April 21, 2018

How does gender and ethnicity affect representation amongst Kenyan Professors? Understanding Pathways to Diverse Representation amongst Kenyan Professors

Author: Mumbi Kanyogo

Research Question: How does gender and ethnicity affect representation amongst Kenyan Professors? Through this question, I wanted to explore how individuals with privileged social origins dominate the Kenyan professorship. On this page I give a snap shot of the research I have been doing around pathways to representation in the Kenyan academy, using the examples of gender and ethnicity.

Key Social Mobility Finding


  • The Kikuyu and Luo are overrepresented in the sample: They account for 40.6% and 29.5% of the male sample, respectively. However, national demographic statistics from Kenya’s last census in 2009 noted that Kikuyu and Luo composed 17% and 12% of the population respectively.
  • Consistency in privilege amongst dominant ethnicities: A large portion of Luo men attended a PhD program at a Kenyan University, most Luo men attended the University of Nairobi, and most Luo men have a rural locality (60.42%).
  • Lack of consistency in privileged characteristics amongst ethnic minorities: However, the Kisii are a statistical minority and although most of them attended the University of Nairobi for undergraduate degrees, only a third of them earned a PhD at a Kenyan university and none of them attended an elite or national high school.


  • Women are severely underrepresented in this sample: They constitute 15.43% of the total sample of professors, even whilst constituting 50.3% of the Kenyan population.
  • Women are not being promoted from lecturers to professors: Women constitute 15.84% and 13.39% of associate and full professorships. This indicates that the primary issue is ensuring women are promoted from lecturers to professors. This may also be a result of a lack of Kenyan women pursuing PhDs because as of 2014, out of a total 4,394 PhD students, only 1,562 were women.


In evaluating the factors that limit Kenya’s lecturer and professor capacity, the Kenyan Commission on University Education cites a lack of funding, low enrolment in master’s and PhD programs, lack of effective supervision, and a long processing period between enrolment and graduation. The factors listed do not include considerations beyond institutional inadequacies at the university level. As such, Kenya’s recurring lecturer  crisis is not conceptualized as a systemic issue and is often framed as a problem that is wholly centered on Kenyan universities’ shortcomings. The current discourse around professor shortages does not put the crisis in conversation with systemic problems such as low high school quality, ethnic inequities, the ethno-regional distribution of resources and gender inequities. As such, part of this project’s aim is to stage an intervention to consider how social mobility and education interact within the academic field. More specifically, it aims to address diversity within the academy, to perhaps contribute to our understanding of what kinds of individuals enter the Kenyan academy.

Using a data set of 460 professors employed at Kenyatta University and University of Nairobi, this research explores the characteristics of individuals who are represented within the Kenyan academy and how these characteristics relate to privileges and disadvantages in regards to an individual’s educational, gender and ethno-regional background.

Key words:
Privilege: Characteristics that enable social advantages, which increase an individuals ability to access the academy. e.g. Kikuyu ethnicity is a privileged characteristic, given that individuals of Kikuyu ethnicity tend to dominate many sphere of influence.


I used a data set of 460 professors at two of Kenya’s largest public universities(University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University)  to understand the impact of social background on the composition of the professorship. The data has been hand collected from the publicly accessible resumes and Curriculum Vitaes (CVs) of 460 professors teaching at Kenyatta University and University of Nairobi. These CV’s and resumes were available on the official websites of both these universities, specifically from the faculty listings of each academic department. I collected data pertaining to gender, date of birth, place of birth, ethnicity, faculty department and position, primary school, secondary school, place of permanent residence, PhD-granting institution, as well as time of enrollment and graduation from PhD program.  The result is a sample of professors from a wide range of academic disciplines, as well as a breadth of information pertaining to the diverse social backgrounds of these professors.

In order to analyse this data I began by establishing the most common characteristics within the sample:  male (85%), Kikuyu (38.6%) rural in locality (92.7%), attended University of Nairobi for their undergraduate degree (79.7%) and obtained their PhD at a Kenyan University (44.59%). Additionally, a sizeable group in the sample attended a national school or prestigious private School (22.39%). Most of these factors indicate some sort of privilege. I carried out this exercise in order to establish a typical pathway to social mobility within this sample. This allowed me to determine possible obstacles to higher representation of certain minorities within the academy and determine the factors and pathways that could lead to higher representation of minority groups within Kenya’s professorship. It also showed me that professors typically have privileged backgrounds.


Preliminary Results




In the diagram above we can observe the trend in relationships between university of undergraduate degree, gender/ethnicity and country of PhD program, from left to right. This diagram shows us:

  • The dominance of Kikuyu males given the thickness of the band reading “male_Kikuyu” relative to the other bands of men of other ethnicities and women.
  • We can also see that Kikuyu males are able to access privileges such as attending the University of Nairobi for an undergraduate degree and receiving a PhD from a Kenyan university in a more consistent manner than minority groups. For example the “male_kamba” group mostly attended the University of Nairobi( a privilege) but most of them did not attend PhD programs in Kenya, thus denoting an inconsistency in privilege.
  • Additionally, this graph exhibits how Luo men access the same privileges consistently, relative to smaller tribes such as the Kamba, Kisii and Kalenjin.
  • Throughout this paper I argue that professors from numerically larger ethnic groups have more consistent access to privileged characteristics. However, this thesis is challenged by Luhya men in this sample. On a national scale, the Luhya are the second largest ethnic group, and yet in this graph, given the narrowness of the male-Luhya bands, we can observe that Luhya men challenge this notion.
  • Lastly, this graph exhibits the small number of women in the sample, given the relatively small band labeled “Female_” even relative to men of a single ethnicity such as Luo men or Kikuyu men, given that those bands are thicker.



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