The debate surrounding the amendment of section 22 of the Elections Act to require those seeking elective posts to have university degrees got me thinking hard about the place of a degree vis-à-vis that of integrity in the performance of leaders, elected or otherwise.
They say that education opens one’s mind. It gives one a good foundation on which to build different worldviews and appreciate divergent perceptions and opinions and helps one to easily learn new concepts from fields different from their own. As a political leader, these are all important if one is to effectively oversee the socio-economic development of the regions they represent. More importantly, a good education comes in handy in the formulation of various laws and other policies, which is the core mandate of the national and county assemblies in Kenya. There is no gainsaying that people with post-secondary education most likely make more enriching contributions to parliamentary and other debates regarding the socio-economic and political environments in the country.
That said, we should also not underestimate work ethic, personal commitment and passion for one’s work as determiners of performance in public office. Some people’s desire to see their communities do better has driven them to vie for political offices with many of them performing excellently both on the floor of the House and the development front.
A critical question that we must ask therefore is: To what end do we require the political aspirants to hold university degrees? What motivates individual aspirants to acquire the degree? I ask these questions because unless we can honestly show from evidence that a college degree can solely lead to better service delivery by an elected political leader, then we are lying to ourselves.
I do not think any present or past governor, member of national or county assembly can honestly entirely attribute their performance (or non-performance) to their degree or lack of it. If a degree was all one needed, professor-led constituencies and counties would be top of the charts in development, but we all know that is not the case. We need leaders with integrity. If it came down to the choice between a visionary person of integrity and a corrupt college graduate, I would choose the former without hesitation. Besides, leaders have advisers on various fields and issues, and, with a clear vison, it is easy for one to wisely choose and utilise their advisers to achieve development goals, their educational qualifications notwithstanding. All a common mwananchi needs is timely access to quality government services.
One of the biggest challenges that we need to overcome is corruption. Theft of public resources by those in political power has seen taxpayers’ money go into individuals’ pockets. People who have been convicted of corruption are not necessarily the least educated. Therefore, beyond obsessing over who has or does not have a degree, we need to lay more emphasis on who among our leaders have more integrity and are more development-oriented. Having a degree is great, but our leaders should not just go for the paper as a formality. If the degree does not enhance the leader’s ability to deliver services, it is useless.
Dr Kalangi is a communication trainer and consultant, Kenyatta University