Tribalism is prevalent in Kenya

June 11, 2017

Tribal discrimination is when a person is treated less favourably than another person in a similar situation because of their ethnic origin status. For example, it would be direct discrimination if a real estate agent refuses to rent a house to a person because they are of a particular ethnic background. It is also tribal discrimination when there is a rule or policy that is the same for everyone but has an unfair effect on people of a particular ethnic origin  and is commonly called indirect discrimination. Tribalism is still prevalent in Kenyan workplaces, with over 80% of respondents from a diversity study reporting tribal attitudes in businesses.Despite the high percentage, gender diversity, work and life initiatives were still seen to be of greater importance to Kenyan businesses.The study of 30 Kenyan businesses found 40% of Kenyan businesses ranked gender diversity as the most important issue to address, while only 13% identified cultural diversity as a key priority. One of cultural diversity researcher told your blogger the high percentage of Kenyans who identified that tribalism was still present in the workplace means it’s still a front-of-mind issue for employers and employees.“Kenyans are not saying that 80% of workplaces are full of tribalism, they’re recognising that it’s too simplistic to say the issue is totally dead and gone,” researcher says. “The number sounds high, but it’s like a consciousness number. It would be too risky for us to say tribalism no longer exists, as this would mean we accept things the way they are right now.” Despite placing a higher importance on gender diversity, 55% of respondents said they also had cultural diversity initiatives in the workplace. A further 72% said they were also going to be implementing new cultural diversity initiatives in 2017. “There needs to be an understanding that organisations can simultaneously work on all of these issues. There shouldn’t be one focus,” researcher says. “They should be working towards the inclusion of all people.”Researcher says Kenyans need to understand that everybody can contribute.“If an individual in the workplace in Nairobi or Mombasa sees or hears something which doesn’t sound or look right, do something about it. This can simply be speaking to the individual or manager in charge, but Kenyans shouldn’t just let it go because then it will become part of the culture,” researcher says.

Examples of tribal hatred studied in Kenya include tribally offensive material on the internet, including blogs, e-forums, social networking sites and video sharing sites, offensive comments or images in publications, offensive speeches at a public rally which now has taken a turn for the worse as the country is gearing up for August general elections which is less than two months away. Also common are tribal comments in a public place, such as a shop, workplace, park, on public transport or at school and abusive comments at sporting events.For Kenya to progress as a country, the government should aim to ensure that Kenyans of all backgrounds are treated equally and have the same opportunities.Stiffer laws should be made to make it against the law to treat you unfairly, or to discriminate against, on the grounds of ethnic origin.There are organisations that also run awareness sessions and make sure the organisation understands their obligations and rights when it comes to tribalism. For leaders and managers, it’s about understanding what type of workplace you want to create.Individual managers and leaders need to walk the talk and have an extra responsibility to role model the right behaviours,” researcher says.The study also found three in five Kenyan businesses didn’t feel that tribal diversity was valued in their workforce.Researcher says gender equality has been a prominent issue in the media in comparison to tribal diversity, partially because of the reporting requirements around it.“It will stay the number one issue in the next few years thanks to the legal reporting requirements which give it some extra oomph. This reporting tends to drive good behaviour,” researcher says. “This type of reporting doesn’t exist in the tribal diversity space and it won’t be tackled from a compliance perspective, but the biggest chance for change comes through the increased discussions about the Africa rising,” researcher says.Such discussions can frame tribal diversity as something which provides benefits and opportunities to businesses.When Kenyan businesses see it as an imperative and an opportunity, this can be a more powerful driver of change than compliance reporting.Businesses in Kenya need to understand if they want to grow and expand they can do so by harnessing the opportunities which come with tribal diversity.Everyone has a role to play to help ensure that Kenyans from diverse cultures and backgrounds have the same opportunities as others to participate in the political, economic and social life of Kenyan communities.The government need to undertake a wide range of activities to build awareness about the rights and responsibilities that individuals and organisations have under the discrimination laws of Kenyan constitution.There is also a need for major focus on undertaking research and education projects to tackle tribalism and promote greater understanding between people of different cultures and backgrounds.

Contador Harrison