There should be no space for academic dwarfs in our political leadership

 Dr Mohamed Bahaidar who was an academic dwarf but rose to a doctorate.

A High Court ruling by Judge Anthony Mrima has removed the university degree requirement for those seeking the presidency. Before that, the requirement that those aspiring to become Members of County Assemblies, Members of Parliament and Governor should have university degree certificates had also been scrapped by the court.

Justice Mrima’s ruling overrides the Elections Act 2012 which requires aspirants to have university degrees as a prerequisite to being cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. The ruling has drawn mixed reactions. 

Those who support it argue that the degree requirement is discriminatory; that locking out people out political leadership because of academic papers is against the spirit of democracy. Besides, they contend that the conduct of some of our highly educated political leaders does not inspire confidence in the notion that education is critical to leadership.

The sponsor of the Election (Amendment) Bill 2020, the then Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, said that “The degree requirement is unfair and unfortunate because it is clear in Article 38 of the Constitution that everyone has a right, without unnecessary restrictions, to enjoy political rights.”

On the other hand, those opposed to the ruling argue that leaving the presidency open to every Tom, Dick and Harry is deleterious to our country. There is no doubt that education in leadership is critical to legislation. An illiterate lawmaker with a limited worldview cannot make good laws.

An uneducated person cannot comprehend technical reports presented to Parliament by offices like that of the Auditor General. An uneducated MP lacks capacity to oversight what he or she doesn’t understand, more so, financial reports into which financial malpractices are sometimes adroitly hidden.

It is for that reason that an academic threshold, not necessarily a degree, should be attached to our legislative offices. It would be worse if we have an illiterate person in State House. But as things stand, that could just happen. Money is a major factor in Kenyan politics and unscrupulous but barely literate persons with deep pockets could bribe their way to the presidency.

While it is true that uneducated people can make good leaders - history is replete with examples of such - and that not all educated people make good leaders, it is better to bet on the latter.

It is foolhardy to demand that all professionals, including kindergarten teachers, must have academic certificates, but make the most important offices - offices that literally run this country - free-for all. We need leaders who will make the right decisions for this country and we believe education helps people to that. We need the best brains our country can produce in these offices.

What will we be telling our children, that working hard in school cannot help one to get Kenya’s best job? Those who aspire to lead this country must be ready to work hard in school. It is important that we revisit the issue of academic certificates and political offices before the next general election.

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