Could BBI morph into another political party?

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) delivered its much-anticipated report to President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga in November.

It generated interesting varied reactions, in part because of the way it was handled. The official launch, supposedly a State event, developed protocol hitches. Many questions arose as to whether the initial intent of the BBI matched the actual outcome. The two - intent and outcome - appeared to be worlds apart.       

From inception, the BBI was under positive and negative pressures and political heat. The positive hovered around the official reasons that the two principals, Uhuru and Raila, gave when they signed documents as 'equals'.

On the negative side were rumours that cast doubts on the BBI's ability to promote inclusivity and national cohesion.

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In the process, political players turned the BBI into a football match that created unsettling impressions. Was it to 'fix' one potential candidate while preparing grounds for another to the presidency? Politicians did not help matters as they engaged in political grandstanding amid accusations and counter-accusations of corruption, incompetence, and disloyalty.

Each side assumed it had the inside track to the BBI. The assumptions were misplaced. 

Hurried report

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The report, that appeared hurriedly put together, had, at best, contradictory success. It disabused many people, forced players back to the drawing board and intensified debates.

First, it avoided emotive issues, went for general consensus and gave something to every faction. It gave every faction something but none everything. While those who had feared what it contained were quick to embrace it, others barely hid their annoyance.

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Those unhappy with not receiving everything started poking holes in the report during and after the launch. Adopting the strategy of rejection through attrition and amendments, they insisted on the primacy of their desires.

The Central Organisation of Trade Unions boss Francis Atwoli, for instance, shouted “Yes, Yes, Yes” and then fired salvos at the BBI report for not recommending two deputy presidents, a powerful prime minister and deputy prime ministers.

Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka complained about the BBI’s failure to propose a powerful prime minister. Others lamented the absence of a third layer regional governments for 'super governors' between the county and the national government.   

While breach of protocol and disruptive behaviour had left a bad taste, activities before the unveiling of the BBI report at Bomas of Kenya showed general acceptance of a conversation document and also a national split. There are those who mounted subtle resistance to the spirit of the report by demanding that Atwoli and Kalonzo's views on a powerful prime minster and two deputies be accommodated.

Others wanted the report adopted as it was, asserting that there was nothing to change.

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On its part, the BBI task force, led by Martin Kimani, started going out to promote its product. Yet, as Kimani spoke of mounting town hall meetings, different voices questioned the continued relevance of the task force. When its term was extended by 18 months to help implement what it had suggested, the questions increased.

Enough momentum

There were fears that the extension of the team's term was to give BBI enough momentum to evolve into a possible political party that would be a force to reckon with. To do so, Kimani would have to make BBI more popular with 'Wanjiku', while taking into consideration that other likely political opponents would be on the alert.

Still, it would not be unprecedented if BBI morphed into a political party. It has happened in the past.

The Forum for Restoration of Democracy (Ford) was initially a movement. It became a party as soon as President Daniel arap Moi opened the door to pluralism.

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The National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) was a temporary vehicle of convenience to remove Kanu from power. Then there was the Pentagon in 2007 - more of a political movement preaching the 41 against one slogan than a party.

There was also the United Democratic Forum (UDF), which started as a national mobilisation movement with no official candidate in mind. It then blended into UDFP that Musalia Mudavadi used to vie for the presidency in 2013.

The BBI fits the pattern and shows signs of becoming a movement before evolving into a political party to face either Jubilee or the Orange Democratic Movement in 2022. How the initiative is marketed will determine whether it will have followers or simply disappear into political wilderness.

It could go either way. 

Prof Munene teaches history and international relations at USIU

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Uhuru KenyattaRaila OdingaBBI