Drive down Valley Road in Nairobi and you cannot fail to notice the church sign, ‘Christ is the Answer.’ Invariably, I am tempted to retort by asking ‘so if Christ is the answer, what is the question.’ A similar reaction arises when the handshake team keeps instructing the public that a referendum is the answer without ever telling us what the question is. Many have a sneaking suspicion, however, that they already know the question and are just waiting for the opportune moment to announce it.
The gusto and speed with which the handshake team has taken to the regions to promote their BBI agenda arouses further suspicion. With little room for dissent, anyone who doesn’t embrace the BBI project is labelled unpatriotic. It is almost reminiscent of the dreadful Kanu Damu era and don’t you dare object or they may find a skeleton in your closet or old files in the CID archives.
Even the BBI Steering Committee was left stranded at the station as the political class took the train to Kisii long before the BBI were gazetted. Late and breathless they booked the SGR to Mombasa with the Tangatanga outfit desperate to catch up with the Raila team who were already leading by two goals when they took the field. The Chinese say a good beginning is half the journey but get off to a bad start and you may never reach the finishing line.
The handshake may have reduced tension but when Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga alone were allowed to handpick the BBI task force to oversee the national dialogue process then their report would inevitably reflect the wishes and desires of their masters. That their term could be extended for six months without any additions or replacements confirmed the doubts of many about the steering committee’s independence or lack of it.
That Raila should then lead the regional meetings and the steering committee be left playing catch up in Mombasa is further proof of who in fact is in charge of this process. Questions about the budget, its legality and the expenses for these massive gatherings remain unanswered and add further suspicion about the exercise, its ownership and its destiny.
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If the steering committee were to be in any way effective, inclusive, competent, independent and representative then new faces should have been invited to join the process. Civil society, the religious groups, professionals and the business community have been locked out of the leadership and merely requested to submit their views. The steering committee is composed of loyal subjects of the handshake team and retired religious leaders long past their best before date.
What is conveniently forgotten is that long before the BBI was established the multi sector forum representing the faiths, business community, youth, civil society, disabled and minorities had been holding two national stakeholders forums as well as 47 county forums collecting views and making proposals of their own which the BBI to date have given mere lip service to. For example, in their December 2019 Consensus Agreement 2 they listed Concern Number 1 as historical and land injustices. The land question or the state crimes of the past got not a single mention in the BBI report of 156 pages. Why?
The BBI process was established we are told to unite the country but to date it has divided the citizens. It was intended to bring peace but may open up old wounds. Again we are informed that eventually, the public will be asked to vote on one bill with a concoction of amendments to the Constitution. The multi-sector forum advised against that saying that if we ever get to a referendum we must have a variety of questions and options and not a bland ‘yes’ ‘no’ single proposal.
The multi sector forum has been meeting at Ufungamano House for their national dialogue forums. The choice of venue was deliberate I suspect as we recall the role that hallowed place played in the making of the 2010 Constitution. Twenty years ago, Yash Pal Ghai successfully merged the Ufungamano Initiative together with the Parliamentary team even in the face of stiff resistance from the political class.
If we are to learn from past mistakes, then the BBI team as we know it will either die a natural death or be used to foist constitutional changes on Kenyans that only the powerbrokers demand. There is of course another route but that would mean putting the horse in front of the cart and starting afresh.
Gabriel Dolan [email protected] @GabrielDolan1