Not for the first time and most probably, not for the last time, a series of much-publicised meetings planned by the Building Bridges Initiative Task Force to receive memoranda from the public failed to take off at the Coast yesterday.
Last month, the team had to suspend sittings in Machakos, Kitui, and Makueni for lack of funds. Other meetings were held in Nairobi, but that did not assuage the fears that the Initiative has been undermined from within and seemingly crashed off the rails even before the journey had started.
Too many meeting cancellations and what seems to be a lack of coordination and funding is denying the team the momentum it needs to get down to work.
The 14-member team led by Senator Yusuf Haji (Garissa) has been given a year to find out what needs to be done to tackle negative ethnicity, corruption, divisive politics especially in the wake of the 2017 elections.
What followed soon after the 2013 and the 2017 elections is proof that even a new Constitution is no guarantor for maintaining national unity and advancing the common good. Already, the drumbeats are beating for its overhaul. The Task Force would be better place to take in that feedback. Alas, it seems drowned out in the succession politics.
As far as we are concerned, time is of the essence.
And so even for practical purposes, there is little time to thrash out what really troubles our society before the May 2019 deadline.
But then the Building Bridges would only offer half the solution.
Indeed, dismantling the political networks that prop up the corruption cartels or disrupting the business-as-usual attitude in the Civil Service will require more than a nicely written report by 14 men and women.
Because the problem with Kenya is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.
Our society’s Achilles heel is the failure (especially by the ruling class) to uphold the rule of law.
Probably after realizing that it would be too much to expect the politicians to challenge and overhaul a system for which they are beneficiaries, President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga came up with the Building Bridges Initiative following the famous handshake on the steps of the president’s Harambee Office on March 9.
The onus was on the team was to come up with a roadmap to transforming our politics by making it a means to an end rather than as an end in itself.
From what we have seen so far, it is as if the team were still groping in the dark trying to find their purpose amid the tumult.
We believe that the Building Bridges Initiative was formed to address what ails our country: the fiercely exclusivist politics where the winner-takes-it-all; where politics is an end in itself an avenue for wealth acquisition and access to opportunity in government contracts, state largesse and privilege and protection from the rule of law.
And the politicians know too well that should they lose an election, they risk all that most significantly being held to account. This kind of politics has fostered the survival of the fittest mad rush like that in the wild we see around.
No wonder then that election losers have always felt that they haven’t lost fairly. The present absence of rancour should not lull us to what could potentially go wrong should the underlying issues be left to simmer until 2022 when elections are due next. As their name suggests, the Building Bridges team carries the hopes of a whole country. They should not disappoint. Kenyans expect nothing less from them. It is perturbing then that the team has been cast adrift denied the political will and resources to get things done.
It is up to Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to find a cure to save the country from another bout of electorally-induced economic malaise, tribal tension, skirmishes and destruction. If nothing else, they should save Kenyans the high price they pay for a dysfunctional democracy.
But as things stand and as the Building Bridges team searches for its purpose and mission, all indications are that we haven’t moved an inch from the precipice. Kenya’s predicament is captured by Paul Collier, a professor of economics and public policy at Oxford University.
Collier warns that “on their own, unless they are held in the context of a functioning democracy, elections can retard rather than advance a country’s progress.” The risk is that our elections are becoming a charade held only to legitimise the ruling elite’s hold on power.
The answer to that was the Building Bridges Initiative. They can and should do better.