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BBI debate must look at issues beyond politics

By Alberto Leny
Tuesday, October 20th, 2020
BBI taskforce members (from left) Senator Yusuf Haji (chairman), Stephen Karau (Chief administrator) and Dr Adams Oloo (vice-chair). Photo/PD/File
In summary

The anxiously awaited Bridges Initiative (BBI) final report is about to be released at a critical moment in the nation’s history.

Born out of the ‘handshake’ between President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the BBI was initiated to guide a national conversation on political, socio-economic and constitutional reforms precipitated by protracted, often violent, divisive elections.

Ethnic tension, political conflict and deepening inequality has perennially undermined national cohesion. Wananchi remain wracked by poverty and high levels of unemployment, especially among the ballooning population of agitated youth.

The BBI Steering Committee guiding the dialogue in February completed a year-long validation exercise after wide public participation and retreated to prepare a Draft Bill on the much-needed reforms, which was concluded by the expiry of its mandate on June 30.

As the committee ended its public hearings, the deadly infectious novel coronavirus disease struck, slowing down the march to a referendum as dictated by the Constitution. 

Seven months later and with Covid-19 still very much around and unlikely to go away soon, BBI initiators know they cannot afford to delay its activation any longer. 

With hindsight from the critical lessons learned in the aftermath of the pandemic, Kenyans should prepare to thoroughly interrogate the BBI report with a list of national priorities. 

We must veer away from fixation with the dubious and deceitful narrative of politics  political players are wont to whip us into. With honesty and openness, let us scrutinise the final BBI document in a last round of public and legislative housekeeping before the referendum.

Beyond politics, citizens should focus on the bigger picture, capturing the ideals of democracy, human rights, social justice, inclusion, a safer, secure environment and eradication of poverty.

Other than firm, transparent and accountable policies, plans and programmes expected from the BBI, the government needs to allow capital, labour skills and innovation to inspire an inclusive and resilient post-coronavirus recovery. 

It must create a business environment that champions climate and environmental goals.

Key issues that emerged during the initial BBI conversation related to electoral justice, power structure and the distribution of national resources, particularly those concerning devolution and the role of county governments in good governance and development.

Coronavirus has provided a sharp lens to focus on these fundamental issues confronting society, as global and national attention remains riveted on containing the spread of the deadly virus.

Covid-19 has led to the largest global economic contraction in 80 years. 

The BBI conversation must build a comprehensive, robust response to the long-standing political and socio-economic ills exacerbated by bad politics and the pandemic that have increased inequalities and poverty, harming long-term economic growth prospects.

Our fragile health and education systems are overwhelmed, productivity disrupted, threatening food security, and massive job losses recorded amid drastic income reductions, mainly among the poor.

A surge of the virus is a grim warning calling for the interment of three issues giving the State a bad name - unending health workers’ disputes, inhuman evictions from informal settlements and forests and corruption.

It is immoral to continue grossly violating inalienable human rights of citizens and frontline soldiers in the middle of the war against the most devastating pandemic of our times. [email protected] 

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