Education rule that nearly cost a hundred MPs their careers

Nearly one hundred legislators in the Tenth Parliament were nearly locked out of seeking re-election last year – thanks to the educational level rule.

It took threats for legal action and a lot of lobbying, by the affected MPs, for President Mwai Kibaki to decline signing the Statute Law Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2012 into law. Led by then Kangundo MP Johnstone Muthama, now Machakos Senator, the legislators petitioned the President not to sign the Bill through which Parliament had changed the Elections Act 2011.

The Muthama group also threatened to move to the Supreme Court seeking a constitutional interpretation on the link between academic credentials and leadership.

Between May and July 2014, the group was engaged in a flurry of activities, including holding meetings with Attorney-General Githu Muigai and House Speaker Kenneth Marende to seek legal advice to rescue their political future.

The Muthama team was reacting to amendment of Section 22 of the Elections Act that made it mandatory for seekers of parliamentary seats to possess a minimum of a university degree. Initially, aspirants for National Assembly and County Assembly were required to have a minimum of a post-Form Four certification.

Tough requirement

In a move to rescue colleagues without the relevant papers, MPs proposed to suspend the period within which the degree law would apply. The same was to exempt sitting MPs, meaning anybody else, not a current MP wishing to become President, running mate, MP, Senator, Governor and Deputy Governor had to be in possession of a degree.

Besides Muthama, other prominent casualties of the rule, and who publicly or quietly lobbied for its waiver, included former Health minister Beth Mugo,  now Nominated senator, Mines Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, former assistant ministers, Jebii Kilimo, Calist Mwatela, Wakoli Bifwoli, Beatrice Kones, Ramadhan Kajembe and Gonzi Rai and Gideon Mbuvi Sonko, who is now Nairobi Senator.

Other affected MPs were Maison Leshoomo, then nominated MP and now Samburu County MP, Clement Waibara, Sheikh Mohammed Dor, Masoud Mwahima, Joseph Kiuna, Gideon Mung’aro, Shakila Abdallah and Raphael Letimalo.

Some of these politicians have since acquired degrees, while others made it back to Parliament following the eventual waiver by the same MPs to subject the degree requirement rule only to the positions of President, Deputy President, Governor, Deputy Governor and Senator.

In their wisdom, however, members of the Committee of Experts (CoE) opted to exempt senators as well from the rule.

“After tampering with this proposal, we did not see the logic of subjecting the degree rule only to members of the Senate and not National Assembly. Because they are all Members of Parliament, we decided a uniform rule should apply,” explains Otiende Amollo, who was a member of the CoE.

Indeed, this is how many aspirants for the Senate got a new political lifeline and opportunity to vie for the seats. Former Makadara MP, Mike Sonko, is among those who quickly elevated their ambitions, to seek for a seat with a wider geographical constituency.

Sonko, now an undergraduate student at Kenya Methodist University, accordingly opted to vie for an appropriate seat as per his academic credentials. Nonetheless, owing to this last minute changes in the rules there was confusion across the country, especially over the Senate seat.

And many more were caught in the electoral drama over the position of governor, with Housing minister Soita Shitanda and his assistant in the same ministry, Margaret Wanjiru, emerging as among the high-profile politicians rejected by their respective parties, UDF and ODM, for allegedly lacking degrees.
Wanjiru opted to vie for Senate seat in Nairobi, while Shitanda switched camps to New Ford-Kenya, where his papers were found credible and vied for the gubernatorial seat in Kakamega County.

But it is the ping-pong revolving around the validity of Mombasa County Governor, Hassan Joho’s academic credentials, which has caused the greatest drama. The on-and-off court case has stretched for nearly a year.