The British Council has launched investigations into claims of systematic racism of its black employees in Kenya.
Seven current and former Kenyan staffers had in July last year protested against the ill-treatment by senior white executives at the organisation in a letter to the Council and Kenyan authorities.
The organisation is the British government’s cultural arm abroad.
In the 10-page document seen by this writer, the Kenyan-born staffers claim the current Country Director Jill Coates uses organisation systems and processes to bully, threaten and discriminate Kenyans engaged on local terms.
Some of the cases highlighted by the victims include selective redundancy threats, systematic discrimination through workload, performance and recruitment processes, discrimination on medical grounds and duplicitous disciplinaries.
“Performance management, change programs, disciplinary procedures, and workload has been successfully used by the British Council in Kenya under the leadership not only of the current Country Director Jill Coates, but also of past Directors such as Tony Reilly to punish, harass, bully, and discriminate against Kenyans,” the letter reads.
“The cases underline a repeated practice by white members of staff to constantly assign Kenyans as underperformers, inadequate, unskilled, unprofessional, and suspects as the organisation abuses its procedures and systems to validate its discriminative practice.”
A former Programme Manager claims they experienced discrimination, harassment and unfair treatment for over two years, which contributed to their hospitalization for severe depression. The former employee claims to have been threatened with a redundancy notice on unclear grounds.
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“I remained at risk of redundancy, for over two (2) years, which is legally not procedural and manifestly inhumane and unfair. After failing to terminate my employment through redundancy in February 2019, British Council began subjecting me to unfair treatment in a bid to force me out of employment,” the former staffer said.
Apollo Edewa, 33, a former programme manager at the office in Nairobi, said staff believed the organisation gave much greater weight to white people’s opinions compared with black people and now wants to tailor the inquiry to justify its prejudices.
“The British Council says it will only investigate these allegations if we allow them to manage the complaints process and select the cases to be investigated. But many former and current employees believe that there is a racist culture in the organisation which goes back many years. White people’s opinions are given more weight than black people from Kenya,” he said.
A current employee currently having a disciplinary case claims to have been victimised for being Covid-19 positive and on other medical grounds.
Responding to the claims, a British Council Spokesperson told The Guardian that an inquiry into the cases was launched in August 2021, a month after the Council received the complaint.
The Spokesperson, however, noted that they were still waiting for all of the complainants to identify themselves. They also pointed out that 98% of employees were locally appointed.
“The British Council takes all allegations of discrimination, racism, bullying and harassment very seriously. We operate in over 100 countries across the world and our values of equality, diversity and inclusion are at the heart of everything we do,” the Spokesperson said.
“On receiving the anonymous letter, we immediately initiated an investigation. This investigation is ongoing, and we are keeping avenues of engagement open with the author of the letter. The author of the letter has not been willing to be interviewed and has not yet provided evidence in support of the allegations.”
Founded in 1934, the British Council’s main role is to improve cultural relations and improve social mobility, It generates 85% of its own income, mainly through teaching and examinations, and receives some funding through a government bloc grant.