By Moreen Majiwa (@mmajiwa)
A few weeks ago the media covered an audit report conducted by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission on ethnicity in the civil service. The NCIC report showed despite the existence of the 48 communities in Kenya 80% of public services is occupied by only 6 communities – ethnicity continues to be an ongoing conversation not just on the street but in parliament as well.
However , unless you watch parliamentary sessions on TV or were actually at parliament on the 8th June 2011 you probably missed this..on 8th June 2011 Maragwa MP Elias Mbau stated that he was: “Concerned that the use of indigenous languages in public offices and national institutions is a major contributor to disharmony, suspicion and discomfort in public offices in the country>”
He then urged the Government to: “Ban the use of indigenous languages in all public offices, except by Government Field Officers at the level of locations and sub-locations in public barazas, where it is expected that nearly all of the audience understand the local language used.”
He stated the motion aimed: “to ban the use of vernacular languages in public offices as it causes disharmony and discomfort to those who may not understand a particular vernacular language and might stir ethnic hatred.”
He used as his main point of reference Article 7(2) of the Constitution that recognizes Kiswahili and English as the official languages of the Republic of Kenya. While the MP recognized that the article 7 (3) provides for the protection and promotion of diversity of the language of the people of Kenya, and the importance that language as tool of communication, as tool of culture and identity. He argued ethnicity had a negative aspect declaring “we have a good proportion of ethnic chauvinists both in this House and outside this House – who are inclined to see only the members of their tribe as people and also denigrate all others as something less.” He went on state that in the workplace and particular in the aftermath of the 2007/2008 post election violence language has been used a way that is exclusionary, discriminatory that fosters conflict.
Work place diversity is a complex issue when you consider issues of the gender, age, education, background, ethnic group, language adds another layer to the complexity. What has your experience of use of indigenous languages in the workplace been, positive or negative? Do you agree with the motion put forward by MP Elias Mbau to ban the use of indigenous language in the workplace? And would it have the intended effect of reducing discrimination and promoting social cohesion?