Calls for unity and patriotism dominated speeches during the official launch of the much-awaited report of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Wednesday, with President Kenyatta calling on the political class to rise above the din of self and focus on nationhood.
In an emotional event, nearly 5,000 delegates from the nook and cranny of the Kenyan nation converged at Bomas to witness the launch of the report that was variously described as one that heralds a new beginning for the republic that has been ravaged by corruption, greed, tribalism and lack of national ethos.
In an event marked with pomp and colour, the political class received the flak, with every speaker blaming bad politics on the morass the country finds itself in.
Leaders spoke of the BBI offering the country a chance to speak to itself even as they called for a moment of reflection if the country was to make that important turn that the ‘handshake’ between President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga sought to achieve when they came together early last year.
The President’s speech dwelt largely on the events that forced him to engage the ODM leader after the divisive 2017 General Election.
“The country was sharply divided and we had no country left because we had failed to speak as a family. There was fear everywhere including Nairobi, the capital,” he said, as for the first time, he gave the nation a glimpse of the tense moments that gripped his first meeting with Mr Odinga.
The President particularly assailed the political class, saying, it’s the source of the Kenyan problem and issued a passionate plea that time has come “to mature up” and warned that their role is not to cause problems for the people.
In his remarks, Mr Odinga gave a chronology of events that led to the two leaders coming together to form BBI. He assured the nation that the report has to take into account the aspirations of ordinary citizens — not politicians.
Mr Odinga particularly hailed a proposal in the report that bans public servants to dabble in business, saying, it will go a long way in reducing instances of corruption.
“This report is not about me or President Kenyatta. Today we are here, tomorrow we shall not be there and Kenya will remain,” he said.
Deputy President William Ruto said the report and its proposals will form the basis of public discourse on the issues that affect ordinary Kenyans. He warned politicians against hijacking the report for their own selfish interests.
“To an extent, the report reminds us of the need to build the capacities of our institutions so that their management goes beyond personalities,” he said, and urged all leaders to subject themselves to the rule of law.
However, the man of the moment was the visiting Tanzanian Foreign Minister Palamagamba Kabudi, who represented President John Magufuli.
Dr Kabudi delivered a passionate and emotional speech, urging Kenya to sanitise its body politic if it wants to retain its position as the regional leader.
The speech, delivered in a fuse of English and Swahili, read something like the “Problem with Kenya”, at the end of which he received a standing ovation from a gathering that easily resonated with his message.
He told the gathering that Kenya’s greatest problem is the tribe, corruption and what he called politics of power and not development.
“Kenya is a great country. A country endowed with dynamic people, great entrepreneurs, innovators. But some are left wondering why with such great talent, Kenya is stuck in the scourge of tribalism, parochialism and provincialism.”
He said Kenyans must stand up and make national cohesion their top priority. “You are the empire, the economic giant of East Africa and you should not surrender this to a few selfish people.”
It was a speech that was in keeping with the theme of the day.
The carnival mood was at some point marred by the booing of Senate Majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen when he faulted the day’s programme and the master of ceremonies Junet Mohamed, whom he accused of using the launch to advance sectarian politics.
“The way Mr Mohamed is running the programme defeats the whole purpose of this gathering,” Mr Murkomen charged. “It’s very clear those perceived to hold alternative opinion have not been invited to speak,” he said.
But the charged crowd shouted him down as others accused him of disrespecting the President. It took the intervention of BBI chairman Yusuf Haji to calm down the crowd.
Mr Aden Duale, the Majority leader in the National Assembly, had advised President Kenyatta against allowing “a few bureaucrats” in government to dim the aspirations of Kenyans.
“There is a lot of dishonesty among the political class. What we say is not what we mean. We don’t want to start here a divided nation because we will lose it. I don’t want to be judged harshly by history,” he said.
However, Siaya Senator James Orengo warned them against making reckless statements.
“Today we should not be talking about what divides us but rather what unites the country. The most important thing with the ‘handshake’ is that it put Kenya in one tent — the tent of unity,” Mr Orengo said.
“If we get it wrong again, I can’t imagine where we’ll be taking this country to because since independence, we’ve behaved as if this country shall never be in one tent,” he added.
Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka reminded politicians that this is not the moment to be angry with each other but the unity of the country.
He said he had summoned the party’s National Executive Council to meet today to take a position on the BBI report.
“Do not be afraid of saying sorry and seeking forgiveness if you wronged someone. If I said bad things about you, Mr President, I say sorry,” he added.
He also noted that the launch of the report opens a new chapter that will cascade to the East African region.
Mr Mudavadi urged Kenyans to read the report so that they can make informed decisions.
He did not hesitate to admit that he was among a crop of politicians who raised concerns when the BBI process started last year.
“Let’s be sober in this discussion. Let’s read this document because I don’t want anybody to read it for me,” Mr Mudavadi said, warning that the report should not just be about the political elite.
“We are beginning to fall into the same trap when we advocate for sharing of positions. What of the business, civil society, and religious leaders, among others?” he posed.
Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula said the launch of the report presented a historic.
Governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Joho (Mombasa), Charity Ngilu (Kitui), Kiraitu Murungi (Meru), Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga) and Mike Sonko (Nairobi) were some of the governors present.
“The historic moment of reshaping the country has presented itself. We are advocating for the increased allocation to the counties to enhance and make devolution more robust,” said Mr Oparanya, who is also the Council of Governors chairman.
Mr Murungi warned against amending the Constitution with individuals in mind.
Mr Joho said the ‘handshake’ serves to unite the whole country and every Kenyan should be made to feel part of the process.
Ms Ngilu and Ms Waiguru called for gender balance within appointive and electoral positions.
“I have been a keen supporter of ‘the handshake’. This country now has hope,” Ms Waiguru said.
Ms Ngilu added: “Kenyans are more serious in this because they know that ‘the handshake’ brought the country together.”