|Put merit before tribe in public service jobs
|By Koigi Wa Wamwere
Employment based on ethnicity is an old practice in Kenya. It is as old as tribalism and is a consequence of sacrificing merit at the altar of negative ethnicity.
British colonialism was the genesis of the vice. Depending on who resisted colonialism, the government divided communities into those who were loyal and rebellious and preferred to give work to the former and deny the latter. The ‘stubborn’ Luo and Kikuyu suffered discrimination the most. When Jomo Kenyatta came to power, he practised the same discrimination, especially against the Luo elite who rebelled against him, left Kanu and formed the Kenya People’s Union.
During the Kanu regime, the Kikuyu elite was targeted and their businesses were destabilised. Many were evicted from their land and homes. To consolidate its power, the regime believed it had to hold some communities back, including denying them jobs in the security forces, Government ministries and State corporations. Amalgamation of tribal fiefdoms
In the current Government, job discrimination persists. Cabinet ministers do not to serve Kenyans equally, but their posts are to woo or reward their communities for political support. They employ and give resources first to their communities before they invite others to pick crumbs.
In jobs in their dockets, Cabinet ministers give preference to their tribesmen and women. A look at any and every ministry proves this beyond doubt. They have turned the Government into an amalgamation of tribal fiefdoms that need Kenyanisation rather than tribal unity.
In Parliament a few weeks ago, Ndhiwa MP Mr Orwa Ojode tabled a list on alleged ethnic job discrimination. Yet after the referendum, he refused a Cabinet appointment because it was too small for his community! If he had joined, would he have been different from colleagues in the Cabinet?
To end ethnic job discrimination, we must accept the problem is a result of the tribal elite. To blame only the Kikuyu and not others is hypocritical selectivity, dishonesty, bias and a case of the kettle calling the pot black. It could also be sour grapes.‘Wisdom’ In higher political circles, exchanging State resources and political appointments for ethnic support is considered real politic, pragmatism, expediency and wisdom that no President can avoid, especially when the recipient communities do not complain about it and those who complain are considered politically too weak to matter.
Rather than condemn all cases of job discrimination, the tribal elite and their communities only complain when they are victims. Their dream is to get to State House so that they, too, can do the same.
By the way, ethnic job discrimination is not a preserve of Government. It is also common in the private sector, NGOs, professional associations, trade unions and religious organisations. To root it out, the entire nation must be cleansed. Victim In 1975, I applied for a job with National Council of Churches of Kenya, NCCK. I was invited for an interview, but I did not get the job. Instead, I was invited for another only to be told that I could not get the job because I am from central Kenya. But I am not from that region. I am from the Rift Valley! But it did not matter.
I was Kikuyu.
President Kenyatta was Kikuyu like me, but he detained me just when Mr Michael Blundell, a Mzungu, the chief executive of East African Breweries, was about to employ me.Many years later, I am still caught in the web of ethnic job discrimination. Due to politics of ethnic coalitions, the Government obliges tribal elite by denying the Kikuyu, Kamba, Luhya and Luo who live in the Diaspora — outside their ethnic homelands — major resources, Cabinet and other key positions allocated not on the basis of need and merit, but ethnicity.
Experience has taught me one thing: At one time or another, all communities have suffered ethnic job discrimination. In the hands of a Kikuyu, Luo or any other, a Kamba or a Luhya or any other has suffered discrimination and vice versa. Worse, no person or community is safe from ethnic job discrimination.
To eradicate the vice, we must put merit before ethnicity. If someone is most qualified, gets a job and serves all the public equally, it matters less what community one is from. When I am sick, do I look for a Kikuyu doctor or the best medic?
When I need a mechanic, do I look for a Kikuyu or the best mechanic? Who should teach your children, the best or a teacher from your community? When we look for a President, should we look for the most qualified or just anyone from our community? In sport, do we send the best Kenyan team or the best ethnic contingent? Did we fail to celebrate our victory during the Mombasa World Cross Country because almost all winners were Kalenjin? Should we sacrifice merit at the altar of ethnic balancing?
Given equal opportunities to learn and train, are there communities that cannot compete? Ethnic job balancing means discriminating against the more qualified in one community to accommodate the less qualified from another. Unqualified people from whatever community must not be employed for employment’s sake.
The writer is the Assistant minister for Information and Subukia MP