In recent weeks, there has been concern being raised that new government appointments under the Kenya Kwanza administration seem to be dominated by one ethnic community.
While much of this has been manifested through banter and memes on social media, some have indicated that the pattern of skewed allocation of top State jobs is at the expense of other communities and entrenches marginalisation in government.
“Since Ruto got into office, he has been hiring people from only two tribes and you will see this if you look at the Kenya Gazette,” said Raila Odinga during a recent news interview.
“All Kenyans pay taxes and that is not the proper way to constitute a cabinet or hire Principal Secretaries (PSs),” he said. “Even if some regions did not vote for you, these are public officials, not politicians.”
This criticism prompted Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua to make his controversial remark that the government is like a company which has shareholders who have the first right to dividends.
An analysis of 97 key appointments made by President William Ruto since he took the reins of power indicates that the new administration is maintaining the pattern of top State jobs coalescing to just two communities and that has characterised Kenya’s public service for decades.
Since coming into office, President William Ruto has appointed 24 Cabinet Secretaries, six judges, 51 PSs and 50 Chief Administrative Secretaries (CAS). The president has also named more than 60 individuals as board directors or parastatal chiefs.
Out of the appointments by President Ruto listed in the Kenya Gazette as of May this year, the Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities tie at 21 per cent of the appointees. Kenyan Somalis, Luhyas and Luo follow in the number of appointments at 12 per cent, 10 per cent and 8 per cent respectively.
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The appointments we looked at stopped short of the hundreds of persons named to task forces, select committees or as department heads to ministries and state departments.
It however indicates that the Kenya Kwanza administration is keeping with a tradition of rewarding top jobs to ethnic blocks based on voting patterns, despite assurances from the President while on the campaign trail that he will break this tradition.
“We have agreed that we want to walk one journey and that we will break the curse of tribalism; in the next general election we will forever bury the politics of dividing Kenyans along tribal lines,” Ruto said during a church service at Dagoretti Catholic Church in August 2021.
“Let us find ways of uniting all Kenyans. I know our friends who prefer seminars and retreats and conferences are at it again planning how five or six men will share power and positions,” he said. “I want to tell them with humility that as you plan how to share power and positions, there are more than 15 million Kenyans who are expecting jobs, business opportunities, and food production so that we all walk together as Kenyans.”
Today, however, the president seems to be walking back on his words and is marching in step with the skewed ethnic compositions that have characterised public service in past years. A study by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) in 2016 found that employment across State corporations is highly influenced by politics.
The NCIC recommended that parastatals be insulated from political interference and intrusive bureaucrats to ensure inclusivity and observance of the law.
The recommendations came on the back of an NCIC audit on 187 parastatals in Kenya that found that the country’s six largest ethnic groups take the bulk of parastatal jobs.
“These communities comprising the Kikuyu, the Kalenjin, the Luhya, the Luo, the Kamba and the Kisii form 79.9 per cent of parastatal employment,” explained NCIC. “This leaves 20.1 per cent of opportunities available for the over 36 ethnic communities.”
Additionally, the study found that in over 36.8 per cent of the parastatals, the ethnic group of the largest number of employees is similar to that of the chief executive officer, an indication of how ethnic bias is cascaded down government ranks.
“Findings demonstrated that parastatals that are headquartered in particular regions in the country tended to have more of the locals than any other ethnic representation in the workforce,” explained the NCIC.
The NCIC stated that this representation of various ethnic groups within parastatal employment seems to follow the ratios in the national population composition. Overall, however, the bigger communities seemed to be marginally overrepresented.
“All communities forming more than 11 per cent of the national population i.e Luo, Kalenjin, Kikuyu and Luhya were overrepresented in parastatal employment by more than one per cent,” said the NCIC.
“Other over-represented ethnic communities in parastatal employment include the Taita, Mijikenda, Embu, Swahili, Kisii and Borana.”
Experts have indicated that having minority communities represented in government including in managerial positions can have a positive impact on the policy level and lead to increased trust in public institutions.
This is part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16 on peace, justice, and strong institutions.