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Do Kenyans Still Face Racial Obstacles in Job Interviews?

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I’ve been picking up extra sources for the RSS feeds I read this weekend (future project, ask me about it towards the end of summer), one of which is Akiit, which describes itself as a “Daily Digest for African-Americans.” One of the first things that the website delivered to my Google Reader was a post on job-seeking for black jobseekers. This got me thinking about whether there is still a racial element when it comes to Kenyan companies in their recruitment policies.

I recognise and acknowledge that I am in a privileged position when it comes to considering this matter. Not only do I work for myself, but I have also been freakishly lucky when it comes to interviewing for jobs and contracts, to the extent that I have never considered my race to be a factor when I have submitted an application. When I wrote a post on job interview strategy earlier this year, I didn’t consider race to be worth mentioning when composing my list of tips. Nevertheless, it occurred to me that racial discrimination could be a factor in the Kenyan job market.

I have family, friends and acquaintances who have all been looking for jobs at some point, drawn from blacks, wazungu and wahindi. Thankfully, they all found jobs eventually, but I can’t say for certain if those who took the longest period of time to find employment had encountered any racism.

In the bad old days, given the choice between an incomer mzungu and a recent University of Nairobi graduate, large Kenyan companies would not have chosen the local, as they would have considered the latter less prestigious. Today, given the access to international media and materials available to graduates today, and taking into account the salary expectations, it might be fair to say that the playing field has been levelled somewhat. Regardless of how they might present themselves, rest assured that there are white people in Kenya who are living hand to mouth. True, they’re not living in Kibera, but they are struggling to keep themselves in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

What intrigues me, though, is whether resident Kenyans still suffer from any discrimination from prospective employers. Are they disadvantaged by a candidate having a lighter skin shade? Do some people apply only to Kenyan-owned firms because they worry that they might face international competition? Do our young graduates fear competition from abroad? Or is the Kenyan workforce so confident that they would welcome all comers, being assured of their ability to compete?

Obviously, the situation in Kenya is very different to that for non-resident Kenyans who live abroad, and so experiences of recruiting and hiring will not be the same. But for all I know there could still be an element of discrimination in Kenyan recruitment; I don’t know. Preferences may have moved from one race over another to one tribe over another. Regardless, this is wrong, and whether they are doing it openly or by stealth, those companies that do indulge should be ashamed of themselves. Nevertheless, I am fairly certain it is an issue that more than a few people have had to deal with. Feel free to share your experiences here.

[Image by Psi Mon]


1 Comment

  1. Tamtam says:

    White people living from hand to mouth in Kenya?????

    I can remember before I left home, the attitude as you point out, that hiring a Mzungu was more prestigious. Or if that was not an option a Kenyan who had studied abroad, before you hired a Kenyan who received qualifications locally.

    My memory , and experience of job hunting at home, was that it was always on a who you know basis. There were a few jobs that I got on my own back, but the rest were from tip offs, or friends who worked in organisations, who put in a word for me.

    When I first came to the UK, I experienced discrimination. I was called for interview, spoke to them on the phone. Noone could detect I was not White. However when I walked in the door, the red faces said it all. In some cases, I was told the job had been filled, as soon as I got there.

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