The British Council in Kenya has launched an inquiry into allegations of systemic racism from black current and former staff members in Kenya. Senior white executives at the Council, which is the British government’s cultural arm abroad, have been accused of discriminating against Kenyan-born staff. This is particularly as they were selected and assessed staff for redundancy.

The probe follows a letter sent to the British Council and Kenyan authorities in July last year, claiming to represent seven current and former staff members. The letter reads in part, “The cases underline a repeated practice by white members of staff to constantly assign Kenyans as underperformers, inadequate, unskilled, unprofessional, and suspects as the organization abuses its procedures and systems to validate its discriminative practice.”

Five of the seven accusers claim they were discriminated against during a redundancy process that they say favoured white colleagues. The allegations come amid cuts in central government funding for the British Council as well as a shortfall of income related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apollo Edewa, 33, a former programme manager at the office in Nairobi for five years until February, said staff believed the organization gave much greater weight to white people’s opinions compared with black people. He now wants to tailor the inquiry to justify its prejudices saying, “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.”

Allegations outlined in the letter include the following

  • A programme manager who worked at the British Council from August 2014 to 2019 who claimed they were put at risk of redundancy without adequate explanation.
  • Another complainant claimed they resigned as a senior official of the Kenyan office’s welfare association after a white executive frustrated efforts to channel staff concerns to the senior leadership team.
  • A manager for the professional skills centre in Kenya who claimed they were among a number of black employees who were unfairly targeted for redundancy.

The British Council was founded in 1934 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.

The Council claims it is still waiting for all of the complainants to come forward with evidence and has queried some of the allegations in the initial letter. One of the complainants who was made redundant said he would not cooperate with the inquiry because it was too narrow in scope to include earlier allegations.