Building Bridges during Covid-19 is more important

What you need to know:

  •  We cannot allow another episode of chaos to prevent us from paying attention to the core issues of policy-making.

Amidst the continuing dangers posed by the coronavirus pandemic to our brothers and sisters as well as our country’s economy, the process of political reformation which started with the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) might not seem like our first priority.

 However, the agitation caused by the volatility of the current health situation combined with potentially longer-term economic repercussions necessitate paying attention exactly to what the BBI has offered us. That is, unifying the country and encouraging across the board cooperation in policymaking.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s efforts in keeping the BBI afloat during the pandemic are important on two fronts. On the one hand, improvements made to our system of governance are the only way of guaranteeing that our politics will focus on substantive policy-making rather than infighting.

This will prove to be particularly pertinent to Kenya’s economic recovery and post-pandemic growth.

On the other hand, the values of tolerance and cooperation propagated by the BBI are especially relevant to mitigating frustrations we may have with political leaders. Standing together has perhaps never been more important.

The pandemic sent shockwaves across the global economy, impacting developing as well as developed economies. Kenya retained its positive GDP growth even at the height of the pandemic. A return to previously registered growth rates will nonetheless require similarly skillful economic governance, one that would not be possible without peace and stability in our political system.

If the BBI project of nationwide consultation started as an effort to curb and eradicate acute symptoms of inter-tribal violence in our country, the pandemic only increased the need to achieve such goals. Without a systemic revision to the rules and procedures of our governance system, it is likely that a similar state of disorder would ensue, as was the case of the 2017 presidential elections.

We cannot allow another episode of chaos to prevent us from paying attention to the core issues of policy-making.

It is clear that peace and order are preconditions for effective governance, and effective governance is exactly what we need today. This will be even truer in the coming political terms if we are to achieve the goals set out in the Big Four agenda.

The BBI report, whose contents are to be finalized in the coming month, put forth numerous proposals capable of facilitating our transition to a more harmonious and continuously flowing system of elections and governance.

The proposed dispersion of power between the President and the newly created office of the Prime Minister would give multiple prominent tribal leaders a chance to partake in governance at the same time. The novel role of Leader of the Official Opposition and the Shadow Cabinet working under him would also guarantee that the runner-up in presidential elections also has a prominent voice in governmental affairs.

Of course, even more important than constitutional arrangements forcing us to keep the peace would be if such peace could emerge as a grassroots movement. Although it is difficult to rewire our brains overnight, especially after generations of tribal conflicts and suspicion, Uhuru is laying down the groundwork for it.

His collaboration with his previous political opponent, Raila Odinga, sent a strong message of peace to numerous other political leaders. As a result, KANU, Wiper, the ANC and the EFP all signalled that they intend to strike official pacts of cooperation with the Jubilee Party under Uhuru’s directive.

Creating an ever-broader coalition for the upcoming presidential elections would add a further safety net against potential dissatisfaction among voters. The larger the political base that can agree on the same political direction for the coming years, the more stable our elections and subsequent governance will be.

Previously, many of us considered the BBI process a questionable opportunity after which our political system might essentially be left unchanged. Today, however, it has become a channel that is necessary for keeping our society together and helping our economy recover after the pandemic.

As we continue to face the most immediate dangers posed by the coronavirus, whether to our personal health or to the health of our economy, we also have to keep an eye on longer-term developments.

How will we deal with increased agitation and economic stagnation brought about by the pandemic if our politics remains unchanged? Will we revert to violence and further undermine progress made as a society and an economy? Or will we take the opportunity presented to us in the form of the BBI and power on? It is well within our capacity to make the right choice.

Mr Mugolla is a public policy analyst. [email protected]