BBI, media central to quest for national cohesion

By People Daily
Wednesday, March 4th, 2020
Deputy President Ruto, President Uhuru and Raila Odinga during BBI Report launch. Photo/Courtesy

Cornel Rasanga       

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]

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