A failed minister hurts president and all of us

Saturday May 20 2023
kenyan leaders

Kenya’s President William Ruto takes a group photo with the newly sworn in Chief Administrative Secretaries at State House, Nairobi. PHOTO |PCS


A few days ago, Anglican Church clergy, led by Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit, faulted the government on, among other things, appointment to state jobs. Before the bishops made their announcement, there had been disquiet in the mainstream and social media, the political opposition, and the general public about criteria for appointment to state jobs.

Now, accusations that these are based on kinship should always be treated with caution because, in this emotive matter, perception can easily be mistaken for reality. It could well be that the person appointed was the best qualified and their ethnicity was just coincidental.

In Kenya, however, we have a history of appointment to state jobs being based on considerations other than merit. Just this March, an audit of public universities established ethnic bias in hiring of staff. In a column on the issue, I decried this practice, arguing that the university should be a place where orthodox thinking, popular beliefs and practices are interrogated; a space for communities of thought, not of ethnicity; a place where intellectual, not ethnic warriors are nurtured.

In the Kanu regime of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi, appointment to state jobs was based on political loyalty and kinship. It must seem surreal to the younger generation that when one journalist in 1980s pointed out the dominance of one ethnic group in appointments to state jobs, he was quickly arrested and detained without trial.

So we have a history of appointing ethnic kin to state jobs. Therefore, when the clergy and other authorities say that the vice exists and has, in fact, increased, it is not farfetched; it is within our governing tradition.

Of course, this practice is not unique to Kenya. The history of post-independence Africa is plagued by ethnic considerations in state appointments. The practice has crippled the continent’s development project.


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Mobutu Sese Seko, for instance, appointed incompetent tribesmen and loyalists to state jobs. These officials then went on to destroy whichever department they were appointed to. Ministries and parastatals collapsed under the weight of greed, mismanagement and neglect. The net result was that the country stagnated, then failed.

No doubt, those appointed, and their families profited, but the whole country suffered. The roads became impassable, hospitals ran out of medicines or doctors, schools became dilapidated, industries collapsed, and natural resources were auctioned to the highest foreign bidder. Poverty increased. Political instability set in. Today, the Democratic Republic of Congo has never recovered from Mobutu’s misrule. The tragic tale of the Congo is duplicated, to various degrees, in other African countries, including Kenya.

The best way to advance the wellbeing of your ethnic community, and the country, is by appointing the very best from whichever ethnicity. A successful minister benefits the appointing authority’s ethnic group and all of us. A failed ministry hurts both the president’s community and us all.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.