Doing business in Kenya

In Kenyan companies you will always encounter highly hierarchical structures with authoritarian managers. However, employees’ actual loyalties are often ethnically based.

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As a foreign manager in Kenya, it is imperative to take into account the ethnic differences along which teams should be formed and where people’s loyalties actually lie. This is not always obvious at first glance.

For Kenyans, ethnicity creates identity and can therefore not simply be dismissed to fit in with corporate structures. Family and clan obligations are almost always more important than loyalty to the employer. Moreover, the gap between rich and poor in Kenya is huge and causes a gap between top management and employees on a lower level.

There are many truths

The fact that things are often more complex than they appear to be is also evident in the Kenyan communication style. Kenyans will seldom let themselves be nailed down to an unambiguous “yes”. The actual answer to a question is usually somewhere in between as definite no would be extremely rude. Instead, people like to guess what the other person would like to hear, and this is the answer that will be given. Asking questions does not necessarily get you anywhere in Kenya, because you can never rely on the answers. Things are never spelled out but are approached slowly and carefully with rather vague statements of an approximate truth.

It’s all a question of who you know

In a changing environment with strong group orientation, it is essential to cultivate and nurture contacts as well as personal relationships. Without a network, you are nobody in Kenya. That is why it is essential for business success to be regularly present on site. Telephone and email communication can only serve to bridge periods of absence. Otherwise, you will quickly become “out of sight, out of mind.”

So be sure to regularly invite your Kenyan business partners to one of the many luxury restaurants to show your personal appreciation. Business is also promoted in some business-oriented clubs.

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