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To restore education system let academic fraudsters fall

By Makau Mutua | Published Sun, December 10th 2017 at 00:00, Updated December 9th 2017 at 19:55 GMT +3

Until last week, I was a lone voice in the wilderness on the monstrous question of academic theft and fraud. But a thunderbolt struck the guardians of academic integrity last Thursday when the University of Nairobi (UoN) and the Commission for University Education (CUE) defrocked Meru Senator Mithika Linturi and stripped him of his law degree.

A joint UoN/CUE investigation concluded that Linturi used fake academic credentials to obtain entry in law school. There’s at least one academic cheat behind a desk in every office in Kenya. We have an epidemic of academic fraud. The over-inflation of “village universities” in every town and hamlet has destroyed Kenya’s education system, once upon a time the envy of the region.

Anyone with money can buy a degree without ever seeing the door of a university. Most instructors in universities aren’t qualified to teach. Until Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i – the swashbuckling authoritarian – had come on the scene, the State did nothing to stem the problem. The State, run by many officials with fake papers, saw no evil, heard no evil, and spoke no evil.

The rot goes all the way down to primary school. Many high school graduates can’t form an intelligible and complete sentence in any subject of known academic discipline or language of instruction. Yet it’s these students who continue – by hook and crook – to flood our universities. We are building a nation of ill-cultured, ill-mannered, uneducated morons and zombies.

Utterly incompetent

Academic fakery goes all the way to the top. Senator Linturi’s case is just the tip of an iceberg. Politicians are the worst offenders. They buy phony degrees the way you and I buy shirts. I know many though I won’t name them today – sitoboi leo.

But I believe the reader knows some of them too. The IEBC, the EACC, the DPP have all failed us. These institutions are supposed to vet political candidates and disqualify or prosecute those with fake academic credentials. But they’ve done zilch which suggests they are either on the take, or they are utterly incompetent. I bet you an audit would send more than a quarter of elected officials home on account of fraud.  Some academic fraudsters flaunt their wares in plain view – on television.  In the past, I have raised the cases of two notorious Kenyan pundits. The first, Dr Peter Kagwanja, identifies himself as a professor in his Sunday Nation column.

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TV hosts unthinkingly call him professor. Yet there’s no evidence any university – including UoN – has ever bestowed the title of professor on him. I have challenged him to state where, when, and by whom he was granted the title of a tenured professor. I wrote to the Daily Nation’s Public Editor Peter Mwaura asking that the media group stops being complicit in the propagation of a lie. Instead, Mr Mwaura, Dr Kagwanja, and Nation editors bloviated and threw temper tantrums.

I wrote to the UoN and CUE asking that Kagwanja be investigated for academic fraud. I did so only after I searched UoN’s website and failed to locate information about him. University websites normally have profiles of their professors and instructors with CVs. These sites are prima facie evidence of the pedigree of the faculty. Kagwanja has no such entry.

He can swiftly end this controversy by posting his letter of appointment at UoN on social media. Even former US President Barack Obama posted his birth certificate online to end Donald Trump’s birtherism claim that he wasn’t born in America. The UoN and CUE should put him out of his misery by telling us the truth. Come clean, Kagwanja.

The other pundit is Mutahi Ngunyi who runs the fake Fort Hall School of Government. The man claims to be a professor who holds a doctorate. Again, a search on the UoN website yields nothing.

Mr Ngunyi throws epithets at me when I ask him to produce evidence of his academic titles and credentials. As with Kagwanja, the UoN and CUE can put an end to this mystery. What does it say about our public morals and culture – and the national sense of shame – that two of the most high-profile political analysts are masquerading with fake academic credentials and titles? How can we tell our children that cheating is wrong? We are all complicit and liable in our silence.

Finally, it’s a known secret at the UoN that many “professors” are fake, or have questionable credentials. There’s even a senior government legal advisor whose doctorate is questionable. I was told that’s why no one will out Kagwanja or Ngunyi. Expose them and it could bring down the house of cards. We must let all the fake academic mugumo (fig) trees fall if we want to restore our educational system to global standards.

-Prof Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua

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