Why BBI should not be dismissed out of hand

Delegates follow proceedings during the official launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi on October 26, 2020. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Away from blindly supporting or tearing the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) into pieces, it helps if we think critically of consequences of going into the 2022 General Election without some form of reforms.

This is because the debate on the BBI report launched last month, if unchecked, is constantly artificialising a process that promised to give us hope of reforms in holding peaceful elections. This caution is what we read in the press statement released by the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) last week at Subukia Shrine, Nakuru County.

The statement warns that “we should pay attention when discussing and pointing out how the document could be improved while we avoid the risk of taking hardline positions and sectarian demands, and ultimatums that destroy the very meaning and spirit of the BBI”. Further, the report is categorical that “the government and all political actors must not forget that the primary purpose and intention of the BBI process was to bring together all Kenyans.”

Lest we forget, the 2017/18 political tensions nearly drove the country into collapse but this seems to be water under the bridge for most of us. The warning signs are all over that a total rejection of the BBI report could turn out to be a deadly vote come 2022 General Election. Why?

First, as it is, the IEBC is a shell. Commissioner Rosyline Akombe took off from the commission at the height of political activism to seemingly control the outcome of the election. Before that, ICT Manager Chris Msando died under mysterious circumstances. The police took up the investigations.

Later, three IEBC Commissioners Vice Chairperson Consolata Nkatha, Paul Kurgat and Margaret Mwachanya resigned. During the campaigns, baby Pendo, whose parents spoke at the launch of the BBI report at Bomas of Kenya last month and pleaded with us never to shed any more blood, lost her life to what was described as a stray bullet.

Since the last General Election, the Wafula Chebukati Commission limps without much public sympathy, yet this is a critical institution during elections. So, surging forward to 2022 without stopping to reflect on how to reform this institution carries considerable risk to the security and stability of this country during and after the elections.

Second, even without statistics, there is no evidence that many of us have read the BBI report. Reading through some social media reactions and talking to friends one gets a sense that there is a long way to go in raising significant arguments based on the document.

Moreover, some media analyses on BBI are terrifying to say the least. Reacting to the report based on hearsay or from partisan analysts is dangerous for the good of our country. Our very lives are at risk if our history of elections’ behaviour informed by raw ignorance is anything to refer to.

Yes, the BBI report is very explicit on creating an imperial presidency, a bloated legislature, among other contentious issues. But of the nine thematic areas the report addresses, we are largely dead serious with the legislature. Governors, for example, are focused on ensuring the power and trappings are enhanced rather than on how the country could be unified. How do we make an informed judgment on the document with skewed reading?

General election 

No doubt there is much to build consensus on in the draft. The problem with impulsive and survivalist decisions is that we miss out the bigger picture that our violently contested general elections are caused by many factors beyond power in the legislature as the Catholic Bishops clearly pointed out. Rejecting the BBI in total without offering insights that will help us peacefully cross the 2022 General Election (and beyond) is indeed shooting ourselves in the foot.

Third, we are just a month and half away from 2021 when campaigns for elective seats in 2022 will hit high pitch. Given our culture of politicking round the clock there is little chance that any new initiative to avoid the 2018 scenario in which “two presidents” were “sworn in” will actually succeed. Forming new task forces at this point will be a waste of public resources as they will equally be contested. Where does that leave us?

Rejecting the BBI report in total is a huge gamble. The anti-BBI troops should be patriotic enough, swallow their pride, and emphatically insist that for the sake of this country, discernment on improving the document is indeed a national developmental agenda.

Dr Mokua is executive director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communications

Download the BBI Judgement by all seven Judges - Civil Appeal No. E291 of 2021