It takes more than a degree to be a good MPBy ANGEYO H. KALAMBUKA | Thursday, June 28 2012 at 10:07
President Mwai Kibaki may simply have put his leg on the brake paddle. I doubt MPs are about to tire misleading the Kenyan people to over-estimate the difficulty of being a legislator; to imagine that they are constantly confronted by complex policy problems that defy simple solutions.
Buying into a deceptive academic myth (our education is based on a lie, that everyone has intellectual potential), many MPs have been talking about their degrees — or the lack of them.
If one had predicted 50 years ago that in 2013, Parliament would, instead of being a Legislature, be a diploma mill, most Kenyans would have called that person an alarmist.
Already, more than 60 per cent of our MPs have at least a Bachelor’s degree. You would think that is comforting.
Yet compared to the 1960s when most MPs were modestly educated, the quality of debate is of a standard which lacks any inspirational stimulation. It is mostly anti-intellectual rhetoric “Suppose you were an idiot,” Mark Twain wrote during the Golden Age.
“And suppose you were a member of Congress,” “But I repeat myself”.
The degree is not to blame for the malignant stupidities that infest Parliament. Asking for a degree to get to Parliament is asking for a label. A degree is not equivalent to talent, honesty and knowledge.
It is not hard to guess the motive of the proponents of this view. They are reinventing the old and subtle methods of discrimination (by tribe, gender, faith), to now be by certification.
An MP does not represent a set of values, but rather, the popular choice of the majority. Do not mistake me. I am a firm believer in the value of higher education, both to the individual receiving it and the society (that should benefit from it).
There is a cost to not educating people; the evidence is all around us. It is misguided politician critics of academe who never tire of recounting how they ‘succeeded’ without a degree.
They miss the point: The degree may not be important, but the learning and discipline it symbolises are. College experience, at its best, doesn’t just instil knowledge: It creates an appetite for it. And the more knowledge one has, can bring to bear on the complex issues of the day, the better.
University education also builds a greater sense of civic engagement, a curiosity about the world, and the ability to engage in some inquiry — to ask the right questions and seek answers — all of which improve its graduates over time, and is just the stuff good MPs should be made of.
Just as sharpened analytical skills provide greater ability to think independently, the most important benefit of education, clear language engenders clear thought.
Needless to say, determined individuals can acquire these values without a university degree. Some of the most intelligent people I have met, never earned a degree.
I know many exceptionally intellectual, charismatic, compassionate patriots who would make fine legislators. Many factors contribute to success in a political office other than one’s education.
In politics, the great leader is the one who asks the most contrarian questions.
There are no guarantees that degree graduates make better lawmakers. We should be debating the moral and visionary qualities to look for in legislators.
To stand up for this nation, Dedan Kimathi and company needed what the degree never confers — courage and belief in something impersonal; not what ‘homeguardship’ need to survive: coercion, cowardice, greed and in most cases, college degrees.
MPs ought to comprise members with a wide array of backgrounds — small business owners, factory workers, teachers, trade unionists, technocrats — including people from fields and careers that may not require education beyond high school.
I believe degree education has made a huge difference in my life, opening opportunities and, not least, my mind. It has also made me a better person and perhaps a better citizen.
But while higher education is absolutely necessary for some professions, it is totally useless for others.
More than 95 per cent of Kenyans (for one reason or another) have no degree. To bar them from elective office would be to drain an awful lot of human talent from our public life.
-Dr Kalambuka teaches Physics at the University of Nairobi (email@example.com)
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