Kenya: Degree Shocker for MPs, Members of County Assembly in 2022 Polls

9 November 2020

A law requiring contestants for MP and MCA seats to have a university degree qualification is set to take effect in the 2022 general election, locking out hundreds of potential aspirants whose plans to acquire the academic papers have been derailed by Covid-19.

The law, whose implementation date has been postponed several times, is set to take effect in 2022. Members of the National Assembly in 2017 amended section 22 of the Election Act that prescribes minimum academic qualifications for lawmakers at both levels of government.

The amendment requires Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of County Assembly (MCAs) to have a minimum bachelor's degree before they are cleared to contest.

Pushed for suspension

And even though the law was enacted just before the 2017 election, the National Assembly successfully pushed for the suspension of its implementation after the election, in the hope that they would have obtained the documents by 2022.

With less than two years to go before the next election, and with Covid-19 having disrupted the entire academic calendar, the window for acquiring a degree has been effectively shut. It means politicians planning to vie for seats and do not have the papers will not be cleared to contest.

Most universities have remained shut since Covid-19 hit the country in March, with some reopening last week and others expected to resume classes this week.

MCAs have vowed to move to court next week to challenge the law requiring them to have a university degree, terming it as having the potential of subverting the will of the people.

The County Assemblies Forum -- the caucus that brings together all the 47 county assemblies -- yesterday said the provisions contained in the Elections Act of 2012 could lock out a majority of MCAs, who at present lack university degrees, but who consider themselves qualified leaders.

"We will be moving to court to challenge that directive because we believe it's unconstitutional. It's against the will and the sovereignty of the people who, constitutionally, are the ones who elect leaders," chairman of CAF, Mr Ndegwa Wahome, told the Nation.

Poor Bills

He said that MCAs should not be blamed for the poor Bills and Motions reported to have been passed and approved in some assemblies across the country, insisting that assemblies and MCAs should instead be trained and facilitated to perform better.

"We, as assemblies, are allowed to employ three assistants to each MCA. These are the people with qualifications. It's these people who should have degrees, not the MCAs," Mr Ndegwa said.

Nandi senator, Samson Cherargei, yesterday supported the requirement for minimum academic qualifications for legislators, saying, there should be no further delay in implementing the law.

"As a country, we need minimum qualifications for lawmakers. I'm not saying that degrees confer leadership qualities to an individual, but it's an important requirement because lawmakers require some competence, which is only obtained through academic achievement," he said.

A perusal of MPs' CVs posted on Parliament's website indicates that more than 230 MPs have between a first degree and PhD, and thus meet the minimum requirements should the law come into force as stipulated.

Undergraduate

About 50 MPs did not submit their CVs while another 50 claim to be undertaking undergraduate studies in various universities across the country.

In the Senate, six senators don't have their CVs on the website, while four others lack degrees, according to the uploaded CVs.

The Senate going by the submitted data, has a high constellation of educated individuals. At least 13 senators are PhD holders, while 56 have between a first and second degree.

Even though the law has been in place since 2017, it was not easy to establish how many Members of Parliament -- Senate and National Assembly -- already have the needed qualification with just about 18 months to the next polls.

Most MPs and senators are yet to submit their details to Parliament, more than three years since the 12th Parliament was inaugurated, making it difficult to know the exact extent of compliance among the 416 MPs.

The decision to publicise the biodata of the lawmakers is meant to inform Kenyans about the professional and academic qualifications of their representatives.

In a departure from the past, members of the National Assembly and Senate need to present their curriculum vitae during the pre-swearing-in ceremony.

The biodata is to be updated on the Parliament website by the Office of the Clerk.

It is not clear how many of the MPs elected in 2017 without degrees have gone back to school to fulfil the requirement.

Currently only the President, the Deputy President, governors and deputy governors are required by law to have degrees before they are cleared to contest a seat.

The requirement for legislators to have a degree was first enacted in the Elections Act of 2011 and was to apply in the 2013 General Election.

However, a majority of MPs who did not have a degree at that time successfully lobbied then President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga and the clause was suspended for five years.

Come the 2017 polls, MPs were at it again and voted to provide for a transitional clause in the Act, pushing for its implementation in 2022.

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