HE commission cracks down on politicians’ ‘degrees’

Kenya's Commission for Higher Education, or CHE, is receiving rare accolades from both academia and the public for showing its teeth during the current electioneering period – it is refusing to clear politicians’ degree certificates if they are from unrecognised higher education institutions.

The commission’s actions have seen politicians seeking certain positions in Kenya's upcoming elections put their ambitions on hold, to go back to class or settle for positions that did not demand a degree.

Electoral legislation enacted in 2011 stipulates that those aspiring to become county governors in terms of the new constitution (promulgated in 2010) have to be in possession of a local or foreign university degree from “recognised and accredited universities”.

The law further empowered the CHE to clear those seeking such crucial positions by verifying their qualifications as coming from universities recognised by the body.

Thanks to this law being enforced, numerous politicians seeking elected office have had to settle for lower positions or withdraw from the race for critical 4 March polls, after the commission rejected their papers as being either fake or awarded by “strange” universities.

Top among the ‘victims’ were Housing Minister Soita Shitanda and his assistant, Bishop ‘Dr’ Margaret Wanjiru – both of whom wanted to vie for gubernatorial positions in Kakamega county, western Kenya, and in the capital Nairobi, respectively.

Shitanda had his academic papers showing that he graduated from Newport University with a bachelor degree in accounting rejected by the commission.

Wanjiru presented two degree certificates: for a doctoral and an undergraduate degree from United Graduate College and Seminary International and Vineyard Harvester Bible College, respectively – but the commission held that those were not accredited institutions of higher learning.

Apart from questioning the credibility of the institutions the commission also pointed out that Wanjiru’s documents did not indicate dates or the length of time spent in pursuing her ‘degrees’.

The bold move by the CHE has earned respect from thousands of Kenyans tired of living in a country where the law is flouted with apparent impunity by those wielding political power.

“The commission deserves accolades for doing its job well, showing it is in charge of higher education in Kenya and restoring the degree certificate to its rightful place,” said Dr Patrick Mbataru, a lecturer at Kenyatta University.

“The move restores pride in those Kenyans who have genuine, hard-earned papers, and also serves to send a loud message to the political elite that matters academic must at all times be respected,” he told University World News.

The lecturer suggested that some Kenyan academics felt insulted when politicians and public figures used titles such as ‘Dr’ when they had barely attained O-Level.

Kenya has a history of all manner of people in the public eye attaching the title of ‘Dr’ to their names, even when it is clear that they have never attended a known university. Most notorious in this regard are the clergy in the evangelical church movement, where many pastors claim the title after allegedly attaining online degrees from an institution abroad.

Some top politicians too are awarded honorary doctorate degrees from obscure Western universities.

CHE Secretary Professor David Some late last year wrote to all political parties contesting the March election, asking them to ensure that candidates they picked for various seats – including the presidency, deputy president and governor – had certificates indicating that their academic papers had been approved by the body.

The commission, which will soon change its name to the Commission for University Education, also warned of automatic disqualification from running for those who failed to present their credentials for verification and clearance.