Kenya: Governors, MCAs Call for Review of Degree Requirement

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission officials get ready for the day at Municipal Park in Naivasha (file photo).
11 November 2020

Opposition to a law requiring parliamentary and county assembly seat candidates to be degree holders is growing with threats of court cases.

A group of governors and former Machakos senator Johnson Muthama, who went to court to stop a similar decision in 2011, criticised section 22 of the Elections Act that prescribes minimum academic qualifications for lawmakers.

Mr Muthama got an order stopping the implementation of the law in 2012. However, the ruling was overtaken by the coming into force of the Election laws (Amendment) Act 2017.

The amendment introduced the requirement for a degree "from a university recognised in Kenya" for MP and ward representative aspirants in post-2017 elections.

In January 2017, the National Assembly pushed the implementation of the law to 2022.

Governors Ndiritu Muriithi (Laikipia), Kiraitu Murungi (Meru) Wycliffe Wangamati (Bungoma) and Ali Roba (Mandera), who spoke on the sidelines of a meeting in Naivasha yesterday, said the minimum qualification should be reviewed.

"Qualification for ward representative should be at least a diploma," Mr Murungi said.

High and unfair

Mr Wangamati said a bachelor's degree as the minimum academic standard for a ward representative position is too high and unfair.

The county bosses added that hundreds of potential National and County assembly members would be locked out if the law is implemented.

However, Kisumu Governor Peter Anyang Nyong'o and his Siaya counterpart Cornel Rasanga supported the change, saying the position of ward representative requires high qualifications.

"Even a cook should have qualifications. These people make laws and oversee activities of devolved governments. They need good education to serve their people well," the Kisumu governor said.

Mr Muthama said he would go to court to challenge the law, "which is an elitist plot to lock out hustlers from political leadership".

"Elites whose parents can afford university fees want to lock out the poor from certain positions. Leadership is not about degrees. Ours forefathers were good leaders but never went to school. Let the people decide," Mr Muthama said.

Mr John Khaminwa, who represented Mr Muthama in the case, said the degree requirement is discriminative, adding that political offices do not need academic qualifications.

He said the requirement set by the Act is irrelevant and that Kenyans should be left to choose their leaders.

Mr Khaminwa said he bases his argument on the ruling by Justice Mumbi Ngugi of the High Court, who declared as unconstitutional section22(1)(b) of 2011 Elections Act.

Discriminatory

The provision barred people without post-secondary school education from being nominated as candidates for elective office or for nomination to Parliament.

In the June 29, 2012 ruling, the High Court said excluding such individuals from political office is discriminatory and against the Constitution.

Ward representatives have vehemently opposed the new requirement and plan to take their grievances to court.

County Assemblies Forum chairman Ndegwa Wahome said the law will lock out good leaders.

"The provisions contained in the 2017 Elections Act will lock out a majority of ward representatives who lack university degrees but consider themselves qualified leaders," Mr Wahome said yesterday.

"It is against the will and the sovereignty of the people who, constitutionally, are the ones who elect leaders."

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