BBI, media central to quest for national cohesion
Wednesday, March 4th, 2020
The country seems to be in a campaign mood, more than two years before the next General Election.
Succession politics coupled with the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) debate has worked the country into a frenzy.
One cannot help but wonder: If the much-touted referendum were to be held today, would the poll be peaceful?
This would be a long shot, unless the ongoing succession talk is toned down, both by politicians and the media.
In the early 1990s, then President Daniel arap Moi warned that peaceful polls in a multi-party Kenya would be a pipe dream in a nation where political party support is largely ethnic.
True to the prophesy, none of the elections since 1992 has been without its share of problems.
Acrimonious premature succession campaigns are just a dress rehearsal for the worst the country could face.
Abuses hurled by politicians at rivals and derogatory references merely reinforce the fear of the electorate and investors.
As a product of surprise reconciliation between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his erstwhile rival Opposition leaders Raila Odinga, the BBI is expected to rise above political class interests to save the country from a recurrence of post-election violence.
The initiative, in its blanket terms of reference, has what it takes to tame electoral hostilities, among other problems facing the country.
But not all seems ready to embrace the BBI. For instance, allies of Deputy President William Ruto claim March 2018 handshake by President Uhuru and Raila, which gave birth to the BBI, was a ploy to frustrate the DP’s chances of ascending to the throne.
First things first. Our current electoral statutes are replete with flaws prone to manipulation by the mighty.
Under the current system, parties play no role in ensuring fairness in the polls apart from nominating some nondescripts and dubious characters for elections.
It is in view of the foregoing that the BBI taskforce has to look afresh at the electoral statute which at the moment lacks capacity to tame voter bribery, gender disparity, manipulation and marginalisation in representation.
Proportional representation system is an option that could remedy some of the common electoral ills that bedevil the country.
An irrevocable party nomination list filed with the electoral commission ahead of the polls should be made mandatory, reflecting the face of Kenya in terms of diversity, gender parity, and accommodative of the youth and people disability.
In such a system, voters choose parties not individuals who are then more are responsible and accountable than elected representatives of ancestral villages.
Service delivery would also be efficient, while the recurrent noise about rigging, marginalisation, voter bribery and election-related chaos will be a thing of the past.
Meanwhile, this article would be incomplete without reference to the role the media plays in conflict situations.
The political temperature is at fever pitch today because the coverage of succession campaigns has helped deepen ethnic rivalry and division.
Some of the published stories from campaign platforms and sideshows are detrimental to our cohesion dream.
Abusive remarks by a leader would make for juicy reading but could also inflame passions.
To the media, such coverage is meant to boost sales and newspaper circulation, TV viewership and radio audience.
But there is a costly price to pay, one of which is the fragmentation of the nation.
Indeed, absolute press freedom can be destructive as history illustrates. For instance, the 2007 post-election chaos could not have escalated out of control if the media had not defined the protests as tribal.
We have not forgotten that the media was responsible for the collapse of a British-founded political and regional economic model with no match in the world at the time.
The media overplayed ideological differences between the late President Jomo Kenyatta and Julius Nyerere who had co-existed 16 years after independence regardless of their political beliefs.
When the security, national unity and regional harmony are at stake, exercising restraint and precaution in the coverage of incidents and political campaigns is not censorship but responsible journalism.
To this end, its only the BBI and the media can pull the country out of a political quagmire. —The writer is the Governor of Siaya—[email protected]