By DAVID OCHAMI
A decision by a parliamentary committee to clear a nominee for the Judicial Service Commission is raising eyebrows following questions over the validity of his Doctor of Philosophy degree.
The Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC) of Parliament cleared Rev Samuel Kobia who was nominated to the JSC by President Kibaki, in consultation with Prime Minister Raila Odinga. But The Standard has learnt that Kobia might have received his PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) degree from an unaccredited American university, although the cleric, a fierce critic of the old Kanu government, had denied hiding anything.
Kobia is to replace Bishop Anthony Muheria who resigned abruptly from the JSC in April citing other commitments.
Rev Samuel Kobia. He is to replace Bishop Anthony Muheria who resigned abruptly from the Judicial Service Commission in April citing other commitments. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]
It was not immediately clear whether CIOC was aware of the controversy surrounding the PhD issued by the University of Fairfax when it interviewed Kobia.
When CIOC recently vetted the well-known cleric, the interrogation was smooth and no questions were raised about events during his tenure as Secretary General of the World Council of Churches (WCC), during which the allegations that his Phd might be illegitimate first emerged.
Regarded as a reformist, Kobia, 65 was Secretary General of the 349-member WCC between 2003 and 2008, which also published the Ecumenical News International (ENI).
But as he prepared to vie for a second term as WCC Secretary General in 2008, a German news agency, epd disclosed that Kobia was awarded a PhD from the University of Fairfax in the State of Louisiana in 2004, an institution that was actually non-existent at the time, a fact confirmed by Kobia when The Standard contacted him.
"It is true I was awarded the PhD in 2004, but later I realised the University of Fairfax in the State of Louisiana had ceased to exist at that time," said Kobia.
The news was carried by ENI, a publication that was temporarily shut down by WCC last year, and its editors Peter Kenney and Stephen Brown dismissed.
The editors’ dismissal triggered the resignation of Rev Anders Gadegaard a Dane, who was ENI’s president and Moderator of WCC’s Finance Committee.
It was after Kobia’s nomination to the JSC by President Kibaki that the ENI team spilled the beans on the controversial Phd.
Peter Kenny, who was ENI’s editor-in-chief at the time the news about the university’s status was first published, claimed Kobia was extremely upset about the report, although the initial story was relayed by a German protestant news agency epd.
"He tried to intimidate my staff and interrogate them," Kenny told The Standard on telephone at the weekend adding that Kobia "also accused me of racism" after the publication.
But Kobia denied ever intimidating any ENI staff, and said he only met Kenny "professionally". He also said Brown, Kenny’s colleague, took a dislike to him after failing to get a senior position at the news organisation.
The respected cleric said he applied for admission to the University of Fairfax and also submitted his research and thesis titled: "The Courage to Hope —The Roots for a New Vision and the Calling of the Church of Africa" through the Internet.
And he maintains the PhD was "my original work."
Said Kobia, after completing his three-year research, the PhD certificate "was sent to me by registered mail". Thus, believing he fully deserved it, the cleric added the title "Doctor" to his name, denoting that he had been awarded a doctorate by the university.
It remains a mystery whether the WCC, which paid for part of the degree course, ever demanded a full accountability from the University of Fairfax, or even made an effort to verify the authenticity of the institution prior to approving the course.
Kobia currently serves as the Chancellor of Saint Paul’s Theological College, Limuru. On February 13, 2008, Peter Kenny announced the discovery of the university’s status in ENI, quoting epd.
Peter wrote that at the time of writing his story, the State of Maine in the US described Fairfax University as one of the "Unaccredited Post Secondary Educational Institutions" and that the institution — according to Maine authorities in 2007 — "Does not exist".
Peter’s story quoted WCC spokesman Mark Beach saying WCC funded 60 per cent of Kobia’s studies, and showed that although the WCC had removed the questionable PhD from its library and website, St Paul’s University still lists Rev Kobia as a PhD holder on its website.
But Kobia maintains he did not try to hide anything related to the degree from the WCC "at all" and that he "only discovered it after Anders discovered it" around the eve of the 2008 elections for the post of WCC secretary-general.
Sources in Switzerland indicate that Anders, who Kobia claims to have recommended to ENI as president, is the one who confronted the Kenyan to come clean on his doctorate, after which Kobia suddenly announced that for "personal reasons" he would not be seeking a second term.
Kobia said he had no role in the sacking of the ENI editors, arguing he had left WCC when they were sent packing last December although he admits, "as a former Secretary-General of WCC I attend all meetings of the Central Committee."
He said he and others were unhappy with ENI’s reporting: "We were not very happy with the way ENI carried out its news. Very many complaints came from all over the world."
But according to a Reuters report, suspension of ENI and its editors followed a cash cut imposed by WCC’s Executive Committee, and harsh criticism by WCC’s "former head [Kobia] that criticised its coverage."
The story notes that ENI had run reports from an authoritative German religious news service "that he had falsely claimed an academic degree."
He was also accused of gross intolerance of the press and mistreatment of ENI, which he was quoted accusing of thriving on "inaccuracy" and "sensationalism". Kobia told CIOC during his vetting that after many years of Christian ministry overseas, "I have come to be very accommodative of divergent views."
Speaking to The Standard, Kobia insisted he did not quote a fake PhD degree on his curriculum vitae and WCC website, and that he clashed with several employees, sacking two after accusing them of espionage.
He later developed frosty relations with some members of the WCC’s Executive Committee, including Anders and a German Lutheran priest, Martin Hein, who had accused him of travelling too much.
He told The Standard that his accusers are bigots opposed to his support of the Palestinian cause.
Kobia maintains he left WCC with his good record intact and blamed accused "the Germans" of being prejudiced against the policies and perspectives he had developed at the WCC regarding Palestine.
"The Germans were not happy with the change of policy on Palestine. I was asked to withdraw some of my policies on Palestine," he said.
The other German at WCC, besides Hein, was a female secretary that Kobia admits he transferred to a separate department.
"I transferred her because I could not trust her. On two occasions she passed on confidential information to people who were not authorised to receive that information."
Kobia also admitted sacking a Romanian and an American from the Information Technology Department because "they hacked the e-mails of other staff."
Kobia said there were troubled relations between him and Anders and between WCC and ENI over its reports, but denied a personal gripe with the award-winning news agency he accused of "sensationalism" and "inaccuracy" in a Reuters article on December 20, 2010.