Court: You don't need degree to be president

Former Presidential candidate Nazlin Umar during a past presser in Nairobi. [File, Standard] 

The High Court has lifted the last education requirement for Kenyan leaders after declaring that presidential candidates without university degrees can run for office.

The verdict by Justice Anthony Mrima renders the positions of the presidency, governor, MP and MCA free for all.

Justice Anthony Mrima has driven the final nail in Kenya's quest to have her resources managed and her people governed by those with advanced degrees.

The judge ruled that Cabinet Secretaries and County Executive Committee (CEC) members can engage in active politics while in office.

The law prohibits all other state officers and public officers from engaging in politics because it may jeopardise their political neutrality.

“In the end, this court finds and holds that except for Cabinet Secretaries and County Executive Committee Members, the rest of the State officers and public officers are restrained from engaging in political activities that may compromise, or be seen to compromise the political neutrality of their office. The alleged participation of Cabinet Secretaries in furthering the agenda of the government of the day cannot be faulted,” ruled Justice Mrima.

Passed legislation

Following the adoption of the 2010 Constitution, Parliament passed legislation requiring leaders to have a university degree, believing that if one possessed academic credentials, he or she would be able to effectively perform their duties.

University education was deemed necessary for MPs because they are required to oversee; a role that entails examining and scrutinising public accounts and expenditures.

They are also expected to align budgets and speak in front of the House on legislative issues. The same logic applied to the MCA position.

The reasoning behind governors and the president having a degree, on the other hand, was that they are entrusted with the resources of both the county and national governments, and thus needed education in addition to their leadership skills for effective management.

However, as a result of Justice Mrima's decision, Kenya's future may be in the hands of someone who has never stepped foot in a classroom.

Kenya's three presidents since 2010 have all earned degrees. Mwai Kibaki is an economist who attended Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and the London School of Economics.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, his successor, is a political science and government graduate of Amherst College in the US.

Dr William Ruto is Kenya's first Head of State to have risen through the ranks of academia. He received his Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Ecology from the University of Nairobi (UoN). 

“The prevailing position in this matter is, hence, that as long as the decision in Wambui & 10 Others v Speaker of the National Assembly & six others case stands (which decision removed the requirement for a university degree for a person standing as a Member of Parliament), then Section 22(2) of the Elections Act cannot hold in demanding a university degree requirement for a presidential aspirant,” said justice Mrima.

The judge was deciding a case filed by Nazlin Umar of Kenya's Caucus for Peace and Independent Candidates, who sued the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and the Attorney General.

Elections Act 2012

Section 22 of the Elections Act 2012 was enacted by MPs in 2012. The goal was to require aspirants to have a university degree in order to be cleared by the electoral commission. 

“A person may be nominated as a candidate for an election under this Act only if that person is qualified to be elected to that office under the Constitution and this Act, and holds, in the case of a Member of Parliament, a degree from a university recognised in Kenya or in case of a Member of County Assembly, a degree from a university recognised in Kenya,” the section read in part.

The concerns about the level of education among the top leadership came to the fore in late 2017 and 2018 when over 50 MPs had made no contribution to the National Assembly and had requested then-Speaker Justin Muturi (current Attorney General) to organise another induction to understand parliamentary procedures and practice.

Nine months after their election, MPs who were yet to make their maiden speech in the National Assembly — according to the Hansard, Parliamentary Broadcast Unit (PBU) and, an online platform that keeps tabs on performing MPs in the House plenary — spoke only when they supported their colleagues but initiated nothing on their own. 

The revelation comes as the leadership of Parliament complained that some MPs were skipping the last legislative step that is crucial in law-making. 

“You will hear others telling their constituents they have passed bills yet the individuals making such statements do not contribute to the legislation they are talking about.

"The real law-making process starts at the Third Reading, where only a few participate,” Muturi said.

However, the then-August House postponed the implementation of the law to the 2017 polls and again shifted the implementation to 2022. The reasoning was that some leaders who did not meet the requirement would have been barred from defending seats.

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