It is the season of short rains in Kenya, and one can argue that it was raining honorary degrees across local universities last Friday.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, former prime minister Raila Odinga, Chief Justice David Maraga, Central Bank of Kenya governor Patrick Njoroge and Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) secretary-general Francis Atwoli were among those conferred with the honours by various institutions.
Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga’s degrees were issued by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology for the March 9 ‘handshake’ that ended the political turmoil following last year’s General Election.
Mr Odinga also received an honorary degree in 2008 from the University of Nairobi alongside former President Mwai Kibaki and former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan (now deceased). The three midwifed a power-sharing deal that quelled tensions in Kenya arising from the disputed 2007 polls.
Mr Kenyatta equally has another honorary degree from Moi University awarded in 2013 “for his efforts to promote peace and unity”.
Justice Maraga’s honorary doctorate in law was given by Daystar University. The institution’s acting vice chancellor, Prof James Kombo, said the honour was in line with the theme of the graduation ceremony: ‘Transforming Africa through Excellence and Servant leadership’.
“I am humbled and deeply honoured to receive an honorary doctorate in law,” Justice Maraga later tweeted. “I thank the almighty God and the university for this honour.”
Dr Njoroge’s award came from Kenyatta University for his contribution “towards monetary stability in the country under difficult circumstances”.
Kenyatta University vice chancellor Prof Paul Wainaina said Dr Njoroge has proved to be a game-changer in Kenya’s financial industry.
“In 2017 when the shilling started to depreciate, he initiated reforms that have strengthened and stabilised the currency,” he said.
Born in 1961 in Murang’a County to a family of teachers, Dr Njoroge was brought up in the Catholic faith and is today a staunch adherent of Opus Dei, a grouping committed to helping people seek holiness in life.
“It is this faith that has shaped Dr Njoroge’s daily life and work ethic and earned him great admiration from Kenyans when he politely turned down the trappings that go with the high office of the Governor of Central Bank of Kenya which many would imbibe,” noted Prof Wainaina.
Speaking after accepting the award, Dr Njoroge said he was a bit confused when he received the news of his award, adding that what convinced him to accept the honour and invitation was the opportunity to speak to the graduating class.
Mr Atwoli, on the other hand, got his honorary degree in labour relations from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (Mmust), which came after being controversially cancelled last year.
The degree was in recognition of his “long service and commitment to the national, regional and global international trade union leadership”.
MMUST acting vice chancellor, Prof Joseph Bosire, said the veteran trade unionist was identified because of the major role he plays as head of the labour movement in Kenya.
Mr Atwoli acknowledged his brothers and children, and specifically his first wife Jeniffer, for their role when he was scaling the heights of the labour movement.
Honorary degrees have been conferred from as far back as the 15th century, according to an article on the University of Nairobi website.
“An honorary degree is a doctorate, awarded to individuals who have no prior connection with the institution in question. The conferring of an honorary degree is the greatest honour that any university can bestow to a person,” the article states.
The first recorded honorary degree was awarded to Lionel Woodville in the late 1470s by the University of Oxford.
Strathmore University says in a document detailing guidelines on honorary degrees that whoever it gives that honour must “have sufficient stature and recognition to ensure that the awarding of an honorary degree brings enhanced reputation to Strathmore University and to the academic community as a whole.
Reported by Elvis Ondieki, Mary Wambui and Shaban Makokha