How to end endemic fake papers vice in Kenya


A troubling trend in Kenya has deepened where individuals have ascended career ladders using fake academic and professional papers. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Late South African hero Nelson Mandela once cited the transformative power of education, stating it is the most powerful weapon to change the world. Yet, a troubling trend in Kenya has deepened where individuals have ascended career ladders using fake academic and professional papers.

This issue is not a recent phenomenon yet it has become deeply ingrained, as evidenced by the Public Service Commission's (PSC) audit report's startling revelation that over 2,000 public officers obtained jobs, promotions, and re-designations fraudulently.

My encounter with a university student dropout as a middle manager in a government agency, despite the job requiring a master's degree, proved that the vice is endemic. This dropout disappeared upon seeing me, and upon my inquiry, I learned the person was the boss, clearly indicating the issue is deep-rooted. This experience culminated in meeting someone with forged academic credentials to secure employment, underscoring the urgent need for systemic reform.

Historically, Kenyans have witnessed the theatrics of political figures acquiring fake academic credentials to qualify for elective jobs. In the 2022 General Elections, a prominent city politician treated Kenyans with the Actuarial Science degree fiasco from a top Kenyan university, only to later present another degree from a Ugandan university to contest for a gubernatorial seat.

Similarly, in 2017, residents of Kiambu were entertained by a peculiar spectacle where two leading gubernatorial candidates accused each other of possessing fraudulent academic papers from an Indian university. The election was won or lost on the authenticity of the academic papers.

Do you recall the “doctor” who treated numerous patients and performed surgeries only to be exposed as a quack? Kenyans were once treated with disbelief when a PhD holder couldn't recall the thesis title, sparking more questions than answers. In Europe, there's a widespread joke that out of every 10 PhDs earned in Kenya, three are forged. This begs the question: How endemic is the issue of forgery of academic and professional papers in Kenya? The PSC's audit merely scratches the surface of Kenya's widespread forgery of academic and professional papers.

Currently, the sole method for verifying papers involves taking them to a lawyer for authentication as originals. Under this system, individuals simply purchase and pay for legal verification and then submit these papers to their potential employers. Regrettably, most institutions do not take the initiative to contact academic or professional institutions directly to confirm the authenticity of the presented papers, leaving the verification process flawed and unreliable.

Way Forward

Verification of academic and professional papers needs to be simplified. For example, the government could implement policies requiring every university in Kenya to publish an annual list of graduates on their websites from their inception. This would enable employers to download graduation booklets easily and verify the claims of Kenyan job seekers. Similarly, bodies responsible for professional certifications should annually list their qualified individuals online. This approach will eliminate the need for employers to send out verification letters, allowing them to confirm the legitimacy of degrees and professional papers directly from their offices.

The government could introduce a specific public service clearance letter from universities that authenticates awarded degrees and professional papers required during interviews. This measure would enable universities to formally reject fake academic and professional papers before an individual's hiring. Similarly, the Commission of University Education (CUE) could implement a comparable verification process for foreign degree holders.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), Kenyan police, and the CUE must collaborate to prosecute high-profile cases, which will serve as a deterrent to others contemplating success via deceit. The accused should face legal action with all unlawfully gained benefits recovered. Without conviction of such significant cases, many Kenyans will persist in adopting these fraudulent "best practices" to advance their careers.

With crucial reforms, the plight of industrious and deserving Kenyans, overshadowed by the unscrupulous acts of fraudsters, will continue. These fraudulent practices severely undermine the Kenyan education system's integrity, discounting the earnest endeavours of individuals striving for authentic academic achievements. Moreover, they threaten Kenya's distinguished status as a leading academic beacon in Africa.

The continuous occurrence of such deceptive activities not only devalues legitimate academic qualifications but also risks severely tarnishing Kenya's educational reputation on the global stage, calling for immediate and decisive action to safeguard and uphold academic standards.

Dr Odhiambo, PhD is a Lecturer at Meru University of Science and Technology (MUST) and a Post-Doctoral Researcher at Umeå University, Sweden.

X: @Dr_Jodhiambo

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