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Inside story of how bridges team beat intrigues, hurdles

POLITICS
By Jacob Ngetich | October 27th 2019

Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) task force chairman Yusuf Haji (centre) flanked by his vice Prof. Adams Oloo (2nd left) receives a report from Embrace Women Leaders at KICC on 8th July 2019 in Nairobi. They are Esther Passaris (from left) Nairobi Women Representative, Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Mumbi Waiguru, Labour CAS Rachel Shebesh and Abshiro Halake, Isiolo Nominated Senator. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

When the fine blend of the 16-member Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) team met for the first time, they were staring right in the eye of uncertainty, expectation, and promise.

It was indeed a fine blend - seasoned civil servants, retired clergy, laywomen, academics and weary politicians who have seen it all.

Insiders in the group that could change the country’s political trajectory tell the story of their shared vision, compromise and humility before a huge task. The mosaic of their different backgrounds balanced out their outlook.

And their collective pride, we are told, made them reject offers for foreign funding, including a comparative study trip and expert advice. Three countries were rebuffed.

“They had separately asked to fully fund the process, but we were not comfortable with the move and we declined because we felt that it would have affected the objectivity and independence of the team,” says Paul Mwangi, a joint secretary to the team.

Mwangi says it was 100 per cent Kenyan process and not a single day did a non-member or a foreigner sit in their proceedings. Foreign governments have previously participated in Kenya’s political processes. “There was a country which had even asked to fly in experts to help us in the document preparations, we said no,” he says.

At their heart of struggles was the perception that the team was cobbled up together to arrive at predetermined ends by President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. For a country that had fairly grown a tradition of vetting public appointments, they were exempted.

Patriotism

The choice of the members and pick of the leadership - seasoned government operatives Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji and his Busia counterpart Amos Wako - did not help matters.

“We acknowledged our diverse backgrounds and admitted that for us to gel, we needed to be guided by patriotism and love for the country,” says Mwangi.

At face value, some of the commissioners could easily be identified with political parties or leanings, looking at their past associations.

Mwangi, a lawyer by training, was part of Raila’s legal team during the disputed presidential election petition, Wako was also in the same team. The other joint secretary Martin Kimani and Haji are both dyed in the wool administrators.

Others like Adams Oloo, a university lecturer who is also a political commentator, was vocal in drumming up support for National Super Alliance (NASA) and previously Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) brigade and a Raila political strategist in the 2017 polls.

“When we met, we agreed that everything we do be guided by consensus and not hardening of positions. It worked well,” says Mwangi.

According to the details from the secretariat, the team had 70 meetings across the country, including one in every county, two in Nairobi and 18 with stakeholders before they concluded their public hearings. The BBI team’s consultations, Mwangi says, were the most thorough in the country. “We also received 1,733 written memorandums from Kenyans from all walks of life, we analysed them and every big and small proposal captured,” he says. Mwangi says that at the KICC sittings, organisations and government agencies presented their views. They included 10 political parties, representatives of workers’ unions, religious organisations and human rights groups.

Views to team

On the list of documents seen by the Sunday Standard, 25 governors and 40 MPs presented their views to the task force. Mwangi says going through all the documents and verbal presentations to come up with a report was demanding but a group of researchers and programme offices helped them greatly.

But notably, President Kenyatta, Raila, and Deputy President William Ruto did not present their views directly to the team, neither did Uhuru’s Jubilee Party.

To the BBI team, that was a boon given that their personal views would have biased the task force.

There have been claims that the State House sought an advance copy and that could have delayed the team’s completion of the report till Thursday, but Mwangi dismissed the allegation as rumours. On Wednesday the team met in Nairobi and signed the document.

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