The traditional approach to managing people through an emphasis on administrative procedures continues to play a dominant role in Kenyan organizations. Such procedures cover recruitment and selection, wage and benefits administration, setting up training programmes, employee relations, compliance with employment and labour legislation, and so forth. These are the practices at the heart of personnel management. This tradition is even more evident in the large public corporations that are currently being privatized, as well as in the majority of small and medium-sized locally owned firms. The more progressive approaches generally referred to as human resource management (HRM) are mainly to be found in professional firms and subsidiaries of foreign multinational firms.
This chapter takes a critical look at the way the challenges of managing people are problematized, the thinking underpinning the formulation of management approaches, the way these approaches have been shaped by national and other factors. It also considers how the existing management approaches in the country can benefit from more appropriate theories and practices that are now beginning to emerge in the contemporary management literature.
The evolution of management practices in Kenya should be seen in the historical context which goes back to the colonial era and the onset of a capitalist mode of production. The links with Western capitalism are traceable back to the late nineteenth century. According to Swainson (1980), the establishment of a European settler class marked the beginning of a market economy, much of which was channelled into agricultural production. The growing of so-called cash crops like coffee, tea, pyrethrum and sisal, coupled with the absence of any viable natural minerals led to agriculture becoming the mainstay of the economy. To this day, agricultural production and in particular the processing of agricultural commodities employ a large proportion of the working population—about 78 per cent, but agriculture accounts for only about 30 per cent of GDP. Productive activities by indigenous people were systematically stifled by the colonial government which