The unveiling of the Building Bridges Initiative report, Kenya’s latest attempt at fostering national unity, was punctuated with an almost frenzy-like reception, especially by the political class.
It came as the political and legal fraternity roamed the country, generously dispending opinions on this much-anticipated document. Some strongly defended and vowed to endorse it even before reading it. Others vehemently opposed it and swore to shoot it down at sight. Interestingly, both sects had no idea of the contents of the report since, until its release, it had been under a tight lid.
In a rather unprecedented turn of events, the political battle lines that had earlier been drawn seemed to suddenly blur when the report became public. The exchanges that now seemed ignorant and myopic, were sheathed and everyone seemed to endorse the report, including the vehement opposers.
The BBI initiative was meant to identify the challenges Kenyans face, and to offer recommendations to help address them. Among its most-talked about recommendation is the proposed expansion of the Executive by reintroducing the Prime Minister position (that was created for convenience of the Government of National Unity, following the 2007/ 2008 post-election violence). This, together with the Leader of Opposition post, an all-inclusive cabinet, and the reconstitution of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission are meant to address electoral in injustices that Kenya has experienced every election cycle by solving the “winner takes it all” issue. Its other key recommendation is the increasing of allocations to counties to between 35 and 50% of the last audited accounts. Together with other recommendations in the 156-page document, the overarching message is the need for inclusivity and accountability in government.
The report highlights important issues that the country has been sidelining. Major issues like lack of a national ethos, ethnic antagonism, divisive politics, corruption and devolution were highlighted complete with recommendations. If leaders and stakeholders devoted their time, energy, and focus towards implementing these recommendations, Kenya would get back on track towards prosperity.
While the report sells the promise of hope, it is not quite clear whether Kenyans should be optimistic about it since there are various reports like the Ndung’u Land Report and the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report from many years back have still not been implemented.
Most importantly, the Constitution of Kenya clearly outlines principles by which the country should live by. If Kenyans took dictates of the constitution to heart, there would be no need for a BBI report and its rather unsurprising recommendations.
Other than the structural recommendations on how the government should look like, most of the other recommendations are things any Kenyan is familiar with but chooses to overlook or sweep under the carpet in pursuit of selfish interests. One need not go any further than the nearest shopping center to see this. There will be a boda boda (bicycle taxi) guy riding on the wrong side of the road; a pedestrian littering recklessly; and someone being pickpocketed. There will also be a car over-speeding right after bribing a traffic officer.
In the next day’s newspaper headline - it is likely a scandal or a government official hurling insults at another political leader. Counties, while fighting for a bigger share of the national revenue, struggle to justify this request, given that the little they receive is barely utilized responsibly. Tales of funds misappropriation, unexplained expenditure and questionable receipt records have become a norm.
It is unsurprising that new battle lines are already forming after politicians differed on how the report should be implemented, just days after its launch. That speaks a lot on Kenyans’ character as a nation. There could be many reports like the BBI, but until there is a radical mind-shift among Kenyans, the challenges being addressed won’t be going away anytime soon.