Final part by Madi Jobarteh
Simplifying the Idea and Clarifying its Misconceptions
1. There is already an academic eligibility requirement to stand for the Office of the President, i.e. Grade 12. Therefore, where a university degree excludes on the basis that most Gambians do not possess this qualification one will find that most Gambians also do not possess Grade 12 certificate.
2. Grade 12 is basic education, i.e. to know how to read and write. It offers no capacity to an individual to understand the complexities of the issues that surround the president and to perform its function vis-à-vis the dynamics of society.
3. Acquiring a university education implies that one had undergone a disciplined training process that prepares and strengthens one’s faculties to reason, research and analyse for better comprehension and performance in any human endeavour. Hence a university degree is a reasonable level that could serve as a minimum academic qualification for president.
4. A university degree does not mean anyone who acquires it is a saint or an impeccable performer.
5. A president holding a university degree does not mean that president cannot fail or be inefficient. This is where the adherence to the rule of law, strong institutions, vibrant media and civil society and informed citizen participation become necessary to ensure accountability and efficiency.
6. Acquisition of a university degree is not a guarantee or foolproof against abuse and corruption. Therefore, checks and balances are in the law to restrain the president and public officials and ensure adherence to democratic principles and good governance.
7. A university degree does not mean anyone who possesses it knows it all. Therefore, the president has advisors, technocrats and can seek information from any source.
8. The issue is not the subject matter of the degree, rather the focus is on the process through which an individual undergoes to acquire a degree. Therefore, a university degree is a preparation exercise for a complex task.
9. It is that process that matters more than the subject of the degree. This is because the process trains, moulds and equips the person regardless of whichever subject he is studying. But this is not to say Kumba could not educate herself to the level of a degree and acquire the same or even higher maturity than someone who went to university.
10. University education equips a person with the tools and skills of analysis objectively to better understand issues and perform his function. Basic education cycle does not provide such skills.
11. A university degree is not farfetched for most Gambians more than a Grade 12 even though most people enrol at Grade 12 than enter the university. There are enough Gambians with university degrees and many are being trained at UTG and other universities abroad.
12. Any individual can indeed educate oneself without going to a university to become far more educated than even someone with a PhD, but a university certificate is the most tangible indicator that can show that indeed one has gone through a process.
13. It is true that some of the world’s most brutal and corrupt dictators were degree holders such as Robert Mugabe and Benito Mussolini of Italy. But well-educated dictators do not negate or demerit the value and necessity of a degree for a president. Similarly, some of the worst leaders also never went to university such as Hitler or Idi Amin or Mobutu not to forget Yaya AJJ Jammeh. Yet it does not mean university education is not necessary for a president.
14. It is also true that some of the most efficient presidents never went to college. Some famous ones include Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Thomas Sankara. But this again does not mean it is not necessary for a president to obtain a university degree prior to his leadership.
15. It is also known fact that there have been many leaders in the world who did exhibit exceptional leadership qualities and excellent moral uprightness as if they were well trained before they assumed such positions. Some of these leaders taught themselves or had the ability to search for knowledge and opened their minds to divergent and dissenting opinions so as to better equip themselves. Famous ones include George Washington or Frederick Douglas, even though he never was a president.
16. Acquisition of moral rectitude is essential for leadership. Leaders must inspire and move people to transform society with their moral force. However, the world’s greatest moral and national leaders did not deal with the technical issues of their society so as to fundamentally change them even though they raised these issues through campaigns and protests and even led their people to independence in some cases. Rather their moral force served to inspire a new set of individuals who become the new leaders to bring about change. Such moral leaders are not usually politicians in the conventional sense such as the Mahatma, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Marcus Garvey.
17. However, the world has indeed produced many political leaders without university degrees who led the transformation of their societies. But these kinds of leaders are again not everyday politicians that are present and available in any society all the time. In most of those cases such leaders emerge within a particular socio-political context that produced such leaders. Examples could be Kagame in Rwanda after the Genocide, or Lech Walesa of Poland after the collapse of communism. Adama Barrow is currently in that situation in the Gambia after the dictatorship and we wish him success in bringing about a major transformation of our society.
18. All Gambians have a right to serve in any public office. But that right can only be enjoyed provided one has the requisite requirement to acquire it and the requisite capacity to function in it. The issue therefore is how well we equip that person who becomes president. This is the crux of the argument in favour of a degree.
19. The Office of the President is the highest public office in the land. While we do not need a person with the highest academic qualification or the person with the most skills or the greatest knowledge, however the president must have a reasonable level of technical capacity and a set of skills to perform his functions well. A university degree is that basic training that provides such knowledge and skills. A president with such level of education is more likely to appreciate the value of institutions and processes and serve to strengthen them.
20. Therefore, a university degree is not to exclude any citizen. It is not elitist or to categorize society into unequal groupings. Rather it is to ensure that the country produces high value and high-quality leaders. This means political parties will be required to enhance their capacity to ensure that leadership, participation, decision making, and performance are always of the highest quality.
Requiring university degree will make our society cherish knowledge as the basis of our politics, engagement and governance as a whole. It will cleanse our politics from sectarian and personality politics to an issue-based politics. It will kill patronage and abuse and promote equality and non-discrimination.