News 2008


Ethnic Animosity Enters the Work Place

Business Daily (Nairobi)

15 February 2008

Jim Onyango

The post-election violence which has snowballed into ethnic animosity has crept into offices and mid sized firms. Employers say their workers do not trust each other, translating into lower productivity.

What begun as violence triggered by the election results has quickly turned into a ethnic hatred which now threatens to eat into the fine fabric of the work place.

So bad is the situation that managers and company owners are having it difficult to rally around employees to perform.

Mr George Wainaina, the managing director of Aster Traders Limited, a transportation firm, recently brought the whole picture to the fore when he narrated how some of his employees had asked him to sack the tea girl because she was from another community.

"Some of my employees approached me to say the tea girl could poison us" said Mr Wainaina. "But she has been my best employee for the last six years, I cannot stay a day without sipping tea prepared by her."

Mr Wainaina is in a dilemma - fire the tea girl or retain her and risk tension in the office.

So bad is the situation that workers in various firms have taken to ethnic grouping in different corners to discuss the folding political situation in the country.

"The decay is so big. It will take us along time to realise ourselves as one nation" said David Githere, an official of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

PK Patel, the owner of Nakuru based Njoro Canning Factory, says he has not been able to attract labourers.

"I normally have 400 workers, now I can barely employ 200. Most of them have run away, they don't trust each other so they cannot work together" said Patel.

Patel's testimony goes to show how bad the post-election crisis - now running into tribal hatred - is quickly turning Kenya's work force upside down.

Disruption to the smooth flow of work is likely to set in as working colleagues shun contact with those who don't belong to their communities.

Already, several companies have suffered low productivity following the late resumption of duty when most workers could not travel to their duty stations because of transport problems or illegal road blocks by hooligans.

Some CEOs we interviewed said they were caught between a rock and a hard place as they have had to reshuffle their work force to ensure continuity in production.

"We have had to hire professional counsellors to help our workers cope with the ethnic tension in the our factory" said a CEO of a major plastic manufacturing firm who requested not to be named.

The Chamber of commerce says the ethnic tension in most firms may take long to heal and this could translate into low productivity.