Business etiquette, language & culture


The official languages of Kenya are Swahili and English – with a very high standard of spoken and written English. Furthermore, English is used for teaching in all schools from primary upwards. In addition there are a further 60 or so other languages spoken, including Bantu, Nilotic and Cushitic African languages, as well as some Middle-Eastern and Asian ones too.


Kenyan society and culture

Kenyan society is based around the extended family and close friends, and respect for family, community and ancestors is key. This social grouping provides support for one another through a concept called Harambee, (from the Bantu word meaning to work together), which is defined by mutual assistance, mutual responsibility and community self-reliance, thus ensuring there will always be a group to turn to in times of need. Society is hierarchical, and children are brought up to respect those such as parents and elders at the top. When Kenyans meet someone for the first time, they may ask several personal questions to establish where they fit within the hierarchy. This may seem intrusive to a westerner, but is not intended to be rude.


Meeting and greeting

Shaking hands is the normal way of greeting. If in a meeting or group, greet everyone individually, ideally the most senior first. When shaking hands with men, these can be quite firm and prolonged. Jambo (or hujambo) is the most common way of saying hello, and if someone says Habari gani? (How are you?) you can reply nzuri (fine). Address all people with their full name or academic, professional or honorific title followed by their surname, switching to first-name terms when knowing them better. Men over the age of 35 are often addressed as Mzee, and women over the age of 21 as Mama. After the handshake it is common to ask about one’s health, family or business etc.


Business etiquette

English is very widely spoken and understood, and much of the way of working in Kenya is not that different from the west. Kenyans will always wish to appear accommodating, and it is essential to remain mild-mannered and polite. Although in much of Africa the concept of time is fairly lax, Kenyans want to be accommodating, so business meetings will usually begin on time, although an end-time is less-specific. Many business meetings in cities – particularly in multinational and private companies – are likely to be run on-time, but less so in some government organisations and rural areas.


Kenya public holidays 2017




14th April


Good Friday

17th April


Easter Monday 

1st May


Labour Day

1st June


Madaraka Day / National Day

26th June 


Idd ul Fitr / End of Ramadan*

1st September 


Idd ul Azha *(Muslims only)

18th October 


Diwali (Hindus only)

20th October 


Mashujaa Day

12th December


Jamhuri Day

25th December 


Christmas Day

26th December


Boxing Day



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