Rescue Building Bridges from the threat of political capture

Tuesday March 12 2019

Contemplating the Building Bridges Initiative one year since that ground-breaking handshake on the steps of Harambee House between President Kenyatta and former Opposition leader Raila Odinga, I suddenly got this dreadful feeling that the outcome might turn out as one big con.

My mind went back eons ago, to the Kanu Review Committee formed in 1990 as President Daniel arap Moi sought to deflect increasing pressure for political reform.


For the first time since Independence, Kenyans got the opportunity to vent. Ordinary men and women from all parts of the country trooped in the numbers to lay out their discontent before Vice-President George Saitoti and his band of Kanu mandarins.

It became clear that the people were angry, disillusioned, disgruntled and utterly fed up with one-man rule, dictatorship, repression, the police state, unchecked corruption, lack of political rights and basic freedoms of assembly, association, speech, expression, and even freedom of thought. In other words, the people were tired of the one-party regime and were demanding unfettered democracy.

Come publication of the report and recommendations of the ‘Saitoti Committee’ report, and the shocker that made the entire initiative and months of public hearings a complete waste of time. The Committee reported that the people of Kenyan were happy with President Moi’s rule and wanted to retain the status quo of a one-party regime.


It was all a gigantic lie. Recommendations for just minimal cosmetic changes in no way reflected the people’s desire for revolutionary change and transition to multi-party democracy.


Anyway, Kanu’s scheme to subvert the peoples will came to nought. The dam had been breached and the march towards democracy proved unstoppable.

So what does all this history have to do with the present day?

It is simple. The structures and operations of the Building Bridges Initiative reflect a lack of transparency and inclusion that could very well lead to recommendations that reflect the will of the sponsors rather than the will of the people.

Something to hide

Like with the Kanu Review Committee, there have been open public hearings across the country, but there is no system where the media and the public can freely access presentations, documents, papers and other records that will inform the final report.

In this day and age, it should be a fairly simple matter to maintain a website that would a repository of all the proposals. Failure to have such a resource indicates that the BBI Task Force and Secretariat is still stuck in the Stone Age, or has something to hide.


This lack of transparency and inclusivity is not something to ignore or take lightly. It is one of the issues I raised with Mr Odinga in the interview published in the Sunday Nation. The acknowledged father of the BBI on that score came out as evasive or in denial. Unfortunately, an interview conducted via e-mail does not provide for aggressive follow-up questions and the general thrust and parry of a face-to-face.

It still remains an issue that Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta must deal with, alongside tackling all the other issues that have potential to derail the initiative.

The handshake remains one of the most important initiatives since adoption of the 2010 Constitution. It has the potential to transform this country by resolving all the underlying issues that all too often turn brother against brother and sister against sister in seasonal bouts of violent political conflagration.

Unfortunately, a noble effort could sink under the weight of primitive political sabre-rattling unless very decisive step are taken to bring it back on course.

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Remember Carl Marx?

Take a close look at the fine print on your tube of toothpaste. It warns that children should not brush their teeth unsupervised and should under no circumstance swallow the stuff. In other words, it is harmful.

Many years ago, the Kenya Dental Association, under the influence of one Mr Marx who was head honcho at one of the major manufacturers, decreed toothpaste laced with fluoride. What they did not tell us was that most of us already had an overdose of fluoride in our water, hence the stained teeth and in some areas even deformed bones.

Even today, you will find the Kenya Medical Association lending its name to pitches for brands of diapers, so-called medicated soaps that lie they can eliminate all germs, and all manner of other commercial products.

It’s not genuine medical advice; they are paid for brand endorsements.

[email protected], @MachariaGaitho