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In typical Kenyan style, BBI reduced to power battles

By People Reporter
Friday, November 1st, 2019
President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga. Photo/File

By Sabina Akoth       

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report will be made public any time soon. This is after months of speculation and controversy, initially, regarding the mandate and operations of the BBI team and lately, the possible outcomes of their nationwide hearings. 

The initiative was a result of the now-famous Handshake between President Uhuru and Opposition leader Raila Odinga after the acrimonious 2017 presidential elections. The Handshake, it is generally agreed, put a stop to the chaos and tension that had characterised the election period. It assuaged the anger of Opposition leaders and supporters, who had felt victimised and brutalised by the system.

Like any peace offering, the Handshake was seen as an early gesture intended to precipitate something bigger and sustainable for the future. It is on this visioning that the BBI team was conceptualised and appointed. It is also on this premise that the arguments for and against the BBI are threatening to launch us into a heated political season. 

 The BBI has been received with mixed emotions. To its detractors, the idea and the team behind it have been a ploy to thwart some political dreams. In particular, supporters of Deputy President William Ruto have seen it as an attempt by Raila to further his political relevance while stifling the DP’s chances in 2022. Predictably, these perceived biases have created political divisions that are likely to determine our socio-political alignments over the next three years.

In some quarters, the BBI has been viewed as a waste of public resources. Reports from a few private sector players, including the civil society have intimated that the BBI should never have been a national project. Their perception is that the initiative was an agreement between two personalities and the failure to anchor that agreement in law renders the team and its envisaged outcome void of any legal support. 

As such, there are also questions as to why public funds have been utilised to meet the BBI’s human resource and operational demands. The manner in which the team was selected has also been criticised as non-competitive and more of a ploy to reward relatives and political cronies. Claims that the team has been inaccessible during its tenure has cast further doubt on the genuineness of the team. Reports from the civil society have asserted that the team operated in secrecy with no office address or website. They also say the team conducted their nationwide hearings selectively, with those likely to oppose their operations often locked out from the process.

It is this kind of framing and publicity that has ensured any mention of the BBI and its outcomes is viewed from a purely political sense. In many ways, the biggest stakeholders in the process went to bed right after the handshake, leaving the team and its processes at the mercy of politicians and other interested groups. Predictably, the political class, the media and the civil society have lived up to this expectation and are interpreting the BBI happenings any which way.

During this period, it has escaped most minds that beyond the political intrigues, there are other areas of interest that the BBI ought to pronounce itself on. In particular, the teams agenda revolved amongst other issues; corruption, ethnic antagonisms, human rights and security. But strangely, these other issues appear to be of no interest to those following the BBI train. 

 The obvious danger of this is that we are entrenching the status quo and leaving our continued governance processes to chance. Nothing is cast on stone and as is characteristic of our political processes, each election offers us an opportunity to execute certain desires and demands. Issues of our twin woes of tribalism and corruption will, therefore, undergo as many processes and agreements as needed to be ridded from society. 

The media and the political class have since pre-empted the inevitability of a constitutional referendum once the BBI report is made public. These premature reports have, in turn, facilitated existing biases for or against the envisaged document. 

At this point, depending on which side of the divide you are, the BBI report is either a destructive political agent or a powerful tool towards electoral and governance reforms.

—The writer comments on socio-political and development matters

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