This article is based largely on my presentation at the 10th anniversary of the Nubian University Student Organisation. NUSO is a wonderful organisation devoted to inspiring the Nubian community, exploited and mistreated by first the British and then the Kenya governments. Endorsed by the community, NUSO’s primary objective is to help Nubian youth to acquire education up to university level, especially by tutoring and monitoring young members of the community. Listening to this and other programmes to help the community, by its leaders, it was clear that they had fully absorbed the values of the Constitution and the virtues of education—and their commitment to Kenya. I could not say the same about our political and government leaders, to whom the Constitution is largely directed in terms of integrity and other constitutional principles.
Education and particularly leadership are intimately tied to the principle of fairness to citizens and the nation. More broadly, the Constitution responds to various circumstances of Kenya and the aspirations of its people—provisions about education and leadership are good illustrations. Its aspirations and objectives are set out well in the Preamble. A critical statement is the third paragraph: Proud of our ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, and determined to live in peace and unity as one indivisible sovereign nation. Another paragraph identifies and recognises the aspirations of all Kenyans for a government based on the essential values of human rights, equality, freedom, democracy, social justice and the rule of law.
Article 10 (2) reiterates these values and adds some more. Its content can be divided into four broad categories: (a) vision of the country and its values (national unity, patriotism, democracy and the rule of law); (b) rights of the people (human rights, equality, dignity, and protection of the marginalised; (c) good governance—how the government should be organised and run (integrity, transparency and accountability); and (4) sustainable development (e.g., protection of the environment). The Constitution provides for institutions and structures consistent with, and to promote, these values. I took time to outline the Constitution because it is the basis of Leadership and Education–or at least it should be.
The value of education cannot be over-estimated in today’s complex world. Education is essential to understand the dynamics of how a state functions as well as those of economy, science, international affairs, and culture. It has become essential if we want to participate in public affairs or manage one’s business. In this harsh world, there are generally no opportunities of earning a living without a minimum level of education.
The Constitution fully recognises the value of education—and for this reason it makes access to education a socio-economic right, with positive obligations on the state. As it is often the poor or the disabled who are likely to be left out of schools, the Constitution confers the rights of “free and compulsory basic education”. There is special emphasis on the youth (entitled to “relevant education and training”) and there are special measures to ensure that minorities and marginalised groups are provided special opportunities in education and economic fields.
Despite this liberal recognition of the right of education for the poor and the disadvantaged, they still have the greatest difficulty in obtaining education. Contrary to the principle of equality, our educational system is highly stratified. A number of studies have shown the enormous disparities in the levels of education available to the rich and the influential on the one hand, and the poor and marginalised on the other. There are now many different types of schools, from those lavishly endowed and equipped with the latest equipment (and in practice accessible only to the children of the rich and the influential) while in some “schools” education can only be conducted under trees—no buildings, no electricity to operate the President’s generous gift of computers to all schools!
There is ample evidence that the systems of education have further impoverished the poor and enriched the well off. Because of this crucial function of education, parents have been trapped into the payment of illicit dues so that their children get special tuition, sometimes access to questions in advance of the examination, and the manipulation in the marking of examination scripts. Nor does it seem that education pays any serious attention to constitutional values. An educational system which disregards the values that society fails in its primary functions.
In recent months the Cabinet Secretary, Mr. Mitiang’i has made tough and persistent efforts to change fundamentally the basis of schooling, and thereby also disclosing the rote within the educational system—geared, as it seems like most enterprises in Kenya, towards money making. He has now turned his attention to reforms at university level, pointing to the problems of the lack of integrity (students admitted without necessary qualifications, degrees awarded without the necessary marks, and indeed in some cases through cheating in “such monumental proportions that it had become a way of life and a cancerous culture”. The Vice-Chancellor of a major university has drawn attention to teachers without necessary knowledge and the poor standards of scholarship. Both schools and universities are driven by the greed to make money.
This decay in the standards of ethics and skills in the education sector reflects, and is promoted by, the wider decay in the leadership of the country. The Constitution places the highest importance on ethics in public life (and not only in Chapter 6, which is entirely devoted to it). Strict sanctions are provided for breach of the norms of ethical conduct—such as disqualification from holding public office, including as members of the legislature and the executive. An elaborate system of investigation into corruption and other unethical conduct and tough penalties are provided. There is overwhelming evidence that none of this has had the least effect. Few countries are as notorious for the corruption, electoral rigging, intimidation to the extent of murder, as most of our politicians and public servants, and their colleagues in the numerous cartels that now seem to run this country. There is a total negation of constitutional (I can no longer say national) values. The ambition of politicians and public servants seems to be solely to capture the state and the take away its resources.
The public seems to have come to terms with this culture of thefts and intimidation, mesmerised by the politicians’ appeal to ethnic loyalty. The fact is that politicians care little about the welfare of even their own community—and as between themselves, there is a class solidarity, in the looting of the resources of the state.
The country seems beyond redemption. But my day with the Nubians gave some hope. There are upright communities with their leaders who are committed to fundamental values, not just of the Constitution, but common decency, including care for the disadvantaged. There was ample evidence of decent leaders of this community, who gave of their time and resources to help those in need (recognising that they too have benefited from others — ‘’giving back” was an expression I heard often). Why cannot our politicians and public servants recognise the debt they owe to society, or recognise the virtues of the Constitution in which so many hopes were reposed by Kenyans?
And ultimately even more important, why are the people, in whom the Constitution recognises sovereignty of the state, so docile—yet so angry? Ultimately, without the participation of the people and civil society organisations in the sphere of politics and the state, we will not get out of the misery that politicians and public servants have driven the people too.
Yash Pal Ghai, Director at Katiba Institute