Business culture

in Kenya


  • Appointments should be made at least two weeks in advance. It is important to confirm the meeting time and date two or three days before the meeting.
  • In Kenyan business culture, titles are important. People will address one another by their academic, professional or honorific title, followed by their surname.
  • Once a personal relationship has developed, it is acceptable to address a person by their title and first name, just their first name or their nickname. It is best to wait for your Kenyan counterpart to determine when it is appropriate to interact with this level of informality.
  • Meetings usually start and conclude with everyone shaking hands, exchanging business cards and engaging in small talk.
  • To formally begin a meeting, each person will stand up and introduce themselves to everyone present.
  • The seating positions in a meeting are usually based on the hierarchy of those present.
  • Business meetings in Kenya are often long as everyone is expected to contribute to the meeting.
  • In the public sector, all decisions are made by superiors, then passed down to employees. Ideas may be generated by both staff and superiors.
  • In the private sector, ideas are generated more often by employees, but most decisions will be made by the superior. 
  • Attempts to rush a meeting often result in lengthening the meeting as Kenyans prefer to take their time when discussing the agenda.
  • Large meetings usually have a coffee break while small meetings will have coffee or tea on offer during the meeting.
  • Most meetings and negotiations are carried out in English.


Respect is integral to successful business dealings in Kenya. For example, when greeting someone of higher status in a business setting, it is a sign of deference and respect to lower one’s eyes and support the right forearm with the left hand while shaking hands. This greeting is usually accompanied by asking questions about the general well-being of the person, their family and the business. Skipping or trying to rush this form of greeting is perceived as poor etiquette. During meetings, everyone is provided with an opportunity to contribute to the meeting. Every remark, criticism or suggestion is given consideration. Thus, to build rapport with your Kenyan business counterpart, respect everyone present at the meeting by listening to their thoughts and by showing deference to those of higher standing.


  • Business in Kenya tends to operate on ‘Swahili Time’. It is generally expected that if a meeting is set to begin at, for example, 8:00 am, it may well not properly start until 9:00 am. By a similar token, if you arrive late for a business meeting, it is rare for someone to be irritated, especially if you flag in advance that you may be late.
  • However, employees will often go to great lengths to arrive on time for work. Many will leave more than ample time for their journey to work as they will be factoring in unseen delays with public transport. 
  • A common way to build relationships with business partners is through sharing meals.
  • English is widely spoken, particularly in a business context.
  • Education level is highly regarded in Kenyan business culture. Regardless of one’s work experience, the person with higher education will be highly respected by others.
  • There are geographical differences in business practices. For example, in the capital city of Nairobi, business is often fast-paced. Meanwhile, in the coastal city of Mombasa, business is conducted at a much slower pace.
  • Many Kenyan businesses place high importance on ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR). This comes in different forms such as contributing to the local community, initiating social and environmental projects, or promoting Kenyan culture. Any efforts to assist a Kenyan company in their pursuit of CSR would be highly appreciated.
  • Most of Kenya’s labour force work outside the formal sector, either as subsistence farmers or in the urban informal sector.
  • It is not uncommon to find nepotism in Kenyan businesses as a way to uphold obligations to one’s family.
  • On the Corruption Perception index (2017), Kenya ranks 143rd out of 180 countries, receiving a score of 28 (on a scale from 0 to 100). This perception suggests that the country’s public sector is somewhat corrupt.

Author : Scroope, Chara. (2019). The Cultural Atlas