Kenyanization and its affect on startups

I was recently reading this form for a work permit for non-Kenyans:


I think this single form sums up why Kenyan companies thus far haven't been able to be pan-African, let alone global powerhouses.

Aside from the glaring omission of anybody being non-European, non-African and non-Asian (i.e. everybody from North and South America), I noticed that the underlying thrust of the document is to make sure all companies located in Kenya are geared towards becoming more Kenyan (except of course, all the international non-governmental and diplomatic organizations which bypass this whole process).

It seems like GoK (or most of it anyway) doesn't understand that every country has to choose indiginezation of its domestic industrial sector OR allowing its industrial base to compete at a global level.  Indiginization can work in countries like Saudi Arabia where the focus is purely on resource extraction and not on building global companies - but it doesn't seem like Kenya is on that path.  Kenya seems to me to be a place of commerce where it can really take advantage of trade with other countries much like Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, etc... have done in South East Asia.

You'll notice that the largest Kenyan bank is KCB as the 59th largest bank in Africa.  Who knows how small KCB is when compared to the global field.  


There is no natural reason for Kenyan banks to be so low on the list.  Kenya is one of the major economies on the continent, it has an educated work force, it has a large domestic market with which to nurture companies - yet there is no way for a Kenyan company to scale because of the insularity of the immigration regime.

Is there any impetus within the government to address this problem?  I'm concerned about what my plan B is as a startup trying to be pan-African with a headquarters in Nairobi.  When I first moved to Nairobi, I thought this was a global city like New York where I had worked with Indians, Swedes, Burmese, Brazilians, Americans.

Here I'm friends with people from all over the world but they all work for the UN and their employers bypass the GoK which otherwise fights so hard to keep foreigners from working and building businesses here.

Is there a solution or is it just going to get worse?  People I've spoken to say 'come to Rwanda' or 'come to Mauritius' or even 'come to Ghana' .... can a company have a headquarters in Kenya and run a tech company with pan-African and global ambitions?
5 responses
Hi Nelson, I got your post from Alan Orth. I have stayed in Kenya too and I like the way you put it. Kenyanization is a very big issue. Even their migaration process is so confusing. You get an alien card when you have a work permit or something of the sort, and getting the work permit sometimes you need an alien. I could not understand that vicious circle surely.
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