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Why BBI should be an economic document

By XN Iraki | November 22nd 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

A procession in support of BBI. Politics is easier and appeals to our emotions more than economics. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) has become a lightning rod in Kenya’s political arena. It has stopped being a bridge, with a river of differences between opposing parties.

One area of contention is opening up the report to further public discussion. I remember we were told not to comment on a document whose contents we did not know. We are now told not to comment on it, now that we know the contents. No wonder they say Kenyans are peculiar.

The resistance to more changes has left my head spinning. Is BBI a Trojan horse to power? If you read the BBI report, lots of power lost by the president in the 2010 Constitution has been restored. BBI proposers must have noted the challenges faced by executive decisions under the current political dispensation.

It is another question if they want to give the president more power for selfish reasons or for national good. BBI leaves no doubt that though we rallied against President Moi, we admired the power he wielded.

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The BBI strategy seems simple; rush the document and have it pass through a referendum in its current state. We can then deal with the consequences. You recall 2010: "The constitution is 80 per cent good, we shall rectify the rest once it goes through"? We all know what happened.

The key issue is who will hold the power if BBI goes through. It seems the power will be shared with a prime minister and two deputies. Read it again. The president will hold the real power by appointing the PM and deputies. 

It seems we, like Russians, love 'big people' as our leaders. The ghosts of Kanu have never left us.

Why more political posts? Don’t we say too many cooks spoil the broth? The hinge is inclusion, a code for having more tribes close to power. But they are only five big posts out of 44 communities. What will the rest get?

To distract us from the political power to be amassed by the next president, counties are given more money. MCAs are given their funds just like MPs. The appointment of MPs as ministers is another bait.

The language of money is the easiest to understand. We should stop 'depooling' money. Why should every elected official control some fund, yet they are elected by the same voter? Would that money not do more if it was pooled?

We have been made to believe that BBI will cure all our national problems, but we were promised the same by the 2010 Constitution. The jury is not yet out. Truth be told, BBI will only solve our national problems if we diagnose them correctly.

We are already caught in the same trap as 2010; division of revenue, not its generation. Counties will get 35 per cent of revenues collected, who will generate that money?

At the heart of BBI and the constitution is economics, espoused by inequality across regions and among individuals. The rich and affluent built bridges long ago - they intermarry, play golf together, live in peace and invest together. And they have less time for politics.

The less affluent - hustlers - need to build economic bridges. They lack jobs, sense of belonging and see each other as the cause of their problems. That is why counties were popular and were left untouched by BBI. Different communities saw them as an opportunity to exclude 'others'.

Yet the most progressive counties are the most diverse and inclusive. I have in mind Nairobi, Mombasa and Nakuru. The same applies to states such as New York and California in America.

The biggest question in BBI should be if our economic well-being will improve. We seem to believe that politics is the biggest hurdle on our way to economic progress. We should put our economics right and politics will be right. Is that not what South Korea or China did?

Economics should be the heart of BBI, other issues are sideshows. Will young men and women create jobs for themselves and their neighbours? Government jobs are only 750,000. With ICT, the State should be employing even less.

Jobs will be created by you and me, not the government. In Kenya, 83 per cent of the jobs are in the informal sector, buttressing the importance of individuals and not the State in job creation and economic growth. The government should create an enabling environment, we shall do the rest.

BBI should be an economic document, not political. One is left wondering why there is so much focus on changes to the constitution and not Vision 2030, which transformed our country in 10 years during the Kibaki era.

The answer is that politics is easier and appeals to our emotions. You vote for a day but economic activities never stop.

Economics is more realistic and harder. Job creation, improving the business environment, giving men and women new skills, creating new markets, making citizens believe in themselves...is not easy. Did you see the same level of excitement over Vision 2030 as we are getting from BBI?

I can say with confidence that unless the economic question is answered in BBI, the amendments to the constitution will not solve our national problems. Remember our population has gone up as resources such as land have remained the same.

Too much focus on politics is another way to run from hard responsibilities. Even if BBI goes through, the economic reality will remain.

BBI should be multifaceted: address economic, cultural, political and even religious problems. That is why it should be opened up for further public discussion. It is not an exam or football match that has a time limit. 

And why so much focus on BBI and its implementation amidst Covid-19? Could BBI proponents be taking advantage of the fear of coronavirus to achieve their political objectives?

- The writer is associate professor at the University of Nairobi

BBI Building Bridges Initiative Economy
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