BBI report should catalyse genuine national dialogue

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]

In the fourth quarter of 2002, Kenya's business climate was the most uncertain globally according to a World Bank survey. On September 10, 2019, IMF's World Uncertainty Index (WUI) ranked Kenya as having the second-worst business environment in the world in the run-up to the 2017 general election.

WUI shows it was not until after the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga that investors felt at ease to put their money in the country and that things have been generally calm so far. The IMF team came up with the WUI as a means to measure economic and political uncertainty among 143 countries that represent 99 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The findings confirm an obvious reality that in Kenya, the electioneering period is one of the main sources of uncertainty and depresses growth as investors develop a wait-and-see approach for fear of civil unrest as witnessed in the aftermath of the 2007 and 2017 elections.

In the coming days, the Building Bridges Initiative Advisory Taskforce will hand over its report to President Kenyatta and Odinga who are expected to make it's contents public. The report will most likely upstage previous reports like the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence (CIPEV) and the Kriegler Commission reports, which address key fundamental and historical issues on the social cohesion of communities and Kenya’s democratic governance practice. Moreover, most recent governance reform proposals such as the Punguza Mizigo by Thirdway Alliance, the Ugatuzi Initiative by the Council of Governors and the proposals by the Interreligious Council of Kenya under the auspices of Dialogue Reference Group will not receive much focus despite the critical issues that they address. 

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The BBI process is a public interest and public-funded initiative.  Given the political capital of the promoters of the BBI initiative and the mandate to tackle the critical issues of ending ethnic antagonism, promoting national ethos, fostering inclusivity, strengthening devolution, curing divisive elections, enhancing safety and security, eradicating runaway corruption in government, enabling shared prosperity and entrenching rights and responsibilities, the BBI report holds the key to fundamental reconciliation and reforms in Kenya.

It is for these reasons that the unveiling of the BBI report ought to capture the spirit and letter of governance reforms. The report should ultimately catalyse an all-inclusive, issue-based, people-centered and structured national dialogue governance reforms process.  Since the re-introduction of Multi-Party politics, we have continued to suffer from inconclusive governance and electoral reforms, which have at best been skewed and/or stalled under various electoral cycles. The BBI report ought to pave the new road to consensus building on these divisions that lead to the nine-point agenda under BBI as well as addressed in previous judicial reports and also by other political and civic actors.   

While the BBI taskforce avers its report is a product of extensive public participation and captures the views and aspirations of the people, questions on the constitutionality of the process and inclusivity of the team deserve concrete answers to afford the report much-needed legitimacy, ownership, and national context. Without which, the report is likely to elevate the handshake to supremacy levels pitying political elites in the form of Kieleweke, Tangatanga, Embrace and Inua mama outfits. 

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If reforms, reconciliation, restoration and recovery of the economy do not take place, then 2022 will become explosive. The plight of small scale farmers, traders and fisher folk will continue to worsen; the state of education will worsen; the fight against corruption will fail; devolution and service delivery will flop, youth unemployment will continue to bite and worsen; tax justice, debt burden, insecurity in the form of spiraling crime/extra judicial killings, police reforms will remain major concerns and may easily lead us to anarchy.

The release of the BBI report must catalyse the governance reform process and President Kenyatta must be ready to go the whole hog leading the implementation before leaving the office. It should put to an end to the cycle of conflict and disintegration of our nation.  Political and civic actors must collaborate to discuss the BBI submissions, analyse other governance reform proposals, identify the similarities and build consensus on the differences. While President Kenyatta and Hon. Odinga should be credited for the altruism, Kenya’s peace, political stability, and sustainable development can no longer be dependent on their handshake.

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Mr Mukwanja is the Executive Director Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD-Kenya).

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President Uhuru KenyattaRaila OdingaIMFNational Dialogue