Education fraud signals moral dysfunction

Nairobi senator and gubernatorial aspirant Johnson Sakaja holding the IEBC certificate after he was cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) at Kasarani Gymnasium, Nairobi on June 7, 2022. [Esther Jeruto, Standard]

Independent thinking is essential to democracy. But as celebrated author Charles Henry Scherf observes, leaders who become perpetual ‘scapegoaters’ can never think straight.

A ‘scapegoater’ makes a scapegoat of something or somebody for whatever comes about, including ideological bankruptcy or sins of omission and commission.

Admittedly, this is where we are. Just this week, Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s President of 36 years, blamed his country’s vicious poverty on past regimes. Really?

The strongman, who will only be remembered in ignominy, took the scapegoating route – that of downplaying his failure, before our disheartened eyes, to lift the East African nation from shackles of doom.

He once quipped during a TV interview that young politicians seeking to unseat him – the likes Bobi Wine – have no moral authority to challenge him since he built the hospitals where they were born and schools where they trained. That’s not how great leaders operate.

Our political melodrama peaked this week. Wafula Chebukati, the polls tribunal and the courts held sessions replete with fiction and tales of politicians who insist they have degrees but have nothing of any kind – present or historical – to prove they went to the university.

When anti-graft boss Twalib Mbarak warned last month that there were Standard Seven and Form Two dropouts with fake degrees running for governorship, it had seemed remote and farfetched. Alas!

More and more, it appears the drama around this degree matter is here to stay. Those who cheat their way out of the degree requirement remind us of how anything is possible in Kenya, the way a rambunctious rescue dog once became the star of a book series.

Our psychological and social scapegoating has gone to the wire. President Kenyatta stands accused of making off with degrees of his former allies because of their current political stand. But those making the claims don’t tell us how the ‘system’ stopped them from doing the little things that matter in campus like taking photos on graduation day. Photos can calm storms.

But how do you grow a country out of constant scapegoating? Methinks most of our problems stem from this ritual of ever looking for someone or institution to blame for endemic pure bad behaviour. Accountability, which we lack, is king.

There’s nothing worse off than trying to cover faults. Those caught in this degree quagmire must own up. It’s the most honourable thing to do. Great leaders don’t struggle to identify their mistakes. Barack Obama confessed “I screwed up” when facts of a controversial appointment he had pushed emerged, earning himself admiration. Richard Nixon’s denial of the Watergate and Bill Clinton’s rebuttals in the Lewinsky saga did not save them from indignity. We need redemption from the scapegoats curse. When Arror and Kimwarer funds were eaten up, we created a scapegoat that only Sh7 billion was lost and not Sh21 billion. 

At the height of graft in the Jubilee government, President Kenyatta turned the heat on agencies, asking at a State House summit; “what do you want me to do?” Still, all those charged with graft insist they are innocent until proven guilty. Their scapegoat is the State and detractors who want them out of the way.

Those who long lost faith and publicly denounced their jobs have stayed put and continue enjoying fat perks. The scapegoat is that they were elected. When millions were stolen at NYS, the scapegoat that time was a hairdresser who had reportedly carried away sack loads of money in the car boot.  

The list is long. Let this election sound a death knell to architects of blame. Leaders should be quick to admit mistakes and strong enough to correct them.

The writer is an editor at The Standard. Twitter: @markoloo

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