultures), you can drop in at any time and leave when you want; make sure you have met with the most important persons.

Body language

  • Kenyans stand closer together when conversing than most Europeans.
  • Shaking hands with persons you are friendly with is a ritual of swinging arms; At more formal occasions shake hands as usual; grasping the hand also with left hand is considered a sign of respect towards people with status
  • It would be rude to accept presents with the left (impure) hand,
  • Between men: don’t be surprised if your host holds your hand when showing you around.
  • Beckoning should be performed palm down (palm up again is obscene gesture); not to be confused as dismissive gesture
  • Looking away, omitting eye contact, is a sign of respect extended by younger to older people

Dress code

The way people dress in Kenya is generally conservative. During business hours a suit and necktie for men is preferred.  Dressing this way is important as it is an indication of status and importance. Men generally wear dark suits and ties or the national dress; women should wear dark, demure business-style suits. When choosing your outfit, take into account that Kenya is a hot place. During the rainy season be protected against heavy downpours.



Doing business in Kenya can be challenging because of:

Experts Recommendation

Below you will find practical advice on what to do or not to do:

  • Make sure to get a ‘correct’ introduction; it would help a lot to be supported by your embassy, or someone close to the other party.
  • Make sure you get in touch and do business with people at your level. If you are the CEO, you will speak only with the highest person in charge. If you are not the CEO, make sure that you have the ‘right’ status and position (at least on your business card) to negotiate on behalf of your organisation.
  • As relations are extremely important, it is prerequisite to make time and be available. Your time may be limited, and from a Westerners’ perspective there may be no need to spend so much time on getting to know each other. A potential trap is to be ‘pushy’, seemingly being too eager to get a contract; such an attitude will backfire.
  • In social life there may be something like flexible time. However, especially in the private sector, it is important to be punctual for your appointments and business meetings. In case your host is delayed, be patient; you can be sure something important has happened needing to be taken care of first. In government offices and in the countryside, punctuality is probably less adhered to. It’s important to reserve some time for relationship-building and, for example, to invite your colleagues to dinner in order to get to know them better.
  • If invited by your host to their home, this is a sign of trust. From your side, you may consider to invite your business partner for a dinner to support development of trust.
  • Developing trust is a necessary requirement for everyone who wants to do business in Kenya. The way to achieve trust is by informal conversations and get-togethers frequently. Small talk (no heavy political issues) is fine and may include family: your children and your family in general. Politics and religion are subjects to be omitted at the start. Therefore, it is advisable to arrive timely at your appointments, to take your time for these ‘rituals’.
  • Schedule business appointments in advance. Remember that once you are familiar with your host, you may drop in (via secretary) without appointment
  • Like in many other African cultures, a Ph.D. or a physician is called “Doctor”. Be formal in addressing people: Mr., Miss, Mrs.
  • Good conversation topics: history, culture, soccer, coffee; in general, topics that may not cause embarrassment.  Bad conversation topics: drug traffic, politics, religion.