Thirty-five percent of employees at the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) are from one ethnic community in breach of a legal requirement for diversity in the sharing of jobs in public service institutions and State-owned firms.
A report tabled in Parliament shows that the Mijikenda has 2,274 out of 6,470 workers at the State agency.
The dominance of the Mijikenda is in breach of the National Cohesion and Integration Act, 2008, which bars a single community from occupying more than a third of employment positions in State-owned firms.
The Senate committee on Cohesion, which probed allocation of jobs at the port, has directed the KPA to offer preference to other communities when vacancies arise.
The report highlights struggles by the Public Service Commission to ensure that offices funded by taxpayers have a face of Kenya with all communities given an opportunity to serve.
“KPA should embark on affirmative action measures to ensure once positions become available they are filled in line with the Constitution and other relevant laws in as so far as ethnic diversity and inclusivity is concerned,” the Senate committee says in its review of KPA staffing.
The Mijikenda, a coastal community, comprises the Digo, Chonyi, Kambe, Duruma, Kauma, Ribe, Rabai, Jibana and Giriama.
The Luo community comes second with 733 employees followed by the Luhyia with 502. Another coastal community, Taita, has the fourth biggest number of staff at KPA with 496.
The 2010 Constitution introduced the ethnic diversity rule to check a historical trend where the tribesmen of those in power were favoured during recruitment and to promote national cohesion in the wake of ethnic-fuelled post-election violence of 2007 and 2008.
The Mijikenda account for a 5.29 percent share of the population based on the 2019 census, further highlighting their community’s over-representation at the KPA.
Revelations on the skewed staffing contradict the popular rhetoric by politicians from the Coast who have for years argued that the locals are shortchanged in employment at the agency, which runs the Mombasa port.
The Indian Ocean port is a vital artery for East African trade, handling fuel and other imports for landlocked neighbours such as Uganda and South Sudan.
The region’s main exports tea and coffee are also shipped out of Mombasa.
The report shows that senior jobs at the KPA are dominated by other ethnic communities, amid calls from Coast leaders to have more locals hired for the high-ranking positions.
Staff from the Luo community dominate the senior posts, holding 10 or 23 percent of the 43 posts followed by Kikuyu, who have nine or 20 percent.
According to Public Service Commission (PSC) diversity policy, all public service institutions will now be required to prepare measures to correct the ethnic imbalance.
Under the diversity policy for State Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), ethnic groups whose job representation surpasses their corresponding national population proportion are considered to be overrepresented.
The diversity policy was expected to tackle the problem of overrepresentation by setting hiring quotas for ethnic groups and disadvantaged classes such as the disabled.
The Senate report puts the KPA on the spot at a time when the agency is expected to replace over 900 workers who are set to retire by 2023.
“KPA could not provide evidence of the affirmative action measures they hope to take to ensure replacements are done in line with the Constitution and all other relevant laws,” the committee adds.
Recruitment at the ports authority has been marred in controversy with Coastal leaders pushing for a resident from the region to head it in addition to employment of more youth.
Lobbies and politicians from the Coast have opposed recent efforts to hire the KPA’s acting managing director, highlighting the challenges facing recruitment at the agency.
In July, it took the intervention of the Employment Court in Mombasa for the acting managing director, John Mwangemi, to assume office.
The court ruled that an earlier order that allegedly quashed Mr Mwangemi’s appointment was erroneous and at variance with the court’s handwritten records.
Commission for Human Rights and Justice had challenged the appointment on grounds that it was made in secret and violated the provisions of the recruitment process under the KPA Act and the Public Service Commission Act.
Mr Mwangemi had taken over in an acting capacity from July 1, replacing Rashid Salim, who had proceeded on a three-month terminal leave ahead of his retirement in September.
Mr Salim held the position in an acting capacity for more than one year following the abrupt resignation of Daniel Manduku over graft claims on March 28 last year.