Whereas many have been shocked by the altercations that characterised the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report, there is a sense in which this was not surprising. Whereas the famous handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga set us on a much appreciated path to national peace at the height of serious discord, they considered that the highway to lasting peace required building bridges. In road construction, building bridges has been shown to be the most demanding and most expensive aspect of any road project. Depending on the nature of the bridge being built; the geological studies, the engineering works, and the actual construction can combine to sap energy and greatly escalate costs. In a sense, this is the entelechy that we are staring at as a nation in this BBI process. From the very onset, it did not sit well with sections of the political fraternity, and they have consistently said so.
If there is one thing that has come to characterise our public and private engagement, it is fights and disagreements, especially among our leaders. We seem to have perfected the art of conjuring contrary opinion over almost everything. The net effect is that many of our leaders seem to be in a permanent search for how to outdo one another in brewing conflict. The good news, however, is that contrary to our common perception, conflict is perhaps one of the greatest assets in human relationships. If well managed, it can result in very strong social bonds. As such, when it comes our way, it must never be squandered.
Harold Lasswell, an influential political scientist known for seminal studies on power relations and politics, argued that in any political process, conflict is inevitable. Indeed, pundits have averred that political disagreement is in fact vital for understanding how individual preferences translate into better inputs to the political system. Thus, the current ruckus over BBI, if properly harnessed, can accrue into great national benefit. Unfortunately, most conflicts and disagreements among our political leaders are often either rudderless or sadly squandered – the opportunity to move the nation towards political and social maturity is miserably lost.
In 2003, after wresting power from Kanu following decades of single party rule, Narc’s Unbwogable team lost the opportunity to convert the liberation fight into capital for crafting a beneficial structure that would have resulted in a most integrated government and a cohesive populace. Instead, the two sides of the Rainbow party resorted to dirty politics that eventually drove us into the fiercest ethnic hatred that Kenya is yet to recovered from. Even then, in 2008, God gave us the opportunity to craft yet another unique political structure – a coalition government, with a president and prime minister. Yet again, political bickering robbed us of an opportunity to set an example for African nations keen to consider the coalition as a workable model.
Currently, with the launch of the BBI report, instead of pursuing a constructive critique, our leaders have yet again engaged the wrong gear and the political temperatures are at boiling point. But, with mature leadership from the main political protagonists, we can harness our current fights and convert them into assets for national transformation. They must facilitate what Magdalena Wojcieszak has referred to as constructive deliberation. This includes three critical components: Decision-making element in which each of the groupings are allowed to offer competing arguments while analysing the report for problem areas and identifying solutions. A democratic element, in which we consider one another’s arguments while demonstrating respect for dissimilar views. And finally, a dialogue element, which facilitates a robust debate from all of us.
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Deliberation conceptualised this way will encourage participation from diverse members on even the most contested issues. Without delving into the merits and demerits of the BBI proposals, our concern must be focused on ensuring that this document that was meant to build bridges does not end up creating new rifts. Furthermore, with elections due within just over two years, the process must be concluded in the shortest time possible so as to reduce tension and anxiety that could spill into the next General Election. In the meantime, we should appreciate that the current fights are not wholly unusual. If well harnessed, they can be converted into critical building blocks for national transformation. This obviously calls for selfless and courageous leadership devoid of chest thumping, name calling, and unnecessary threats. Oh, that our leaders would rise to the occasion!
The writer is the presiding bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]