By Sheelagh Mahoney, Head of Intercultural Training, Farnham Castle Intercultural Training
As part of the East African community, Kenya boasts the largest GDP economy in South East and Central Africa, making it an attractive target for UK businesses.
Over 60 UK companies directly operate from Kenya, including Barclays Bank, GlaxoSmithKline and British Airways, and with a population of 41 million — there are vast investment opportunities to be harnessed.
Even though Kenya is still labelled as a developing country — it was ranked 136 out of 189 for ease of doing business by World Bank (industrial construction is challenged by contractual delays but it has strong insolvency and credit information laws) - it is becoming increasingly popular for UK investors and exporters, with tea, vegetables, games and baby equipment amongst the most popular imports.
Follow these ‘tips for success’ when doing business in Kenya:
1. In Kenya the working pace is generally slower than in the UK. Punctuality is expected but many Kenyans regard 30 minutes late as acceptable.
2. Although there are 62 languages spoken in Kenya, official languages are Swahili and English. However, be aware that English usage is different, so use simple, straightforward language and speak clearly and slowly.
3. Do say "Jambo?" while greeting, immediately after a handshake. "Jambo?" means "How are you?"
4. Expect Kenyans to stand very close to you when speaking — personal space is not a major issue.
5. Avoid using puzzled facial expressions, Nigerians prefer facial expressions that imply empathy and believe angry or blank expressions indicate a person is ignorant or obnoxious.
6. Direct communication is not usual in Kenya; they will often use metaphors and stories to make a statement. Kenyans will avoid confrontation and causing any offence.
7. It is customary to bring a gift for any new connections you make, a traditional British item is suggested, however avoid expensive gifts which will be seen as bribery.
8. Do dress formally for any business occasions. Men should wear a suit and a tie, and women, should wear a dress or skirt suit that falls below the knee.
9. Any business connections made will expect loyalty and compliance. In return they will offer support and help for both business and personal issues.
10. Meetings are unlikely to have any formal structure or a specific ending time. Kenyans believe the meeting only ends when all parties have finished.
11. Be aware of a person’s title and position in a company when discussing business — only senior managers or higher are likely to be decision makers.
12. Patience is needed as negotiations may be difficult until trust is established. Business visitors should also expect plenty of competition.
13. In Kenya, life comes before work. If people have home and family tasks that need to be done in business hours, they will knock-off work to complete them and then return to work later.
14. If you plan to do business in Kenya, then try and visit the country to get a feel for how they work. Making yourself known within influential social circles is also a way to obtain potential business contacts. Groups such as the Rotary Club, Lions Club and the Chambers of Commerce are good places to start.
15. Educating yourself on the Kenyan culture is recommended - Kenya has no single prominent culture that identifies it, instead it consists of various regional cultures.
As a sizeable country, slightly larger than France, getting to know its various business capitals is crucial to success. Whilst Nairobi may be the largest city, Malaba tops the World Bank Kenya report for ease of doing business.
Nairobi has a multicultural composition, with a number of churches, mosques and temples within the city. For UK businesses, Nairobi is an ideal location due to its infrastructure and liberal markets, contributing 60% of Kenya’s GDP.
Due to British colonisation, social conventions and business etiquette in the capital leans more towards British culture than any other part of Kenya. Gender roles in Nairobi’s business centre are also more open minded than other Kenyan cities.
When doing business in Nairobi, like any other large city, visitors should be aware of their surroundings. Although it has improved in recent years, Nairobi’s crime rate is still relatively high. Asking your business counterparts for advice on the best places to stay in the city is recommended.
A vibrant country, brimming with talent and innovation for the future, Kenya welcomes British investment.