BBI should quit now that Punguza Mizigo has stolen the thunder

Building Bridges Initiative chairman Yusuf Haji (centre), vice chair Adams Oloo( right) and the task force secretary Paul Mwangi (left) address the media in Nairobi on July 15, 2019. [Collins Kweyu/Standard]
It has taken the Thirdway Alliance’s Punguza Mizigo referendum push to expose the true identity of those who, all along, have masqueraded as champions of the people’s rights. The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has perennially projected itself as the friend of the oppressed, yet when the first real chance to cement that position arose, the party went into paroxysms.

Even before the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission could send the bill to county assemblies, ODM legislators ganged up and swore they will block it. At best, the reason informing their stand is pedestrian; that Kenyans must await the report of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). If I am not wrong, BBI is not anchored on any law and cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be considered pivotal to our lives.

BBI is a product of the March 9, 2018 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and erstwhile opponent Raila Odinga. Raila had boxed himself into a tight corner with that swearing–in stunt on January 30, 2018 while Kenyatta faced serious legitimacy challenges.

Both being astute, and therefore wise to the implications of their actions, they secretly sought each other out. Not even the Deputy President was privy to the arrangement that took both friend and foe by surprise. Thus, BBI was never a popular initiative of the Kenyan people.

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Captures issues

Indeed, the low-key BBI marks it as a complete charade designed to hoodwink a perpetually gullible public into believing the Government is sensitive to its needs.

That BBI mostly holds its meetings in high-end hotels instead of open public places; that where it holds its sessions is not readily apparent and accessible by the wider public are clear indicators whose interests it serves.

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BBI is an elitist task force that should be disbanded now that Punguza Mizigo succinctly captures issues dear to the common man. BBI plays squarely into the narrative of ‘dynasties’ if, as some have alleged, it seeks to create more executive positions to accommodate permanent fixtures on our political landscape.

ODM legislators dancing to a hidden tune should stop attempting to herd the public into adopting what looks like tailor made choices presented by the BBI. Italian politician Emma Bruno once said that ‘drafting a constitution is only the first step. The constitution has to be granted legitimacy by open discussion and a fair, representative referendum’. A referendum should not be narrowed down to massaging the egos of politicians; it should be treated with the seriousness anything that is likely to affect us for decades to come deserves.

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Given the low-profile BBI meetings, it is easy to agree with American philosopher Jason Brennan on his take; “My main worry about referendums is that you are taking a very complicated political question that requires knowledge of a bunch of background facts in the social sciences and you’re handing that question to people who don’t know those facts and in fact, are systematically misinformed about them”.

 Such hubris

Conversely, the Punguza Mizigo initiative has all its cards on the table. Even before Thirdway Alliance acquired the mandatory minimum one million signatures to get IEBC to endorse its call for a referendum, the party had convincingly argued its case.

We know where we stand with Punguza Mizigo; fewer elected leaders and reasonable, regulated salaries for people who only work three days a week for a couple of hours. By reducing the number of leeches feeding off Treasury, this will save the country Sh31.79 billion annually by Thirdway Alliance’s calculation.

Kenyans, wearied of political duplicity, must now demand active roles through public participation in national matters and ignore the naysayers in the Opposition and the ruling party who, like Aden Duale, advance the puerile argument that “the seats at the National Assembly are held on behalf of Kenyans. When you touch them, you touch the people and they will not like it”.

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Such hubris misleads MPs into believing they are God’s gift to suffering Kenyans. Does Duale honestly believe that Kenyans are happy to see the people they elected feather their own nests; plunder national resources by stealing money meant for development projects?

Of what use are MPs to maize farmers in the Rift Valley or cane farmers in Western Kenya when all MPs do is cuddle cartels fleecing farmers? Feckless MPs could not even shield Kenyans from additional costs that a fuel levy would surely add to their miserable lives.

Nothing ever seems to travel North in this country, it is mostly South because our leaders are greedy and selfish.

George W Bush once said: “Initiative and referendum make government more responsive to its citizens, neutralise the power of the special interests and stimulate public involvement in state issue.” Let us heed this counsel and endorse Punguza Mizigo.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]

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