Let’s grasp opportunity for change in new year

President Uhuru Kenyatta with ODM leader Raila Odinga during the launch of Building Bridges Initiative report at Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi on November 27, 2019. [File, Standard]
For more than a year, the Kenyan public anxiously anticipated the release of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI)Task-force report. That was in the making since President Uhuru Kenyatta assigned a special task-force the onus of evaluating the challenges we face as a nation, as well as proposing practical recommendations and reforms capable of remedying them.

The programme of national consultation to forge lasting unity between the disparate people of this land has truly been one of a kind. It is the first initiative in our nation’s history that aims to build a governing system that reflects our roots and current characteristics as a people, and which promises to structure our political interactions in an orderly fashion for the betterment of all.

Almost immediately after the release of the report, however, our leaders split into two groups, plainly demonstrating an even more fundamental challenge: the conservative ideology that could prevent the people from having a direct say in shaping the future of our country.

Contrary to the request of President Uhuru and Opposition leader Raila Odinga to give the people the chance to decide the fate of the BBI report in a referendum, a coalition of politicians has emerged, which would rather see it amended and passed through Parliament. We should not be afraid to take an active role in politics. We must insist on participating in this project of consultation as equals.

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Nationwide plebiscite

While there are important political and financial costs to consider when it comes to organising and holding a referendum, the benefits would by far outweigh the costs.

First and foremost, conducting a referendum, a direct democratic procedure in which the entire voting population would be invited to make a decision on the proposed reforms, will take time. Even though our democracy is running efficiently, it takes a lot of effort to spur interest in participating in a nationwide plebiscite, and to count what would hopefully be a record-high number of votes. Thanks to Uhuru’s foresight, we have more than enough time until the next round of elections to debate and scrutinise the contents of the report.

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Another aspect is the financial cost. Merely counting votes, let alone guaranteeing their secrecy and integrity, would cost the taxpayer a significant sum of money. Spending time as well as money on the future of our country should nonetheless be considered one of the most profitable investments in our future. The way our president is tirelessly working towards creating job opportunities via domestic development initiatives as well as cross-border cooperation programmes is commendable. We should similarly take our part in building Kenya’s future. There has been no better opportunity to do so than the one presented to us now through the BBI.

Different ethnicities

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After years of calling for more comprehensive and fairer participation, we would finally achieve that through a referendum on crucial changes to our constitution. Such a referendum would allow us to truly participate in a voting process as equals. How could anyone in Kenya not want to exercise their right to influence the politics of this country for generations to come?

A referendum, on the other hand, would also require widespread cooperation between tribes - something we have struggled to achieve as a nation for so many years and what even the BBI report has identified as one of the most crucial impediments to our country’s success. A referendum would invite and, in fact, require cooperation between different ethnicities and factions of our society. In order to achieve a majority for reforms proposed by the BBI team, we need to transcend the traditional boundaries of tribe and consider each other brothers and sisters under the umbrella of one Kenyan nation.

We should not give in to voices of polarisation. After all, these are exactly what has prevented us from achieving the long-lasting goals we set in the frameworks of the Vision 2030. Our greatest challenge of all remains whether we will be able to come together as one to listen to each other and arrive at the necessary compromises. We are certainly able to. Let us not waste any more time!

Mr Guleid is the CEO of Frontier Counties Development Council. [email protected]

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BBIPresident Uhuru KenyattaRaila OdingaReferendum