Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ethnic Balancing In The Workplace

A Kenyan complained in the Daily Nation recently that out of 421 short-listed applicants at the State Law Office, 124 (30%) were from the same community. We may not expect every office to accommodate every tribe but the arithmetic in this case is rather off kilter. If the 70% balance is to be shared by even a half of the other tribes, do the arithmetic and you’ll know why Kenyans are so bitter with one another. This situation is duplicated in many other instances. In the recent clandestine police recruitment that was later nullified, 80% of those accepted were from just 4 regions. Kenyans have no problem being from different tribes. They have a problem with inequality and such anomalies must be redressed if we are expected to live together as one happy family.

What Kenya needs is not war cries and machetes but civilized mechanisms to fight the tribalism monster. One idea would be the formation of a commission mandated to oversee balanced ethnic, age and gender diversity in employment, both in the public and private sectors. Career progression could also be thrown in the mix to curb discriminative promotions. The commission would have to be well legislated with a strong constitution, otherwise some elites might use it as an avenue to enrich themselves and incubate worse bitterness among wananchi. With a head office plus regional offices country wide, and a strong database, it should periodically monitor recruitment and dismissals. At any one time it should be able to avail to Kenyans a general report on the ethnic, age and gender balancing of workers in organizations like KRA, Treasury or Local Government for example. Needless to say, the commission must itself be a representative of all the ethnic groups in the country and be completely autonomous (free from politicians and other interested groups). It should also have some powers to name and shame as well as impose fines on employers who do not tow the line.

The commission would obviously have to take things gradually, starting with government and other public offices, and spreading to the private sector in the course of time. With time, it should have all major and not so major organizations in it’s database with the support of the law so that it remains in force even with change of governments. I’m not by any means suggesting firing and replacing of workers en-masse but I see no reason why it’s first job should not be to oversee a thorough audit of the ministries and then a balanced inter-ministerial reshuffling. There are some government offices where everyone is considered Tribe X and addressed in language X until proven otherwise.

It’s a behemoth task and a logistical nightmare, and I’ll be the first to admit that such a feat is not easy, but what is? A repeat of the recent fighting in future, albeit worse? Kenya does not lack for brilliant men and women who can run an organization of this kind. We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations. Kenya can choose either to use the opportunity to mend herself or bury her head in the sand and let things smooth themselves out. They’ve been smoothing themselves out since independence and see where we landed.

The benefits of such a move will obviously not be immediately felt. Rather we’ll be laying good groundwork for our future generations.

The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.