Nothing fascinates political leaders more than an audience. Politicians don't see in the audience parents, grandparents or youth therein, they see voters who can make or unmake their careers. Politicians will never say it in public; they fear voters, particularly if they are angry.
Political leaders on both sides of the political divide, read Jubilee and NASA, sensed the boiling anger among the voters and came up with BBI to tone down the fury.
It is one of the paradoxes of our times. We fought together for uhuru. Once we got it, we quickly looked for another enemy, only this time it was within. We deviated from nation building to tribal or regional quarrels. It is more like hunting a dangerous animal like a buffalo. Once it’s caught we quarrel over who will take which part.
For BBI to achieve its objectives, it must build more than one bridge. Let us enumerate them before thinking about its end game.
Looking at BBI as just a bridge between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga would be narrow mindedness. It’s more than a bridge between Jubilee party and its opponents.
The first bridge would be linking the present and the past. There is a lot of disconnect between the past from colonial era to Mau Mau to the present.
Our country’s history is on stilts. One of the big historical questions is who our heroes are. In the US or even UK, we put them on currency notes and coins. Statues are also common reminders. Heroes inspire the next generation, they are a national resource. It’s paradoxical that our students know more about prehistory than history. They can describe the life and times of Zinjanthropus more than the strategies Mau Mau used to send Britons back to their isles.
The second bridge is between the several tribes, now called communities. How come there are no tribal or community fights in USA which has more tribes and races than Kenya? One could suggest that is managed by heaping everyone into two groups, black or white.
Intermarriage is one such a bridge, but you can’t force people to marry across tribes or races. One surprising bridge is economic empowerment. Noted we are more likely to marry across tribes or races if we are affluent and more educated? I have argued that is why there were tribal clashes in Kibra and not Runda which is as racially and tribally mixed.
Education is the other tool for building bridges across tribes. We learn early that we are all the same. Delocalising students is one way. Can the government give bus fare to students attending schools in far flung places now that fees are uniform? Why not intercounty games and other activities to bring us together?
Third bridge is across social - economic classes. That inequality is a big issue in this country can’t be disputed. The best evidence of this is high walls and razor wire around buildings. They are not for keeping off sabre-toothed tiger but fellow men. Price discrimination is another subtle sign of inequality. How much do you buy a soda in a 5-star hotel compared with a kiosk?
This bridge is the most effective of all the bridges. How do we give equal opportunity to everyone so that once you become affluent you don’t live under the long shadow of fear? We have done that traditionally through education where children of the peasants have risen from stables to stars. Transfers have been another means to equality. Giving some cash to the elderly was a step in the right direction.
Fourth bridge is across nations. We have argued that BBI soft underbelly is inward looking. We can’t bridge social - economic bridge alone. We need other nations and regions. That is why our governors are seeking economic blocs. The East African community (EAC) was the first bridge.
Fifth bridge is across genders. The confrontation between men and women over political posts, inheritance, and even at homes is not the best route to progress. Peaceful homes are the building blocks of all the bridges. Domestic violence and single parenthood might be a greater threat to society than even terrorism. For all the years Africa has been exploited, one thing has ensured her survival and continuity - strong families. It does matter if they were polygamous or not.
Sixth is a bridge between public and private interests. Few can deny that Kenyan public is treated like a bag of potatoes to quote Karl Marx. Who cares about the public? Paradoxically the 2010 constitution was about letting the public take charge of the country, it was time for “we the people.” “We” got it’s time when it was already subdued by years of centralised leadership, poverty and learned helplessness. The public now is the best bridge to self interest. One hopes BBI shall not end up the same way.
Seventh bridge is between the leaders and the led. Why is the parliament, the state house and governor’s offices surrounded by high walls? Who are they keeping off?
The eighth bridge is linking reality and idealism. For 56 years we have drifted from realities like population growth, climatic change and pessimism. Are our national dreams from 2010 constitution to Vision 2030 and big 4 based on reality? Use of data evidence instead of emotions would build this bridge.
The last bridge is inter-generational. How do we link one generation to the next? Rites of passage and elaborate ceremonies were used in the past. Today the younger and older generations are drifting apart in language, mannerism and even aspirations. BBI has alluded to building bridges across generations. That would be a noble cause. What major bride have we left out?
The end game, according to politicians is a cohesive and progressive nation. We all hope the bridges they talk about are not rhetorical.