Proponents of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) have touted the report as the panacea for peace and an end to political and election-related violence in Kenya. However, reviewing how the report has understood and responded to previous violence casts doubt on the veracity of these assertions.
Neither the 2020 report nor the 2019 draft mentions or analyses the causes and consequences of the previous violence. On pages 4-5, the report refers to Ethnic Antagonism and Competition as a ‘major threat to Kenya’s success’. It then proffers two solutions: inclusion of national unity, character, and cohesion in the school curriculum, and criminalisation of hate speech and use of violence before and after elections.
On pages 9-12, the section on Divisive Elections provides a simplistic comment on past elections and violence. It blames ‘foreign models’ adopted from ‘the democratic West’ for engendering ‘Us versus Them’ election competition, with the ‘Us vs Them’ being based on ethnicity. It adds ‘lack of inclusivity’ as the ‘leading contributor to divisive and conflict-causing elections’, and claims that Kenyans associate ‘the winner takes-all-system with divisive elections.’
From those cursory assertions, the report hastily jumps to the expansion of the executive branch to comprise a President, Deputy President, Prime Minister, and two Deputy Prime Ministers. Supposedly, an expanded executive will be ‘more inclusive’ and will not ‘generate the same bitterness.
Reading these sections is perplexing. Who perpetrated the past political violence in 1992/93, 1997/98, and 2007/2008, and why? Did peasants die in the Rift Valley in the 1990s because the country had no prime minister? Did peasants wake up one day and butchered each other because they were ethnically different? Did the rural and urban subaltern die in 2007/2008 because of the winner-take-all system?
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In the past, politicians divided the population in these locations into natives (or indigenous or locals) and guests (or settlers or immigrants or outsiders). They demonised and dehumanised the latter and threatened violence against them. Then they labelled local anti-violence voices as ‘ethnic traitors’. Subsequently, militias attacked the innocent civilian population.
Further, the impunity enjoyed by the implicated politicians partly contributed to the violence of 2007/08. Actually, studies on the 2007/08 violence note President Mwai Kibaki’s inability to dismantle the structures of informal violence and their supporting discursive practices. Instead, structures of extra-state violence diffused during the NARC era such that by 2007, politicians were patronising and funding urban gangs. This impunity eroded citizens’ confidence and trust in state institutions, especially security and electoral institutions. Consequently, the mistrust predisposed politicians and their supporters to view politics as a do-or-die zero-sum game in 2007.
Therefore, there is no correlation between BBI’s proposals and the quest for peace and an end to political violence. There are at least nine reasons why the report is not a peace document.
First, it does not address state-orchestrated violence and impunity which has been the bane of Kenya’s politics. Second, nowhere does it mention or address reparations for the survivors of the previous violence. Third, hate speech and the use of violence during elections are criminal under the current laws, but they remain rampant primarily due to impunity and selective application of the law. Fourth, by naming the challenges as ‘ethnic antagonism’ and ‘divisive elections’ instead of political violence, the Report whitewashes the culpability of the leaders. Fifth, nothing in the report would stop a losing presidential candidate from perpetrating violence. Sixth, it assumes a president’s good faith and presumes that those appointed will come from different ethnic groups. But nothing compels the president to show good faith, as President Kenyatta has demonstrated through his multiple actions and omissions that have violated the 2010 Constitution.
Seventh, the proposed expansion of the executive will validate and reify ethnic boundaries because ethnicity is the assumed basis for allocating the added executive positions.
Eighth, the proposal to appoint any of the MPs from the majority party or coalition of parties to be Prime Minister and any other persons as Deputy Prime Ministers is a recipe for factional fighting because it undermines the authority of political parties to choose their own representatives.
Ninth, the proposals will codify the president’s ability to entrench patrimonial and clientilist rule, and, thus, perpetuate the current patron-client system.
- Dr Karanja Mbugua is a scholar in peace and conflict Studies and an advisor at Faith to Action Network (F2A Network). [email protected]