Tribal balancing in public recruitment is not as easy as it seems


The Sunday Nation


27 August 2023


Last Week, the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) was criticised in the Senate for what appeared to be tribal bias in its recruitment. Out of 1,406 Revenue Service Assistants employed, 403 (29 per cent) were Kalenjin and 285 (27pc) were Kikuyu. All other tribes shared the remaining 618 (44pc) of the posts.

When I read the news report, my first reaction was: where is the data of the tribal distribution of applicants? Without that information, it is not possible to determine whether the KRA recruitment was biased or not.

In 2016, the IEBC was in a similar situation regarding the gender balance of the shortlisted candidates for appointment as Commissioners. It appeared as if men had been favoured – 28 on the shortlist out of 36, or 78pc. However, a look at the distribution of applicants revealed that 574 men and 174 women had applied for the jobs. Therefore 4.6pc of women applicants were shortlisted compared to 4.2pc of men.

Unless we are able to do similar analysis with the recent KRA recruitment data, it would unfair to make any conclusions. Nevertheless, there is a bigger challenge when tackling the tribal balance question. This is that we have never defined what a tribe is. For that reason, we are not even sure how many tribes there are in Kenya. The often-quoted number of 42 (or is it 43, may be 44?) is fictitious!

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) recognises a person’s tribe as what the person claims it to be. The list from the 2019 census has 118 tribes! These include Arab, Asian, European and American Kenyans as well as people who said that their tribe is simply Kenyan.

I checked the recruitment portal of KRA and found that it has also adopted KNBS principal of asking the applicant to indicate their ethnicity. However, the list available has 36 tribes.

All this goes to show how difficult it is to check tribal balance empirically. Indeed, it is unfair of parliament and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) to simply criticise public institution for not having imbalance without advising them on how to remedy the situation.

So, the question that arises is: how would the recruiter ensure that there is fair tribal balance of the selected candidates? Can we develop a formula that all public organisations can use in order ensure that their staff reflects “the face of Kenya”? I will attempt to do that next week.

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