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Why asking interview candidates ‘Kodi kumudzi kwanu ndi kuti?’ should be outlawed in Malawi

Former President Peter Mutharika’s presidency was characterised by accusations of tribalism

Let’s be honest, there have been some unfair recruitment practices in Malawi the last few years.
For example, why is it the case that the first question some candidates were being asked in interviews was ‘Kodi kumudzi kwanu ndi kuti?’ (Where is your village?).
How is that question relevant to the position that is being advertised? How does where one comes from provide the interview panel with answers as to a candidates suitability for employment?
You might say such questions are ice breakers, merely small talk, but actually the anecdotal evidence shows that this question was often used with the intention of identifying where people came from, and filter out those who were deemed by some members of the interview panel, as coming from the “wrong regions” or of not being the preferred tribe, such that positions would often be awarded to people who were deemed as ‘ndi wathu uyu’ (they are one of us).
It is a pointedly tribalistic question, and there is little rationale to asking it during interviews, unless you are intentionally trying to find a way of marking down someone based on their tribe/ethnicity.
Our Labour Laws in Malawi (Section 5 (1) of Malawi’s Employment Act 2000) prohibits discrimiation on the basis of Race, Sex, Religion, Ethnicity, Marital status and Nationality among other characteristics. In particular, it states that No person shall discriminate against any employee or prospective employee on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnic or social origin, disability, property, birth, marital or other status or family responsibilities

Subsection 3 prescribes a fine of K10,000 plus a 2 year prison sentence. So it’s incredible that questions that have a thinly veiled inquiry into one’s ethnicity or tribe continue to be asked 20 years on?

The practice of interview panels asking where one comes from, or where one’s village is needs to be stopped immediately. And it needs to be stopped via a stronger legislative framework – one that is actively enforced.

The Ministries of Labour, and the the Ministry of Civic Education & National Unity should work together in creating and backing legislation that can be introduced into parliament to explicitly prohibit employers from asking any questions that coerce a candidate to disclose their village, region of origin, language or family roots in interview questions, employment reviews, promotion interviews or other pre-appointment interviews . And if such questions are asked, candidates should have a recourse to redress, including compensation, with the state levying penalties to the offending company, institution or organisation.

If you are Malawian, you are Malawian. Full stop.

Asking kuti “Kumudzi kwanu ndi kuti” should be made an offence under new and stronger employment laws.
No longer should HR managers, General managers, Directors, Interview Panels and others who periodically interview candidates or are invoved in the interview process be allowed to ask such tribalistic questions.
Such legislation would prevent discrimination against some Malawians on the basis of their place of birth or family origin. It would open up opportunties for all Malawians to feel co-ownership of the nation, without regard to tribal affiliations. Isn’t that the meaning of Malawi was Tonse?
And if you are one of those people who objects to such a policy, claiming that the question is asked to prevent non-Malawians masquerading as Malwians in interviews. My answer to that is that there are several other better ways of ascertaining whether one is Malawian – without being caught up in tribalistic social engineering.

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