The rush for academic credentials is nothing new ahead of a Kenyan election. Candidates are challenged about the existence or validity of their university degrees, and controversy is common.
This is because, under Kenya’s elections act, contestants for president, senator and, governor seats must show proof of a degree from a university recognised in Kenya. Members of Parliament resisted attempts to extend this requirement to them, and the Kenyan High Court ruled in their favour.
It’s not just politicians that are under pressure to produce qualifications. Many public servants have used fake degrees in pursuit of job opportunities or promotions. One case involved a man who posed as a high-ranking police officer for over 10 years. He hired and fired officers, attended top security meetings and, at least once, flew in a police helicopter to a crime scene.
Even the vice-chancellor of a public university has been questioned over the validity of his PhD and the awarding university.
As the 2022 elections approach, Kenyans have witnessed a circus of politicians waving certificates from nondescript institutions or obtained through dubious means. Institutions may produce quality degrees but the problem arises when politicians falsely claim to have earned them legitimately.
The doubt about academic credentials of politicians who seek leadership positions undermines the integrity clause in Kenya’s 2010 Constitution.
What counts in a politician is not necessarily their level of education but their morals and ethics.
The degree requirement was intended to enhance debate in the house and to have leaders who would balance the roles of oversight, legislation and representation.
The high court decided that members of parliament need not have a degree, but it’s mandatory for governor and presidential aspirants.
More than 10 years after it was enacted, it is questionable whether the requirement achieved what was intended. In early June, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission had to revoke the presidential nomination papers of a candidate it had previously cleared. It turned out he had not met the academic requirements.
That this had escaped the commission’s scrutiny is in itself worrying. The importance of a reliable electoral commission is demonstrated by the fact that the 2017 presidential elections were annulled by the Supreme Court largely because of the electoral commission’s bungling of key processes.
There are several points to remember ahead of the elections next month.
One, the fixation on academic credentials is misplaced. The level of education of the political class is not the key to progress. Leadership has never been defined by academic excellence. If this were the case, the 12th Kenyan Parliament (2017-2022) – which boasted 15 PhD holders and more than 130 MPs with master’s degrees – would have been the best the country had witnessed. But that was not the case.
The 12th Parliament largely kowtowed to the political expediency of the executive and it was one where political partisanship reigned supreme.
For example, the Parliament failed to enact gender laws, which led to the chief justice recommending to the president that he dissolves parliament for failing to implement its constitutional mandate of gender parity.
Having said this, political actors who use dubious means to secure academic papers they did not work for must face the law. And academic and regulatory institutions must face up to their responsibilities, show their independence and not be used as doormats and ladders by the political class.
Two, the justice system must deal with forgery unambiguously. As the Penal Code states, forging a document or electronic record is an offence punishable by three years in prison.
Many cases, including those of politicians’ questionable academic qualifications, have not been dealt with conclusively.
The relationship between degrees and quality leadership is one Kenyans should debate as they head to the elections in August. The ranking of legislators is mostly based on the contributions of parliamentarians on the floor of the House.
But the accomplishment of a development agenda in their respective constituencies should be factored in too when determining the quality of leadership.
Whereas integrity, in terms of presenting academic credentials should be overemphasised, Kenyans should be more worried about a political culture whose consequence is fake leadership that overpromises and under-delivers. What should matter most is the capability of the politician to offer quality leadership and not academic excellence.