BY NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU
Last week Parliament passed a law that takes away the right of anybody without a degree to run for public office as a Member of Parliament, Senator, Governor or President. One MP was subsequently quoted telling Kenyans that this is what the Constitution demands.
Another MP said that degrees are now common everywhere in Kenya. Other MPs are saying that Kenya needs smart people in parliament, thereby equating ‘smartness’ to degree holders, only. All the MPs supporting this law have degrees and intend to run for some of these offices, again.
Chapter 27;4 says that the State cannot discriminate directly or indirectly on amongst other things, age, social status or gender. This Parliament seems not to understand that by taking away the right for adult Kenyans to run for political office by setting such unreasonable obstacles, they are also directly and indirectly discriminating against Kenyans on various angles.
For example every January we read sad media stories of smart kids who cannot afford to progress their education. Some get supported, but many others move away from education to other things. Even at university level where one can get government loans these loans are not enough per student, or enough for all students.
Some of these people are the ones who today flock universities as adults; they have not gotten any smarter with age; they just have more money today allowing them to go to university. This discrimination on the basis of social class goes against the Constitution.
Another key discrimination is on age. Chapter 38;3;c says that every adult citizen has the right, without unreasonable restrictions, to be a candidate for any public office, and if elected, to hold such office. The constitution then defines an adult as a person over 18 years. Parliament has taken away the rights of all those young people aged between 18 and 24 who might want to run for political office now. It should be noted that the general age when one finishes their university education is around 24. Parliament is basically telling these young people to wait until they are older, to run for political office. This is grossly unfair, and discriminatory.
Then there is the fact that such a law discriminates against women because we are in a country with a mostly rural population that sees more boys than girls go through school. Then look at how disability affects one’s ability to get a university degree. Then regionally what do people like those living in Turkana where only one or two people in the entire region have a university education, do?. Are we saying they must elect one of them?
As they seek to take away/limit this right, Parliament must also read Chapter 24;1 of the constitution. It states that whereas rights can be limited such limitations must be reasonable and justifiable, and based on equality. They must also take into account all relevant factors including ensuring that the enjoyment of rights & fundamental freedoms by any individual, does not prejudice the rights of others.
As for this idea some are selling to the public that a degree is required by the constitution; Chapter 99;1;b allows parliament to determine educational, moral and ethical requirements of political leaders but does not say that such benchmark is a degree.
A key relevant factor this law has ignored is that Kenya has a general transition rate of 2%, from primary school to university. This means that out of every lot of 1,000 children who start primary school only 20 make it to university. In addition even at university a good portion do not graduate such that out of close to 30Million adult citizens in Kenya today, only around 200,000 have a degree. How a law that alienates 29.8Million Kenyans can be reasonable, I cannot understand. Those MPs saying that only degree holders are smart are also basically saying that a lot of Kenyans are … not smart!
This Parliament is also telling the Kenyan voter that we cannot be trusted to tell a good leader from a bad one; and that we should look for a degree to tell the difference. These are the same people who insist that the decision as to whether someone with crimes against humanity can run for public office should be left to the voter, at the ballot box. They do not want a law that sets unreasonable barriers on such a matter.
Well, we are smart people despite what these Parliamentarians might think; they cannot have their cake and eat it. We will elect leaders on our terms; patriotic; proven; wise; hard working; principled and with a clear value system that is in tune with our new constitution. If you do not fall into this category it does not matter how many degrees you have; ‘huwezi make’; if you do, it does not matter that you might not have a degree, you are in. As for those incumbent MPs scared of opponents without degrees, they should rest easy; if it is about having a degree voters will certainly vote you in. However let us allow voters to elect a moron if they choose; that is the price of democracy.
(Ngunjiri Wambugu is the Executive Director, Change Associates)