Kenyans are "experienced in stealing and perpetuating other crimes", the president has said, during a state visit to Israel.
Uhuru Kenyatta added that Kenya was "20 times more wonderful" than Israel, but "all we ever do is complain".
Kenyans were also abusers, and promoted tribalism, he said, in an address to Kenyans living in Israel.
Mr Kenyatta has been accused of failing to do enough to curb corruption and of stirring up ethnic violence.
His comments were seen as an attempt to encourage Kenyans to develop their country, like Israel, says the BBC's Wanyama Chebusiri in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.
He seemed to question why Kenya was lagging behind, and had to even learn about irrigation from a desert country, our correspondent adds.
However, many Kenyans believe that the president's speech was just rhetoric, and he was not serious about tackling corruption or ethnic divisions in the East African state, our reporter says.
They complain that ethnicity determines whether they get government jobs, and bribery and corruption are endemic in government, he adds.
Mr Kenyatta was accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of crimes against humanity for allegedly inciting ethnic violence after elections in 2007, in which more than 1,200 Kenyans were killed.
But the case was dropped in 2014 after the prosecutor's office said it did not have enough evidence against him.
He always denied the charges.