Degree Requirement Will Undermine Democracy
In 1972, I was pursuing a university degree course in hotel management and tourism at Cornell University but abandoned it to come back home and fight for freedom and democracy against Presidents Kenyatta’s and Moi’s one party dictatorships.
At the time I made this decision, I thought freedom and democracy for Kenya came before acquisition of my education as an individual. Though beneficiaries of freedom that we fought for, majority MPs think I was wrong to put the nation first and myself second. They are convinced I should have put my university degree first and the nation second.
Though my decision was noble because it restored multi-party democracy – or is it multiparty dictatorship? –, it proved to be extremely costly to me. It earned me 13 years of political imprisonment and detention without trial and has now locked me out of the very Senate that was born out of my blood, sweat and tears.
Should I now lay down my weapons or should I continue fighting in the knowledge that struggle for freedom and rights is eternal?
While I forfeited my degree for freedom by choice, other fighters for the second liberation like Tirop arap Kitur, Wafula Buke, Karimi Nduthu and others were driven out of the university or killed for their demands for change. How is the government of the new constitution different if it denies these persons the right to be voted for, for lack of the same degrees that their predecessors denied them the opportunity to get?
In 1982, the 3rd Parliament obliterated multiparty democracy by inserting section 2A into the constitution. Though many in that Parliament thought they were locking out their opponents by restricting the country to one political party, most of them ended up victims in the same trap they had set for those they called political rats.
Without learning anything from history, 30 years later, unaware of unintended consequences, the 10th parliament has inserted an amendment that requires that no one without a university degree shall be an MP, governor, senator or president, not to improve their performance but salaries. Did not Minister Githae tell MPs to have degrees as a guarantee to higher salaries?
Though passed for self interest, MPs say the clause is to advance the cause of education in the country. But should interests of MPs, justified in the name of education, be allowed to kill democracy?
In 1963, Kenyatta government betrayed Mau Mau freedom fighters by excluding them from the independence government, the fruit of their labor, sacrifice and suffering, again because they lacked school qualifications they could not have acquired in the forests fighting for freedom. Has not this betrayal now caught up with us their children, having been forced to forego our university degrees to get freedom?
The requirement is discriminatory and unconstitutional.
First, it discriminates by disenfranchising 90% of our population who are poor and therefore don’t have university degrees. Electoral democracy gives voters not just the right to vote but also the right to be voted for. Without right to be voted for, people are certainly disenfranchised.
Second, through exclusivist implementation of the constitution, we are condemning majority of our poorly schooled people out of governance, leadership and distribution of resources.
Third, the argument that it is to ensure that leaders are educated well enough to legislate, govern and represent, is a fallacy. An educated person is one with knowledge, even without a university degree.
Fourth, universities as issuers of degrees are not the only sources of education. In the world today, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are self educated without ever stepping into a university. To categorize self educated people as illiterate and unfit to serve is to be extremely ignorant.
Fifth, the world has more than ample evidence of great self educated persons to warn us against the arrogance of disregarding everybody without a degree for leadership and well paying jobs. Can MPs look us in the eye and honestly say, for lack of university degrees Jomo Kenyatta, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Tom Mboya, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Mao Zedong, Prophet Mohammed, Jesus Christ and countless others were illiterate and unfit to serve in Parliament, governorship, Senate or Presidency?
Sixth, our MPs know we have self educated persons but disregard them in order to justify their exclusion from the scramble for power and highly paying jobs.
Seventh, education is not synonymous with good leadership or best representation. In our country, though we had superb MPs in degree holders like George Anyona, and Marie Seroney, some of our best political leaders, MPs and debaters were persons without degrees like Bildad Kaggia, Tom Mboya, Joseph Martin Shikuku and J.M. Kariuki. What then is this nonsense that people without degrees are unqualified to be in parliament and government?
Eighth, one wonders, what really is it we are trying to cure in our leadership? Is it its lack of education when all mega corruption scandals involve well educated politicians and top civil servants? Or is it lack of integrity that equally plagues those who have and who don't have degrees? To substitute integrity with a university degree is a thinly veiled attempt to conceal corruption of leadership.
Ninth, I may not be a degree holder but l am certainly not an illiterate when I have published five books—A Woman Reborn, People’s Representative And the Tyrants, Conscience On Trial, I Refuse To Die and Towards Genocide in Kenya: The Curse of Negative Ethnicity. I was educationally good enough to be in Parliament for two terms, why not for the 3rd term?
Tenth, is it inferiority, that our poverty engenders pomposity in our elite that we should demand our leaders to wave university degrees for legitimacy when they are intellectual paper tigers and their degree requirement is not even in the US or UK which we like to ape or are we looking for scapegoats for our corruption and other failures?
Eleventh, if we believe leadership problems are cured with degrees, why not recommend them for county reps? Should the amendments not insist on degrees in political science, economy and history that are more relevant to leadership than degrees unrelated to politics? Unless of course, these degrees are a mere key into the elite class and not for enhancing performance? Should degree holders flock to Parliament to save the nation or merely earn more money when their professional services don’t belong to Parliament?
The degree requirement is self serving just like the other amendments which will allow party hopping and accommodation of presidential losers as senators and MPs. They must all be rejected. Kenyans watch out. Those to be vetted are now vetting.