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Implement key BBI recommendations through Parliament

By Gichu Kihoro | July 20th 2020

Kenyans know about marathons. And our nation’s long-term development agenda is just that; a marathon, not a sprint. The most pressing matters requiring President Uhuru Kenyatta and his government’s full attention in the face of the coronavirus pandemic thankfully did not divert their focus away from Kenya’s long-term development agenda. 

Some, of course, hoped that the outbreak of the pandemic would mean the end of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). In fact, the opposite has proven true. If anything, the pandemic has highlighted ever more strongly why our country needs the BBI. Although the virus does not make a countrywide referendum possible at the moment, important progress has still been made.

This period has not been without its many challenges. The necessary restrictions imposed on movement, for the benefit of public health and safety, have meant that BBI discussions could not continue as before. Unexpectedly, the most democratic and grassroots process of national consultation in our country’s history suddenly came to a halt. 

Internal anxiety and tension loom too as a result of the uncertainty of the times. The economic repercussions that closure has inflicted on global markets threaten recent economic progress. Despite all these issues, the pandemic continues to bring to light why we need the BBI in the first place.

Our ability to conduct peaceful elections is not only a goal in itself but also a gateway to higher quality governance. When we lack substantive debate regarding the legitimacy of proposed measures, violence rears its ugly head and prevents our government from focusing on the substantive questions of economic progress.

Such questions will arguably prove even more important as Kenya attempts to get back on its pre-virus path to economic prosperity. Today, it might not seem like the BBI is the most important issue at hand. Even in times of crisis, we must see the BBI for what it is: a cornerstone in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s programme for Kenya’s future.

As we anticipate the official release of the BBI Taskforce’s final report, the President should be making plans for carrying the project even further with the help of parliamentary means. Furthering the plan with the help of Parliament will guarantee that the efforts our fellow citizens have put into the process will not go to waste due to the coronavirus. 

The final BBI report will present a new era of greater democratic equality. Although we might not be able to conduct a referendum en masse in the coming months in order to approve this report in its entirety, certain elements of it could still be implemented with the help of Parliament. Our MPs, after all, directly represent our interests at the national level.

Many of the proposed BBI measures are integral for our future. The importance, for example, of the proposal to create an office for a Prime Minister cannot be overstated. As it was already suggested in political circles, the creation of the position of Prime Minister’s primary aim would be to change the majority leader’s position in Parliament. This will also give a platform to more of our political leaders who want to influence the workings of government and is crucial in guaranteeing that the majority of our citizens feel represented. This is exactly what would prevent another outbreak of inter-tribal violence among us. No more winner-takes- all means no sore losers anymore.

Nothing signals the quality of the BBI report’s proposals better than the fact that, despite a long period of standing in opposition, Deputy President William Ruto and his supporters appear to be finally embracing it. Uhuru’s vision for a more peaceful and prosperous Kenya was not lost on them after all.

The fact that Raila Odinga and his ODM, Kanu, Wiper, the ANC and the EFP have all signaled their intent to strike official pacts of cooperation with the Jubilee Party under Uhuru’s directive is indeed earth-shattering. For the first time in generations, our leaders seem to finally be uniting under the banner of progress. 

Naturally, the most important constitutional changes demand a referendum. Uhuru has long argued for this. However, making sure that smaller but equally important reforms are implemented should also be our priority, even during the pandemic. Unity is required for this to materialise.

Uhuru has already demonstrated his willingness to engage in difficult political balancing acts. Similarly, carrying on the BBI during the pandemic was no less of a challenge. His perseverance, however, signals his commitment to work towards Kenya’s long-term political and economic progress even as he fulfils the most immediate requirement of tackling the pandemic.

Mr Kihoro is a Data and Research expert

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