Business of forged credentials hurts honest graduates

Imagine joining a university, spending thousands of Kenyan shillings, and logging countless hours with the hope of one day securing a certificate that will earn you an employment opportunity. Now, imagine getting the same certificate without having to spend all that money and any time in school. Which one would you prefer? Seems like an easy choice, right?

The Kenyan government has, for many years, been faulted for allowing individuals with fake academic certificates to flood the job market, sidelining qualified persons – most of whom are forced to contend with odd jobs to earn a living.

In the years leading up to the 2022 general elections, the Kenyan government was put on the spot for employing a large number of officials with no or fake academic certificates. Concern about the fact that so many high-ranking individuals could be involved in such scandals sparked huge debates that eventually trickled down to other employees: just how many doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers and bankers are frauds?

According to the Kenya National Qualifications Authority (KNQA), at least one out of three people who are employed in Kenya has a fake academic certificate. This translates to about 30% (at least 250,000) members of the civil service workforce. The KNQA is a supervising body created in 2015 to ensure that people seeking higher education opportunities or employment in Kenya have attained the required standards and certification.

Following the reports, the Public Service Commission and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission ordered all state and private employers to conduct audits on employee academic qualifications for the past 10 years to ensure accountability.

Honest graduates do hard labour

Despite these measures, however, fraudsters have still found ways to beat the system, locking victims like Dennis Orio out of the job market. Orio, who holds a bachelor degree in environmental science, recalls having to rely on fundraising to get him through university, only to graduate and work at a construction site, ferrying building stones on his back.

“It is unfair how life tends to treat honest people. It is now five years since I graduated, and getting a job still looks like a pipe dream. I had considered joining the army with my friends as a last resort, but even that needed some bribery money which I did not have,” Orio told University World News. “If our own leaders use fake certificates to get jobs, then what hope does a person with no influence like myself have of ever landing one?”

In July 2022, Lilian Ochieng and Pauline Otieno were charged and sentenced to three years in prison for unlawfully gaining employment at the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation using fake academic certificates. According to the charges, Otieno had forged a degree certificate from Mount Kenya University while Ochieng had forged certificates from the Kenya Institute of Management. They both must pay back the salaries they earned or risk a longer jail term.

In November 2022, the court of appeal moved to uphold the charges against Abdi Mohamed Daib who had been dismissed from the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) after his employment certificates were found to be fake. By the time of his dismissal, Daib had already worked at the KPA for 20 years.

Fraud on the increase among students

Certificate fraud not only affects the job market. It has also been discovered among students who seek to join higher education institutions but did not attain the necessary high school qualifications.

On 15 March 2023, the Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) revoked the admission of 53 medical trainees after it was found they had joined the institution using fake high school certificates during the September 2022 intake. According to KMTC CEO Dr Kelly Oluoch, the probe was part of reforms meant to ensure that quality medical personnel enter the job market.

“We ran the names of 13,000 applicants through the KNEC [Kenya National Examinations Council] database for verification and 53 did not have genuine Kenya Certificates of Secondary School Education,” Oluoch said.

However, this could just be the tip of the iceberg. With the 250,000 possibilities mentioned by KNQA, institutions still have a long way to go to bring justice to people like Orio.

According to a source who prefers not to be identified, it costs around KES3,000 (US$23) to forge an academic certificate with a school logo. Forged university credentials cost up to KES150,000 (about US$1,200). All it takes is knowing the right people and having the right amount of money, the source said. “Many universities have people who can easily get your name into their system and have you graduate without ever having to step inside a classroom.”

Hope prevails

“If a degree at a university cost someone about KES800,000 and at least four years to complete, what option do you think a desperate person will pick? This is a profitable business that never lacks clients,” he said.

In its bid to help curb the certificate fraud menace, the KNQA launched a portal dubbed Cheti Mwitu on their website where a person suspected of having fake qualifications can be reported.

While admitting that forgery is tempting and may have helped save people time and money, Orio says that the punishment involved when caught is not worth the risk. “Eventually, the guilty ones will be caught, and I will get a job the right way,” he said.