Kenya’s politicians rush to secure fake diplomas as elections near

By Jeff Otieno

Posted on Friday, 12 November 2021 12:09
Deputy President of Kenya H.E Dr William Ruto receives his PHD in Plant Ecology at the 60th graduation of University of Nairobi in 2018 (Twitter)

Back in 2018, when Kenyan Senator Gideon Moi announced that he might run in next year’s presidential race, supporters of Deputy President William Ruto immediately attacked him as a spoiler. One of the politicians who wouldn’t hear of it was MP Oscar Sudi, who took aim at Moi’s educational credentials.

“For one to be president, one has to have a degree, but Gideon Moi, with all his English, has no papers,” Sudi said, without offering any proof. “I advise you that if you want to be president in future … study and complete courses you abandoned.”

According to parliament’s website, the son of former President Daniel Moi has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from the University of Salford in England. However, Sudi challenged Moi to produce proof of his education abroad and accused him of having a “fake degree” from Kabarak University in Kenya.

Fast forward to today, and Sudi is now the one whose education credentials are drawing scrutiny. He is accused of having forged his academic papers, both from primary school and college, in order to run for a parliamentary seat in 2013.

Faking it to the top

With the 9 August election less than a year away, many Kenyan politicians are rushing against time to acquire proof of their academic achievements, both as a status symbol and to meet legal requirements.

The demand for academic papers originated with the 2010 constitution, which requires that those running for president, deputy president, governor or deputy governor have a university degree. Next year’s general election will also require parliamentary candidates to have degrees, as per Section 22 of the Elections Act that was signed into law in 2017.

While many candidates acquired their certificates legally, others opted for shortcuts, such as purchasing forged diplomas from respected academic institutions or bribing universities with questionable standards to issue them the necessary documents – further fuelling voters’ concerns about the quality of leadership in the country.

In Sudi’s case, John Matseche, a former head of examination at the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM), told an anti-corruption court last month that the lawmaker’s business management diploma from the organisation was a forgery. The Kenya National Examination Council also told the court that its database showed no evidence to confirm Sudi’s claims that he sat for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Examination in 2006.

Sudi says he’s ready to produce several witnesses to prove that he did complete school and that his certificates are genuine. The case continues in court. He is among several politicians who have been engulfed in controversy over alleged forgeries.

Granton Samboja, the governor of Taita-Taveta County in southeastern Kenya, is battling similar allegations after Okiya Omtatah, a civil rights activist, went to court to challenge the legitimacy of his academic papers. Kenyatta University has also denied that the governor studied there.

We must have educated members in this House and IEBC must put strict measures on the degree requirement.

Omtatah wants the court to declare the governor’s Bachelor of Commerce degree, and other academic papers purportedly awarded by the university in 2009, as fake.

“The fake certifications were intentionally made to misrepresent Granton Samboja’s educational achievement and to deceive the unsuspecting public to advance his employment opportunities,” the activist says in his petition. Nevertheless, Samboja denies any wrongdoing.

In another case in 2018, Mohamed Abdi’s election as Wajir County Governor was nullified after he failed to produce original academic papers. The High Court said it was doubtful that the governor could have obtained a master’s degree from Kampala University in just six months. However, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling.

Cracking down on cheaters

The education ministry has put universities on high alert over reports of politicians trying to acquire fraudulent degrees ahead of next year’s general election.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has also warned that it will work closely with the Kenya National Qualifications Authority, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and the Immigration Department to verify academic papers presented by politicians.

There is talk, however, of plans by parliament’s Justice and Legal Affairs Committee to amend the 2017 law, following pressure from legislators who do not have degrees. Meanwhile, county assembly members recently got a reprieve after the High Court, citing lack of public participation, nullified a section of the Elections Act, which required them to also have degrees in order to vie for next year’s elections.

Politicians must go to school

The issue of education requirements is deeply divisive. Kenyans have long complained about the poor quality of leadership, both in parliament and county assemblies, with some blaming it on politicians who have dubious academic qualifications.

Nominated MP Dennitah Ghati, an Ivy League university graduate, is one of the strong supporters of the Election Act.

“We must have educated members in this House and IEBC must put strict measures on the degree requirement,” Ghati said during a recent debate in parliament. “Members of parliament must go to school. We cannot be working hard to educate our children, then at the same time tell[…] them it is all right to go to parliament without a degree.”

If we are … seen to make a law and then we reverse it so that the donkeys can catch up with the horses, we will never make a law that will be obeyed.

Her views are supported by Amos Kimunya, parliament’s majority leader, and John Mbadi, the minority leader, both of whom played a major role in formulating the law.

“The new constitution introduced academic qualifications because the framers of the document determined that it was necessary to have a certain level of education,” says Kimunya. “Following the enactment of the law many have invested their money to go to school because they want to join parliament or county assemblies. If we are … seen to make a law and then we reverse it so that the donkeys can catch up with the horses, we will never make a law that will be obeyed.”

Mbadi says he told his colleagues “that they should go back to school and get a degree” when the law passed, “but some organised demonstrations against me.”

“How can a chair of a budget committee in a county be someone who does not have a degree?” he says. “Some of the committees have members who did not go beyond standard eight (primary school level). We need to be serious as a country. The law should stand.”

Stella Agara, a youth specialist and governance expert, argues that it is a disservice for people to elect individuals who have not gone to school.

“This provision was put in the constitution after some thought,” Agar says. “There was a review of the conduct of our leaders as far as their participation in the policy-making process [and] even speaking in parliament… There was a review of the input they were making in policies and a review of the level of decisions they need to make. There should not be any argument that members of parliament need degrees.”

Claims of discrimination

Deputy President Ruto and his parliamentary allies, however, deem the Elections Act to be discriminatory – even though several of them supported the effort at the time of its passage. In June, while addressing Baringo County Assembly members, Ruto said he had directed all his allies in parliament to offer amendments to the law.

“To say that MCAs (county assembly members) [should] have the same qualifications as MPs (members of parliament), members of the executive in county governance, and also [the] president, is not reasonable,” Ruto said. “Therefore, parliament is already reconsidering Section 22 of the Elections Act, so that we can remove what, in my opinion, [are] unreasonable restrictions on candidates.”

Former Kakamega Senator Bonny Khalwale, an ally of the deputy president, argues that Kenya has had great leaders, some of whom fought for independence, that did not have degrees. “Members of parliament and county assemblies do not need to have a degree because their role is oversight,” Khalwale says. “What they need is the ability to read and write.”

Arnold Maliba, a governance analyst, believes that the Act will limit voters’ choice in electing their preferred leaders. He points out that the percentage of Kenyans with degrees is still low and argues that the county risks turning leadership into an exclusive club for the elite, while discriminating against many Kenyans.

“A leader should have three qualities,” he says. “Number one: A leader should care or empathise. Number two: A leader should have character. You do not have to go to any school to have character. Lastly, a leader should be competent, that is where education and experience come in. However, competence cannot be limited to education only.”

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