The following article originally appeared in The Star.
There was a profound ethnic narrative that went largely uncommentated last week. At The Hague and at home this narrative, however understated, cannot be ignored because the sooner it is unpacked and brutally and truthfully analyzed, the sooner we can understand just what being Kenyan is all about; and obviously whether this will lead to greater or lesser accommodation, cohesion, and integration.
First the Hague: watching the preliminary stirrings of the case against the Ocampo Six at The Hague, one could not avoid noticing how, for all the ranting from the rooftops about their unassailable belief in local expertise, the suspects had hired a battery of foreign lawyers to lead in their legal representation. One argument, obviously, was that the forum being a foreign one, the Ocampo Six would have been daft to shun those with hands-on expertise on all matters ICC—who in this case happened to be largely foreign.
The counter argument is that it remains the same: when we can afford it, we will seek treatment in foreign hospitals, take our children to foreign schools, colleges and universities, buy English tea, support Manchester United or Arsenal, don Italian suits and so on even when there is an existing, credible or qualified local option. This argument makes the case that we have been weaned on a menu that dictates "foreign things good, local things bad." That perhaps it is not essentially the hierarchies of qualification that really count but rather, it is all about entrenched social and political hierarchies of identity.
The answer, perhaps, could be found in the data released last week by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission headed by Dr. Mzalendo Kibunjia following their ethnic audit of the civil service. This audit analyzed "the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Data System for March 2010 against the population census report of 2009, as well as other official documents." It has provided us with revealing insights about how "Kenya" really operates.
First, there are the navumilia kuwa Mkenya (I persevere as a Kenyan) ethnicities: only 20 out of the over 40 listed Kenyan communities are "statistically visible in the civil service which is the country’s largest employer." Some 23 communities have less than 1 percent presence in the civil service representing the marginalization of over 50 percent of Kenya’s ethnic groups: this "navumilia" group includes the Teso, Samburu, Pokomo, Kuria, Mbere, Gabra, Bajun, Basuba, Other Kenyan, Tharaka, Orma, Rendille, Burji, Taveta, Njemps, Swahili-Shirazi, Dorobo, Kenya Arab, Kenyan Asian, Boni-Sanye, Elmolo, Unknown, Gosha, Dasnach-Shangil, and Kenyan European.
Second, there are the najivunia kuwa Mkenya (I’m proud to be Kenyan) ethnicities. These are 7—the Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Luhya, Kamba, Luo, Kisii, and Meru—and have a combined civil service presence of 81.7 percent; despite commanding a population share of 76.7 percent: a variance of 5 percent. Five of these, the Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Luhya, and Luo occupy about 70 percent of the civil service. But there are hierarchies here: while the civil service representation of the Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Kisii, and Meru is greater than their population share, that of the Luhya, Luo, and Kamba is less. The greatest variance is that of the Kikuyu where the difference between population share and civil service share is 4.7 percent.
Third, and related to the hierarchies within the najivunia kuwa Mkenya group, there is the direct correlation between the two communities that have enjoyed the presidency since independence and their overrepresentation in the civil service: the Kikuyu and Kalenjin have a 39 percent representation in the civil service despite a combined population share of 31 percent.
How will the now-coalescing political alliances seek to tackle this question? How is an Uhuru Kenyatta (Kikuyu) and William Ruto (Kalenjin) presidential ticket expected to slay this dragon when it would mean significantly dispossessing its supporting ethnic constituencies of their current civil service share? Conversely, and in response, is it not interesting that despite a population share of 10.8 percent and a civil service presence of 9.0 percent, the Luo dominate the Office of the Prime Minister with 21.85 percent?
And here lies the crux of the matter: whereas it is easier and more convenient to focus on the ethnicity of power, there has to be commensurate attention to the power of ethnicity. The first is a hardware question while the second is a software one. And this software has ensured that, even when we are not in power, ethnicity has continued to hold us in its thrall undermining the argument that it is hierarchies of qualification rather than hierarchies of identity that count.
For how else does one explain the fact that even in positions that do not require high academic or educational qualifications—such as those who are engaged as messengers, drivers, cleaners, tea makers and so on—the same seven najivunia kuwa Mkenya communities account for over 80 percent presence in the Civil Service? This is how Job Groups A, B, C, and D are constituted: Kikuyu ( 20.41 percent); Kalenjin (13.78 percent); Luhya (11.67 percent); Luo (11.03 percent); Kamba (10.18 percent); Kisii (8.42 percent) and Meru (5.26 percent).
Total: 80.75 percent representation for just 7 of over 40 listed Kenyan ethnicities. Given that academic qualifications are hardly required in these job groups, perhaps it is considerations of identity that are paramount? Perhaps this, despite the political shouting about the undying belief in Kenyans’ sovereign ability, was what was actually at play at The Hague with regard to foreign legal experts, no?