Doing business

Current business situation

Kenya has grown economically to become one of the largest and most diversified economies in Sub-Saharan Africa. Within East Africa, the Kenyan economy is the anchor, as the largest in the region and is much more dynamic than those of other neighbouring countries.

The country's economy is much better linked to the other economies in terms of investment flows and trade due to its advanced infrastructure, human capital base, diversified economy and its role as a leader in the information communication revolution in the region.

The main sectors contributing to economic growth are:

  • agriculture
  • building and construction
  • infrastructure development
  • manufacturing
  • transport and services
  • tourism
  • wholesale and retail trade.

Since its independence in 1963, Kenya has followed a mixed economic development strategy aimed at attracting foreign direct investment. The government’s economic reforms have concentrated on strengthening private investment.

Kenya has an estimated population of 45 million and is projected to grow to 60 million people by 2030. It is also a very young country with almost 45 per cent of the population under the age of 15. The adult literacy rate is 87 per cent and the people are well educated, multi-lingual (including English) and have a strong entrepreneurial tradition. Specific business opportunities in Kenya include:
  • tourism
  • agriculture
  • transport and infrastructure
  • manufacturing
  • communications
  • energy
  • exploration and mining
  • building and construction
  • pharmaceutical.

Areas of interest to businesses are eco-tourism, mining, power generation, telecommunications, agribusiness and food processing.

The government of Kenya in collaboration with private sector, civil society, development partners and other stakeholders developed the Kenya Vision 2030, as the country’s development blueprint from 2008 to 2030. The vision aims to transform Kenya into an industrialising, middle-income country by the year 2030 and is based on three pillars: the economic, social and political.

Kenya has membership to the regional trading blocs of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East Africa Community (EAC) and is a beneficiary country under the preferential trade enhancing schemes offered by the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) legislation of the USA and the ACP-EU cooperation and various bilateral cooperation agreements.

Business culture

Business tips

Kenya is a multicultural and multiethnic country; Kiswahili is the local language with English the most widely spoken foreign language and the medium of instruction in primary and secondary schools and universities.

When introduced to someone for the first time, a short hand shake is sufficient. Hand shakes among people with a personal relationship are longer.

When greeting an elder, political leader or someone of high status, it is a sign of respect to lower your eyes and grasp the right wrist with the left hand while shaking hands. After the hand shake it is the norm to ask questions about the general well-being of the other person, their family or business in general. Rushing or skipping this part of the greeting process is poor etiquette.

Titles are important and people are generally addressed by their academic, professional or honorific title followed by their surname. Once a personal relationship has developed, you can address a person by their title and first name, first name alone or nickname. Wait for the Kenyan to determine that your friendship has reached this level of intimacy.

Kenyans often use metaphors, analogies and stories to make a point and are uncomfortable with blunt statements. It is important to be alert in order to decipher the message between the lines. With this in mind, criticism should be delivered in private and given in a circumspect manner.

Setting up in Kenya

A company incorporated outside Kenya may do business through a registered branch. The process of registration requires the company to submit registration documents to the Registrar of Companies and once the process of registration is complete, the Registrar will issue a Certificate of Compliance. Companies that may want to have representative or liaison offices are required to register using the same process.

All businesses are required to obtain a Personal Identification Number (PIN), which is the tax registration document, through the Kenya Revenue Authority.

Subject to a few restrictions on owning shares in financial institutions and agricultural land, there are no restrictions on the percentage of equity that foreign nationals may hold in locally incorporated companies.

Banking and finance

Currently there are 43 licensed commercial banks and one mortgage finance company. Out of the 44 institutions, 31 are locally owned and 13 are foreign owned. The locally owned financial institutions comprise three banks with significant shareholding by the Government and State Corporations, 27 commercial banks and one mortgage finance institution.

Foreigners can open accounts with any commercial bank - different banks offer different types of accounts to suit various needs and requirements. Most ATMs accept Visa cards.

M-Pesa, the world’s most successful money transfer service is commonly used in Kenya. It enables people who have access to a mobile phone and limited or no access to a bank account, to send and receive money, top-up airtime and make bill payments. A branchless banking service designed to enable users to complete basic banking transactions without visiting a bank branch.

Links and resources

Government, business and trade

DFAT country page – www.dfat.gov.au/geo/Kenya
CIA World Factbook – https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ke.html
World Bank Doing Business Index – www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/kenya
Capital Markets Authority – www.cma.or.ke
Central Bank of Kenya – www.centralbank.go.ke
East African Community – www.eac.int
Kenya Bureau of Standards – www.kebs.org
Kenya Investment Authority – www.investmentkenya.com
Kenya Revenue Authority – www.kra.go.ke

News and media

Business Daily – www.businessdailyafrica.com
The East African – www.theeastafrican.co.ke
The Standard – www.standardmedia.co.ke

Please note: This list of websites and resources is not definitive. Inclusion in this list does not imply endorsement by Austrade. The information provided is a guide only. The content is for information and carries no warranty; as such, the addressee must exercise their own discretion in its use. Australia’s anti-bribery laws apply overseas and Austrade will not provide business related services to any party who breaches the law and will report credible evidence of any breach. For further information, please see foreign bribery information and awareness pack.