Monday, April 18, 2011

Kibunjia Commission move a double-edged sword

Sunday Nation 17 April 2011

Recently, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission interpreted its mandate rightly or wrongly as including publication of reports on the ethnic composition of offices in the public service.

In their first such report, the commission indicted the office of the President and that of the Prime Minister as major culprits in loading their offices with their tribesmates, at the expense of other deserving citizens.

All in all, the report indicated that a few Kenyan tribes took up over two-thirds of the jobs in the civil service, leaving the majority of tribes under-represented in government.

Soon after the publication of the report, both the Office of the President and the Prime Minister’s office issued statements indicating that they either do not directly hire their own staff, or that the figures were exaggerated and calculated to cause embarrassment to one or the other Principal.

Indeed, the Public Service Commission accused the NCIC of ignoring the progress achieved over the past decade in improving ethnic balance in the civil service!

Such protestations of innocence do not do much to address the inequities identified in the NCIC report, and only serve to whitewash a reality that all Kenyans are familiar with.

Whenever one is appointed to a senior position in the public service, they often take it upon themselves to load their zone of influence with their tribesmates in a show of largesse to their “people”.

Those who do not do this are lampooned by their relatives as being selfish and misguided, and are often at risk of losing their jobs for some minor infringement.

Given the scenario outlined above, the NCIC report has its merits as long as it exposes this dangerous practice that feeds the “winner takes all” mentality in our politics, resulting in losers refusing to accept defeat, and winners gloating greedily about their good fortune.

However, reports such as these have a very serious downside, and may end up doing more harm than good.

Ethnic statistics may open up the potential for everyone to claim that they are being marginalised, and to demand government jobs without regard to merit or qualification.

In any case, many tribes are really just colonial constructions that the imperial powers used to understand, subjugate and exploit “natives”.

Many of the so-called tribes are actually a conglomeration of neighbouring ethnic communities with similar culture and similar-sounding languages.

Examples of such ethnic constructions will necessarily include the Luhya and the Kalenjin, but many other “tribes” share this attribute.

Is it possible for the NCIC to release statistics for, say, the number of Kisas, Marakwets, Maragolis, Sengwers or Terik in government?

Also, during the last census, many Kenyans indicated that their tribe was “Kenyan”.

Can the NCIC release information on what proportion of “Kenyans” hold positions in the “Government of Kenya?”

If this information is missing, wouldn’t this only feed the perception that they are victims of blatant discrimination?

Finally, it would be interesting to know the method used to collect information on tribe in the civil service.

The Public Service Commission’s own application form (PSC 2 Revised 2007) does not have any item on the applicant’s tribe (except for “languages spoken”), so it is a fair assumption that the information was largely based on conjecture and not fact.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine

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