Social Structures, Customs and Behaviors in Kenya

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Kenyans are a fun-loving, hardworking, social, and hospitable lot. The social environment in Kenya is amongst the most favorable for visitors given the open attitude Kenyans have to social differences, and it is a strength that Kenya can effectively capitalize on to attract and retain existing and potential foreign investors in all sectors of the economy.

Are they Individualists or Collectivists?

The Kenyan way of life is highly social and collective with extended families, relatives, friends, and the immediate community influencing people’s ideas, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, and principles.

  • Neighbors are considered an extension of one’s social system.
  • Every individual has a role to play especially in the upcountry where work is delegated among family members from the oldest to the youngest.
  • Although household work is delegated among family members, women will often do more such as caring for the children, fetching water, cooking, tending the garden, and work traditionally assigned to women.
  • As peace-loving folks, Kenya’s contribution in peace initiatives such as the cessation of South Sudan and war against Alshabaab in Somalia are a few illustrations of this.
Massai women dressed in cultural attire

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Social Behaviors

“Proud to be Kenyan” is a popular slogan among Kenyans, and yes, they have a reason to be proud.

    • Kenyans embrace new cultures and norms easily. They have been known to go to overseas countries in Europe for one week and come back with an accent!
    • They rarely discriminate against people because of their color, nationality or race. In fact, they seem even friendlier and eager to help out foreigners.
    • A common social behavior among Kenyans, especially the low-income class, is the tendency to expect (and to a certain degree demand) tips for anything, from offering directions to carrying luggage.
    • The majority of Kenyans identify themselves by tribal origins, a point well illustrated by their tendency to ask for one’s second name. The downside to this is growing tribalism.

Kenyans are often eager to display their affluence in a bid to impress, if not to influence your perception of their social status. Many have taken loans, borrowed from friends, and even lived beyond their means to give the illusion that they have money when they do not. Bad as it sounds, this is a social behavior that any product with a recognized brand name can take advantage of, Kenyans will easily buy a brand not for what it offers but what it represents.

In Kenya, they love their food especially “Nyama Choma” or “Nyam Chom”, which is the local name for charcoal-grilled meat. The craze for this delicacy is not its tantalizing taste but the bond it creates among family and friends. In fact, you can never go wrong finalizing a business deal over a tray of well-done Nyama Choma, because that’s how they love their meat, well done!

Source by James E Harrison

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