Chavakali Friends High School candidates sit for the 2016

KenyaCertificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination.

The Lesson: Corruption can be destroyed if there is proper strategy and planning backed by sufficient political will.

Its Inverse: If corruption continues it is due to the fact that there is insufficient strategy and planning with the political will to stamp it out.

Kenya has just had a remarkable example of staying the dragon of corruption. This concerns the marking of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) that students take at the end of their secondary school career. The results determine if the person will go on to university, a trade school, be accepted for employment, or join the myriad of people doing basic manual labor. To be accepted for university the student needs to obtain at least a C+ on the examination.

The following table shows the results from the 2016 examinations versus the 2015 examinations.



Results Results  
  2016 2015 Change

























Total to University



































This table clearly shows that the number of students receiving high marks declined drastically while those at the bottom who failed or were close to failing increased substantially. The number of top “A” students declined by 95%. Forty-eight percent or 80,881 fewer students were eligible to attend university.

What happened? Exam cheating was eliminated. In 2015 cartels received the exams prior to the examination date and sold them to those with the funds and connections to buy them. Exams were graded regionally and people bribed those grading the exams to give their son or daughter good marks. Then during the month or two it took to announce the results, for an appropriate bribe, education officials were willing to doctor the results. Over 5,000 student scores were discounted because cheating was detected. The whole system was corrupt. Many of those students who were accepted to universities flunked out because they were not prepared for university work.

On 24 November 2015, Fred Matiang’i was appointed as the cabinet Secretary for Education. One of his charges was to clean up the mess in the conduct of the primary and secondary examinations. He needed to take tough action. On March 23 he dissolved the Kenya National Examinations Council’s (KNEC) board response for the exams. He sacked the chairman and ordered the arrest of the council’s chief executive officer and eight other senior officers over examination irregularities. He appointed Professor George Magoha, a surgeon and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, as the new chairman. Before taking the position Prof Magoha, noted for his tough stance at the University, asked for authority and support for whatever procedures he needed in order to clean up the examination system. He was promised this support (that is, the political will to do what it would take).

The first step was to severely limit the number of people who had access to the exams before they were sent out to the schools. The exams themselves were securely locked until the day that they were used. Then rather than have marking centers all over the country, KNEC consolidated 25 marking centers in Nairobi for the 16,637 teachers who marked the exams. I know at least two of them – one was our nephew, Duncan, and another was Ambwere, a member of Lumakanda Friends Church. Duncan told me that his cell phone was taken from him and the other markers for the whole period from December 2 thru 24 as they marked the exams – clearly so that they would not have outside communications with anyone. Four markers who were suspected of cheating were immediately fired and prosecuted. As each test was marked, the result was sent electronically to the central tabulating center to be automatically posted. Then, rather than wait for one to two months to announce the results, the 2016 results were announced 5 days after the end of the marking on December 29.

Education Secretary Fred Matiang’i became an instant national hero. For example, on December 31, the Daily Nation exclaimed, “He came into a sector that had been surrendered to the rankest of profiteers and reclaimed it. He is on every lip in every village and street.”

The shockingly bad results have had additional consequences. First it illustrated how bad the teaching in Kenya secondary schools is and the fact that many graduates had learned little. Moreover, since so many students had formerly obtained top grades to attend university, the public universities were all at capacity and many private more expensive universities sprang up around the country. With only half the number of students qualified for universities – Matiang’i announced that the requirement to attend university would not be lowered – the public universities would be able to handle all the qualified students and therefore leaving the private universities with no students. We will see how this plays out.

Within a few more days the corrupt cartels launched their counterattack. Various actors, including the teachers union – the results raised the question of how professional and competent Kenyan teachers are – and even the political aspirant for President, Raila Odinga, questioned how the exams were handled, asking for an audit, and so on. It is now a good question if this examination corruption has been destroyed for the future or if the cartels will slowly reassert themselves and re-corrupt the examination system. Time will give us the answer.

Yet the biggest take-away is that if secondary students know that their future is tied to corruption then that will stay with them their whole working life. If they learn that they have to study and produce, then they will learn that this is what it takes to succeed. Can this, therefore, be the beginning of the end of corruption in Kenyan society? I wouldn’t hold my breath on this but it is a great example of what is needed to slay the dragon of corruption.


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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues with his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.


David Zarembka

Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC)

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