• Irungu Houghton

Jobs with justice: A message for county leaders this Christmas

The chickens just came home to roost. Identity based political campaigns just deteriorated into discriminatory employment policies in two very different counties. The Kiambu County Assembly has just passed a motion to force employers to give seven out of all ten jobs to locals. Kilifi MCAs are now threatening to pass a similar motion. The risk to national cohesion today and tomorrow should be all too clear.


Africans are familiar with discriminatory “lock out” policies. Our recent history is full of it. Colonialism introduced hierarchical systems based on race, ethnicity and gender. Kipande pass books restricted our freedom of movement. Discriminatory laws classified where we could live, work and marry.


Drive to the home of one of Kiambu’s most famous freedom fighters Gitũ wa Kahengeri and he will tell you how the Gĩkũyũ were pitted against Luos for jobs and homes in the fifties; how the residents of Bahati and Kaloleni constituencies organized to desegregate their neighborhoods and smashed colonial designed ethnic enclaves and how he and the Kenya Land and Freedom Army took up arms to correct this indignity. There is a very sad irony therefore in what the Kiambu County Assembly has just done. Kiambu experienced the horror of colonial discrimination very acutely in the fifties.


Our diasporan cousins have not had it any better. They have resisted the indignity of slavery and discriminatory “lock out” policies and practices for four hundred years. They are still doing it. Over 100,000 men and women sued their employers for gender, sexual choice and racial based discrimination in the North America last year. Since Travyon Martin was killed in 2014, the Black Lives Matter movement have organized 2,500 protest marches to stop the use of lethal force by police against young African-American men.


Our story cannot be told without acknowledging how devastating prejudice, discrimination and exclusion was and is. Divide and rule policies have always been primary tools for undemocratic and divisive leaders. Cold calculations based on who belongs and who doesn’t, us and them, has always driven this thinking. It informs the treatment of the Rohingya of Myanmar, Libyan slavery and anti-immigration racism globally.


Fortunately, our constitution and labor laws forbids discriminatory policy and practises. If effected today, both County Governments and employers risk an avalanche of expensive labor discrimination law suits. In entertaining these ideas, our Kiambu representatives also lose the opportunity to provide real leadership for all the hopeless and unemployed regardless of their ethnicity.


After restricting jobs, County Assemblies could compel minority communities to register at Bureaus of Non-Majority Community Affairs and legislate Non-Majority Areas Acts. They could then try to prohibit inter-marriage, bank loans, procurement and essential services. All this is only a step away, if this Kiambu law is effected and Kilifi MCAs press on.


The economic challenges facing Governor BabaYao and Deputy Governor Nyoro play out nationally. Joblessness stalks too many young men and women. Kiambu youth between the ages of 15-34 years are set to grow by 40% and job opportunities are not growing as fast. Other counties like Kilifi face not only this challenge but also higher levels of poverty, inequalities and an acute sense of historical injustice. Given these challenges, what stops our constitutional promise on non-discrimination being raped by discriminatory “our people” county policies?


So what other options exist for leaders who want to govern all and not just those that share their mother tongue or last names? Fortunately, the team that produced the Kiambu Manifesto 2017-2022 need not look far. The “United for Kiambu” team were elected on an ambitious social-economic agenda that rested on inclusiveness as a core value and attractive investment projects.


Perhaps, we just need to remind them that it was this vision that got them elected. It is the vision of a competent and competitive workforce that will unleash the promise of their county. “Together we grow stronger” is not just a campaign slogan, it is what won the hearts and minds of voters. There are lessons here for other County Governments.


Lastly, it is worth adapting and applying the wisdom of Colossians 3.11 on this Christmas Eve. In Kiambu and all of our counties, there is not the circumcised or the uncircumcised, the resident or the migrant, the Christian or the Muslim, only the example of Jesus Christ, that’s all.


To those that celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, Merry Christmas. Enjoy this holiday season all.


First published Sunday Standard, December 24, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

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