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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Kenya Immigration Handles First Racist Complaint After Decades Of Ignoring Abuses

For ordinary Kenyans the immigration department has always been the guys who give out passports (albeit with great difficulty) Period. Those Kenyans who have travelled know that the immigration department in any country has got lots of other stuff to do.

Now the Kenyan immigration department has made history by summoning a senior director at East African Breweries over allegations of racism at the workplace. It is the very first time anything like this has happened.

For decades Indian and European immigrants (many of them arriving in the country penniless only to become overnight millionaires) have abused and harassed locals with abandon. The folks at immigration have always responded by promptly renewing the work permits of these abusers of human rights and even granting some of them citizenship illegally and at lightning speed.

Over the years I have only seen one case where a local took their revenge in their own way. The incident happened at a Ngong Road based company about 10 years ago. The watchman hatched a plot to get his revenge on his racist white European boss who never missed an opportunity to shout at him (always calling him a monkey who would be better off living in trees). He put his fresh feces in the water tank reserved for drinking on the property and then promptly resigned his position. The boss (and other senior mzungu managers at the company) drunk water spiced with his solid human waste for weeks before it was discovered where the "strange taste in the water" was coming from. But I digress.

On Tuesday this week the East African Breweries Finance director Tracey Barnes (pictured above) appeared before the Director of Immigrations and Registration of Persons to answer to allegations of mistreating and intimidating black Kenyans working in the company in favor of foreigners and whites. The kind of accusations that are strong enough grounds for the immediate revocation of a work permit if proven. The senior management at the majority foreign owned Brewery is populated with white South Africans. Read more about this fascinating first.

This is not the first time heavy handed white South African managers have found themselves in racial troubles in East Africa. In 2003 a full fledged fist fight erupted at Air Tanzania offices in Dar-es-salaam between local junior managers and white South African senior managers over claims of racism. This led to a careful reorganization of management personnel which included the appointment of a black South African figure-head CEO who in reality still answered to a white Financial director. This cooled down temperatures somewhat.

Incidentally Tanzanians are much less tolerant to racism than long suffering Kenyans and older Tanzanians even openly discriminate against whites at every opportunity in public. This may be difficult for somebody unfamiliar with the country to believe with the close cordial relationship between the two governments still firmly in place. In fact a white South African will always acquire a Tanzanian work permit much faster than a black Kenyan who will usually have to wait for months and give numerous bribes before getting the valuable document which in many cases is a license to print money in the impoverished nation filled with money-making opportunities. 

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