Building Bridges shouldn’t be about benefiting two persons

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The Building Bridges Initiative Task Force will soon present its report to President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

The team will not quite meet its target of completing the task by the end of this month, but even if it goes to the first week of October it will still deserve a hearty round of applause.

Getting things done ahead of schedule is just not the Kenyan thing. However, applause for beating a deadline is one thing. More important will be judgment on the actual value of the process.

We must all hope that the merry men and women of the Task Force surprise us with a report that sticks faithfully to the agenda established when the President and his erstwhile rival shared that famous handshake on March 9 last year.

Too much time in the intervening period has been wasted in sterile political contestation around the quest for power instead of the noble objectives.


Many looking forward, either with hope or trepidation, expect that BBI will principally come up with formulas to reshape the national executive so that every major ethnic kingpin can be assured of a seat at the feeding trough.

There has been plenty of talk about bringing back the post of Prime Minister with two deputies under the guise of a more inclusive leadership instead of the winner-take-all presidential system.

There has also been a lot of pushing and shoving over expectation that such major constitutional changes will require a referendum.

We fail to see that arguing for or against a referendum is premature before we know what BBI will recommend.

But of course, the politicians engaged in those divisive shouting matches have no clue what they’re fighting over, except that they owe blind loyalty to either Mr Odinga or his main foe, Deputy President William Ruto.

It is thus important that we all step back and remind ourselves what Building Bridges was all about.

When Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga shook hands at the steps of Harambee House, they unveiled a nine-point agenda.

It included addressing the scourge of ethnic antagonism,, inculcating a national ethos, entrenching inclusivity, and ironing out chinks in the devolved system of government.

Other key issues including finding a cure to the culture of divisive and violent polls, ensuring safety and security for all, tacking the monster of corruption, ensuring shared prosperity in a criminally unequal society, and finally, ensuring that all enjoyed their rights and observed their responsibilities.

No one in his right mind would argue against that list. We all know our problems, and surely should appreciate any efforts towards solutions that will guarantee a stable, prosperous, united country.

It is unfortunate, however, that Building Bridges became a victim of our propensity to cheap and vicious politics.

DP Ruto became the face of a powerful faction within the governing Jubilee Party that felt threatened by any appearance of a pact between the President and Mr Odinga.

It did not help that instead of being an open, transparent and inclusive national process, BBI was from inception sold as a peace pact between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, whose dynastic blood feud went back to their fathers, Kenya’s founding President Jomo Kenyatta and his Vice-President Oginga Odinga.

It is true that the Kenyatta-Odinga feud, and by extension the Kikuyu-Luo ethnic feud, has held back Kenya since the early years of independence and contributed to divisive elections and feelings of alienation.

However, Kenya’s problems go beyond the Kenyattas and the Odingas. If anything, the resulting ethnic rivalries pale in contrast to the bloody electoral conflicts that often erupt in Mr Ruto’s Kalenjin backyard.

The BBI task force should therefore keep in mind that a solution to the ethnic antagonism and violent politics demands more than accommodation between two protagonists.

Another thing worth keeping in mind is that tinkering around with the executive structure under the guise of inclusive leadership by itself does not solve anything.

Even if the office of Prime Minister is brought back, the Constitution will say that it is the preserve of Mr Odinga or anyone else.

Even if Building Bridges is seen as a Uhuru-Ruto baby, there is every likelihood that instead of fighting the mooted referendum, Mr Ruto could blindside everyone by picking it up and running with it.

He will have just as much opportunity to determine who becomes Prime Minister.

This sobering realisation should free us from the blinkered mindset that the whole thing can only be about benefiting individuals at the expense of others.

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