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On BBI report let’s discuss the presidency which we fight over

By Gichu Kihoro | February 2nd 2020

Majority politicians and commentators have run to town with the wrong conversation about the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). In the process, the debate has veered off key facts: The Presidency and how the country perceives and relates with it, both historically and presently.

To sanitise the BBI debate calls for separation of issues that should not be part of the debate, and personalities who should not participate in the 2022 presidential contest. This saves a lot of time, energy and resources expended in efforts to find common ground and consensus in a process full of hypocrisy. Through ethnic lenses, Kenyans see communities, not individuals, as either being in or out of power. Any other arguments around the BBI, including the March 9 2018 handshake, referendum, and the Kenyatta succession, is secondary and diversionary.

But stripped of all hypocrisy, fear, ignorance and semantics, the Presidency is the issue people should be discussing because that is what Kenyans have repeatedly fought over and killed each other.

Even the raft of vitriolic majimbo talk unveiled at the Mombasa BBI rally last Saturday also had the presidency as a central theme and logic of the Coast Declaration. Since politicians from Coast feel they had no hope of one of their own ever ascending to the presidency in a competitive democratic process through the ballot, at least they have a chance of becoming regional chieftains in a federalist system of 12 regions, Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi, proposed.

The majimbo boggy resonates well with so-called “marginalised” communities, across the country. The “marginalised” mindset and politics lumps everyone who is from the entire breadth and length of Savanna grasslands as “marginalised,” and everyone from the highlands as the “marginaliser.”

It essentially casts the dichotomy of the narrative and political statements in the format of the former being the “aggrieved” victim, and the latter the “guilty” aggressor who must either be punished –eg through ethnic cleansing politically motivated violence- or ousted from his so called “dominant” aggresor position by any means necessary if the ballot fails. Never mind Kenya is a constitutional democracy, where competitive ballot determines elective office holders, from the MCA to the President.

All “marginalised” and “marginaliser” ethnic groups have no issues with competitive democracy at the communal and ethnic level for those seeking county assembly, governor and parliamentary elective offices. However, for the longest time, they have had reservations with one chieftain from one of the many ethnic groups ascending to an office called presidency, from where he calls the shots over all other chieftains across the land.

To deal with this perceived “problem,” various options have been devised, even tried before. One of them is majimbo, or federalist arrangement, where ethnic groups seek to control resources and decision making at the regional level.

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The aspiration is politically popular especially at the Coast where Islamic religion dominance and economic arguments around “marginalisation” converge to reinforce a regional Coastal identity with majimbo being the political expression of it.

The consciousness of this identity at the Coast was evident at the Mombasa rally last Saturday where major speakers, among them Kingi, Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, constantly made references to majimbo. But while federalism is popular, federalists are shy from doing the mathematics of running public services on locally generated resources.

How can BBI process help get the country out of the mire of presidency being the most divisive factor than symbol of national unity? The proponents of the BBI and the secretariat must be patriotic enough to make a bold statement that incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto should be barred from being factors in the 2022 presidential contest. If they must, they should only make a bid for other positions, including Prime Minister.

Here is the reason that must be laid bare for an honest conversation to take place: Founding President Jomo Kenyatta ruled for 15 years (1963-1978). Former President Daniel Moi was Jomo’s V-P for  10 years (1968-1978). Moi was President for 24 years (1978-2002). Moi had Kibaki for V-P for 10 years (1978-1988). Kibaki would be president for 10 years (2003-2013). Essentially, Moi and Kibaki, respectively, were in power for 34 and 20 years.

Uhuru will have been President for 10 years by 2022, with Ruto as his number two. If Ruto were elected President for 10 years, he would have been in power for 20 years at retirement.

Political power is influence, perks and elevated status in society, often gained and retained through legal and other forms and processes of legitimacy. The BBI process should help Kenyans openly acknowledge the fact that communities from which these individuals came enjoyed a level of prestige that other communities crave by seeking one of their own donning the title HE the President. BBI should rid 2022 presidential contest of individuals from communities that have had a turn at the presidency and vice president level so as to shift conversation from a desperate do-or-die panic mode that triggers violence.

- The writer is a research and data analyst. [email protected]

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