Skip to main content
January 22, 2019

Discrimination is smart business

Workers at the port of Mombasa offload the second batch of the SGR locomotive.Photo / JOHN CHESOLI
Workers at the port of Mombasa offload the second batch of the SGR locomotive.Photo / JOHN CHESOLI
The Nod. If you are a Black person who has visited a place where there aren’t many other Black people, then you will be familiar with The Nod. This is an almost imperceptible lowering of the head toward any other Black person you meet. It is a secret handshake of the geography of race; an intimate statement of ethnic solidarity.

In recent days, a narrative of discrimination has been amplified. We have heard accounts of Chinese discriminating against Kenyans working at the standard gauge railway. The accusations range from not sharing tables and transport as they dine and ride, and prohibiting smoking and use of mobile phones on the freight trains, while turning a blind eye when the Chinese violate the same rules.

Another was at Chandarana, a retail supermarket chain. A leaked email exposed their marketing strategy of targeting White clientele. Other discriminatory revelations included allocation of menial roles such as shop attendants and cashiers, being stereotyped as thieves, and use of derogatory language towards them by the Indians.

Consequently, as if on auto cue, a sledgehammer was used to crack the nut. Labour CS Ukur Yattani constituted a team to investigate the claims at SGR, while Nairobi governor Mike Sonko cancelled the accused supermarket’s business license, and disciplinary action was taken against the supermarket staff. This is an overkill, and it would almost be comical were it not so misguided.

I posit that our indignation towards these accounts, is our inability and/or reluctance to distinguish between The Nod, a niche market and poor corporate governance. Allow me to slice and dice these three concepts.

Discrimination is smart business. Its synonym is the niche market. This is when a business channels its marketing efforts towards a well-defined demographic. A niche does not organically exist. It is created as a smart marketing technique to identify, tailor, advertise and cater for the needs and preferences of a targeted client base. This helps to set apart one’s business to rake in more revenues. It is the application of the Pareto Principle also known as the 80/20 rule. This theory advances that 80 per cent of your results come from just 20 per cent of your efforts.

This is why we have the media broadcasting in vernacular languages, restaurants serving national cuisines such as Italian, Ethiopian or Lebanese, and insurers offering a product mix for specific clientele. Why do we not cry foul against any of these?

To accuse the Chinese of discrimination on the basis of not sharing a lunch table is to be ignorant of The Nod. For a long time, we have been convinced that opposites attract. However, a path breaking new study done by Wellesley College and University of Kansas upends this matrix. The study found we are drawn to people who are like us and the selection of similar others is so instinctive that it could be described as a psychological default. So it could be argued that the Chinese are merely responding to The Nod while sharing a meal with similar others. Why should this offend anyone?

To classify derogatory language and smoking in undesignated spaces as discrimination because you do not engage in the same practices is failure to recognise bad manners. It is common sense, good upbringing and part of being an adult, to respect others and to obey the corporate rules and values expected of every employee regardless of race or position.

To whine about being labelled thieves is to forget that data from the largest retailer shows supermarkets lose about Sh100 million monthly due to employee theft. And Kenyans constitute the majority of supermarket employees. We have provided ammunition for them to distrust us. And as smart entrepreneurs, they have opted to err on the side of caution by expecting deception so as not to be fooled.

To complain of disparities in remuneration is to believe in the fallacy of comparable worth. It is to be deluded that you should be compensated and allocated roles equally for comparable skills and educational levels. Entrepreneurs are in the business of making profit. This means creating value for their clientele by providing goods and services in demand, and minimising production and operational losses. Therefore, they will hire an employee they trust will secure their assets. So if it means entrusting a less qualified Indian to safeguard against a monthly loss of Sh100 million, so be it. This is smart business.

I thus submit as follows.

To SGR employees unfamiliar with The Nod, go find your own lunch friends. Liberty means you are free to associate with whomever you wish, based on whatever criteria you choose.

To the government, jipe shughuli. There is no case of discrimination here. You have simply fallen for the click bait and your untamed desire to pander to the gallery. The Kenyan staff have been given the equality of opportunity. If there was discrimination, recruitment would have been restricted to only Chinese and Indian nationals.

To the management of Chandarana, you have done nothing wrong. What is not okay is your apology and staff disciplinary action. You do not owe anyone an apology for adopting globally acceptable smart business strategies. If your research shows that White clientele will earn you 80 per cent of your revenue using 20 per cent of your effort, you ought to promote not discipline your marketing staff. And those who insist you must apologise should require the same of inter alia Kameme FM and Habesha Restaurants.

However, to both Chandarana and SGR management, invest in training your expatriates on, and enforcing good corporate practices and multi-cultural nuances. This includes instilling discipline and proper decorum in respect of diversity, and administering impartial operational policies.

Finally, to those who are still convinced that this is discrimination but are deathly silent about the Muslim clerics who have demanded the revocation of the Kenyan ambassadorial nominee to Saudi Arabia on account that he is not a Muslim, my submission is that, facts are stubborn things and they do not cease to exist simply because they are ignored.  


The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. - Robertson Davies 


Poll of the day