Sunday, November 13, 2011

Finally, tribe is king in the Kenyan public service

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 13 November 2011

Last Wednesday, a parliamentary committee made a decision that should have wide-ranging repercussions across the governance structures in this country. The parliamentary Labour and Social Welfare Committee reportedly rejected the nomination of Ms Winfred Lichuma to be the chair of the National Gender and Equality Commission, and questioned the grounds on which the selection panel overlooked three others in making their choice.

Apparently, the panel rejected the top three contenders on the grounds that their nomination would skew the ethnic composition of the commission and other government organs, and run afoul of the constitutional requirement for ethnic balance in state institutions.

A point of concern was that their ethnicity was determined by others, and none of them was asked about their tribe during the interviews. For instance, it was assumed that Prof Maria Nzomo was Kikuyu despite having a mother she considers to be Kikuyu and a father she considers to be Kamba. To further muddy the waters, she is married to a person considered to be Luhya.

Another candidate, Dr Jane Dwasi, was rejected allegedly because despite having Luhya parentage, her father had moved to “Luoland” and she now “prefers to be identified as a Luo”. The selection panel allegedly decided not to nominate her on the grounds that another of her “tribesmates” had already been appointed to a senior post in another constitutional commission.

Serious concerns

Two serious concerns emerge in this case. The first regards the injustice of allowing others to define an individual’s ethnicity using some vague criteria.

The examples of Prof Nzomo and Dr Dwasi demonstrate the difficulty inherent in using a vague social attribute to make decisions that have a bearing on people’s lives and the opportunities available to them. For no fault of their own, and in spite of their obvious qualifications, they were stood over because it was thought that their brilliance was subordinate to the tribe they were boxed into by some government functionary which, in any case, turned out to be inaccurate.

Ethnicity is a very complicated social construct, and must be approached with great care. For instance, a European student of mine was scandalised to learn that children whose parents hailed from different ethnic communities were considered to belong to their father’s tribe. She felt that the only thing the children shared with their father’s tribe was the language. Their personalities and values were so heavily influenced by their mother that they should, for all intents and purposes, be considered to share her ethnicity.

The second concern is the relevance of tribe in national decision-making. In a functioning meritocracy, people take credit for their own success, and accept responsibility for their failures without excuses. In Kenya, it seems we are moving towards a system where the fortunes of our tribesmates will determine how far we go in securing public office.

If one intends to apply for a senior post in government, they must make sure that none of their tribesmates apply for the same job. They must further ensure that they find a way of flaunting their ethnicity in a way that is obvious to the interviewers, so that qualifications become secondary to that ethnic expression.

Tribe has finally become the key qualification for positions in the public service.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and lecturer, Moi University’s school of medicine

No comments:

Post a Comment

Say something about this post!