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Let BBI narrative help Kenyans confront ills facing the nation

By Mathews Owili | January 19th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Once again the country is on the grip of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) national discourse as the year 2020 begins on a more resolute and promising reforms path.

Indeed, the BBI effort and promise to build democracy remains real and powerful. Not only defending it is good, but broadening its ‘feast’ is one of the great causes of our time.

From face value, the truth is that democracy needs defending, because the BBI objectives should ensure peace, prosperity, and greater freedom for all Kenyans. Anything short of that is not acceptable.

Going forward, Kenyans must demonstrate that the full promise of democracy can be realised through BBI reforms drive, and recognise that no one else will do it for us. In this sense, the current flash contains not only ‘perils of democracy’ as some political elites against BBI posit, but a new opportunity for our democracy to grow for the common good of all.

To this extent, those committed to good human rights values and democratic governance, transparency and accountability, should not limit themselves to a chary defence of the status quo. Instead, we should throw ourselves into BBI discourse intended to renew our national, regional and international advices, to protect human dignity and values in a more just and coherent manner. It is my conviction that if we push for more comprehensive reforms, including for workers’ rights whose lives are disrupted by technological and tough economic realities, Kenya will go far.

This is because democracy requires continuous effort to thrive, and so constant willingness to broaden and deepen its values will shape our future socio-economic and political orientations.

Opposed to ruling system

Currently, Kenyans have been prepared to warm up for a national referendum to vote on the contentious issues arising from the BBI Report. This is alright. Right now debate is rife in this country as to whether or not Kenyans needs to hold a referendum to amend or alter the system of governance that is not working for us.

With the ongoing nationwide rallies planned, across the country to popularise the contents of BBI and come up with the final suggestions, I must echo that time is ripe for a referendum this year.

Kenyans must therefore be ready to make a decision and/or to express their will about specific problems arising from BBI of great value to the citizens or that which will affect them.

Taking into account that the nation is a collective and unifying entity, this decision is to be made by way of voting to decide for or against, (Yes or No) on thorny issues. So it is referendum vote that will help resolve the current political problems, when Kenyans are divided over some suggestions or issues contained in the BBI proposals.

Already, some political elites have even suggested expansion of the Executive, and others have proposed reduction in the size of government in the recent past. Similarly, there are proposals that aim at introducing parliamentary democracy to replace the presidential system of rule.

Then there is also a foregoing school of thought that Cabinet Secretaries should be picked from among Members of Parliament in the new BBI constitutional order. All these point to a referendum. I should emphasize that the choice made by participants in the referendum will be reduced to an alternative either to accept the whole suggestions made or to reject it-altogether.

For instance, in Kenya, it has been argued the concept of the ‘winner takes it all’ is to blame for recurring post-election chaos each general elections cycle. It is one of the reasons BBI was born.

BBI was born out of the view that Kenya was not heading in the right direction that would uphold its homogeneity or unity as is emboldened in the National Anthem, so to speak the truth.

Critics of the current presidential system, had blamed it for perpetuating an imperial presidency or an autocratic leadership biased to those opposed to the ruling system or establishment.

This is why both President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition Chief Raila Odinga who is now AU envoy for infrastructure decided to form the BBI to review the challenges.

BBI taskforce was formed on March 9, 2018 after the two top Kenyan leaders shook hands outside Harambee House. Its key object was to end years of political hostility among the diverse Kenyan communities. Since then BBI has been gathering divergent views on the nine issues identified as problems ailing Kenya. Now the country is on the second BBI democratic wave rallies.

Kenyans will have to vote and decide on their own national fate, legitimisation of political power, and how they ought to be governed through a national referendum. The issues under review are ethnicity, lack of national ethos, inclusivity; Devolution, divisive elections, security, corruption, shared prosperity and responsibilities and rights. Finally, BBI should encourage diversity and give all the 44 ethnic communities, including the minority Elmolo, or Kuria community, a chance to be heard.

- The writer is Kisumu Deputy Governor and public policy analyst

Building Bridges Initiative BBI
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