WE MUST CONFRONT THE GHOST OF ETHNICITY IN PUBLIC SERVICE AND INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING

A mix of cultural dispositions, values and approaches are a good buffer as we try to fight corruption and other manifestations of bad governance. Our tribes ascribe different significance to different values, so the more diverse we are and the more cultures melt into the pot of public service, the more we will be able to guard ourselves from the imperfections of singularity.

On Tuesday 20 September, the reality of how Higher Learning Institutions in Kenya are heavily ethicized hit the country with a rude awakening. Uasin Gishu Governor, Jackson Mandagor and His Nandi counterpart Cleophas Lagat led locals in the demanding the ouster of Prof. Laban Ayiro as the Acting Vice Chancellor of Moi University on account of not being of the Kalenjin descent. The Governors threatened a disruption of the University’s scheduled.

There are two things at play here. The Ministry of Education proven ineptness at handling transitions in institutions of higher learning, and a deep culture of ethnic bargains that characterize our public service. Moi University is a curious case. Professor Mibey, the outgoing Vice Chancellor finished his tenure sometimes in the first quarter of the year. There are claims that even a sendoff party in his honor was held, but then he mysteriously and un-procedurally slid back to office sometimes in June this year. Moi University is not the only university experiencing a messy transition. Kenyatta University is another ticking bomb, with its transition heavily interfered with, and the ministry seemingly unable to intervene and ensure stability.

Beyond this Ineptness by the ministry of Education, Kenya’s civil service and institutions of higher learning are the embodiment of the bad demons of negative ethnicity in this country.  In a research undertaken by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission in the Universities, while the Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin, Luo and Kamba, make up 66 per cent of the country’s population, they take up 93 per cent of the jobs at Masinde Muliro University, 89.8 per cent at Moi University, 87.3 per cent at Egerton University, 86 per cent at Jomo Kenyatta University, 82.3 per cent at the University of Nairobi and 81.7 per cent at Kenyatta University.

While Kenya has well over 48 Tribes in the public service, the top six tribes control, 82.6 % of the government leaving just about 17% for the remaining 42 tribes, according to a report released by the Public Service Commission in 2015. 11 Communities are over represented while 23 are grossly underrepresented.  An example is while the 2009 census places the largest tribe in Kenya, Kikuyu, at 17.2 % of the Population, they hold 23.4 % of the civil service accounting for a 6.2 over representation.

When it comes to specific Institutions, the Presidency is guilty of having 45.4 % of employees at Statehouse coming from the President’s tribe and 35% of Staff at the Presidency’s cabinet are from one tribe. Almost all government corporations are likely to have disproportionate ethnic representation depending on who heads the corporation.

At the County Government Level, the situation is worse. In a report done in 2015, 29 Counties out of 47 had breached the law that requires that at least 30% of the County Staff be non-locals. In the report, Bomet County had 97.9% of its staff as Kalenjins as Nyamira County too, having the same percentage of Staff as Kisii. Kirinyaga had 97.8 % of Staff as Kikuyus as Kisii County had 97.5 Staff as Kisii, Tharaka Nithi had 95.7 Tharakas.

Counties like Kilifi, Mombasa, Bungoma and Narok had a very encouraging show of embracing ethnic diversity.

Some measures have been undertaken to correct the situation. In 2015, The Public Service (Values and Principles) Act, 2015 was passed which stated in part that the public service may appoint or promote public officers without undue reliance on fair competition or merit if an ethnic group is disproportionately represented in the public service or in a public institution.

While some of this disproportionate representation are historical, and the Act and practice may cure it gradually, the situation has not been helped by a growing perspective that plum jobs within the Jubilee government are a preserve of two tribes. This perception is fermenting hate and discontent that may be dangerous to the future of the country.

This is where leadership is required. Beyond the law, we need policy measures with timeframes that will work towards rationalizing ethnic representation in the civil service, National government and County Governments. These measures cannot be restricted to proportionality in new hiring alone as this will perpetuate the perception for unnecessarily length periods.

A mix of redeployment, inter-institutional and inter-departmental transfers and early retirement for willing persons will go a long way in laying a firm foundation for an ethnically diverse and proportionally representative civil service and government.

Some people argue that we may be obsessing too much with ethnicity and sacrificing merit and competency. This argument is justified, but it ignores a number of facts.

Ethnic diversity in civil service and government is now a national value, supremely ratified and adopted in the Constitution of Kenya. As such, as a nation we are bound to actualize and live it.

A mix of cultural dispositions, values and approaches are a good buffer as we try to fight corruption and other manifestations of bad governance. Our tribes ascribe different significance to different values, so the more diverse we are and the more cultures melt into the pot of public service, the more we will be able to guard ourselves from the imperfections of singularity.

This would be a great point to throw a challenge to the President. The President launched with flair a new political outfit that focused on the quest for national unity; it would be excited to see him commit to rationalize the staffing at the Presidency before the General election. Symbolism goes a long way in setting pace, it is time we saw leadership that transcends rhetoric.

Despite the very best of his efforts and speeches, the reality that confronts President Kenyatta is that Social Cohesion Indicators show that the Country is more ethnically balkanized during the subsistence of his presidency than during the Grand Coalition government. This reality needs to be confronted urgently.