As the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) task force embarked on drafting the report amid national anxiety about its contents, the team took the unprecedented step of locking out secretariat staff from their deliberations to minimise leakages.
Fears of some senior politicians recruiting task force insiders to influence the outcome or get briefings on the contents had become real, even as the task force remained determined to keep everyone guessing until the report was officially released.
“Towards the end of the process there were attempts to recruit members to leak the contents of the report. When we started discussing the report after the county tours, we deliberated about who was going to sit in the meetings,” one of the joint secretaries, Paul Mwangi, told Saturday Nation. “We agreed that only the people that had been gazetted as members of the task force would sit in the deliberations. The task of record-keeping was largely left to Amb Martin Kimani and I,” Mr Mwangi narrated.
The tail-end attempts to interfere with the BBI were neither isolated nor the first, said Mr Mwangi.
“At the beginning, there was an attempt to recruit members who would push certain things towards a certain direction, but this largely failed,” he said.
In private, he said, the task force members talked about their personal experiences at being approached by people who wanted to influence the outcome. It became apparent that most members of the task force had been approached.
Until the report was handed over to President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga on Tuesday, the BBI task force had managed to keep the contents secret amid heightened media and political speculation. According to Mr Mwangi, the clearest indication that nobody knew the report’s contents was in the media reports.
“A lot of what the media was reporting was way off. Whoever was giving them information clearly didn’t have anything,” he said.
Among the reports published included that the team had proposed the position of a powerful Prime Minister and the reduction of the number of counties.
The 14-member task force was composed of three religious leaders — Archbishop Zacchaeus Okoth, Bishop Lawi Imathiu and Bishop Peter Njenga; members of the council of elders — Major John Seii and James Matundura; academics — Prof Adams Oloo, Prof Saeed Mwaguni and Prof Morompi ole Ronkei; and constitutional law expert Dr Florence Omosa, who was a commissioner with the defunct Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC). There were also politicians — Senator Yusuf Haji who chaired the task force, Senator Amos Wako, Maison Leshoomo, Agnes Muthama and Makueni Woman Representative Rose Museo. The joint secretaries were Mr Mwangi and Amb. Kimani.
Coming from diverse political backgrounds and affiliation, Prof Oloo said trust and wisdom were the two things that kept the BBI going under the tight veil of secrecy that they had imposed on themselves. The team, he said, had agreed to maintain a high level of confidentiality if it was to succeed and deliver on its mandate.
“We agreed that we had to demonstrate high levels of integrity if Kenyans were to have faith in us to deliver on a mandate that included lack of national ethos in the country,” he told the Saturday Nation in an interview yesterday.
In the nine-point agenda agreed between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, lack of national ethos is captured as one of the challenges that has pushed back national development, something the two leaders agreed must be addressed
“The team realised that members could not probe lack of national ethos and give recommendations when there were no ethos among themselves. It had to start with them,” he said.
Shortly after they were gazetted, the task force went on a three-day bonding retreat at Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club as they sought ways to ensure their political and ethnic affiliations did not cloud their thinking and interpretation of the mandate.
“In that meeting, we also agreed to ignore the politics outside,” says Mr Mwangi.
But that did not fully insulate them from the politics they were trying to avoid. The first encounter was with supporters of President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga who didn’t appreciate the ‘handshake’.
“In a way, we felt besieged because many supporters of the two principals felt betrayed by them. People had invested so much in the hatred that they could not see their lives beyond the handshake,” said Mr Mwangi.
Formed in May 2018, the 14-team member team has confounded friends and foes for conducting the mandate without a whiff of a leakage, in this era of mobile telephony where it is easy to capture audio and video footage of proceedings.
“We were lucky that a large part of the team was made up of senior citizens who are leaders in their own right. They considered the call by the two leaders as the ultimate call of honour and it disturbed them a great deal if they failed in the mission,” Prof Oloo explained.
The usual ethno-political suspicion and mistrust engulfed the team in the early days but it soon occurred to them they could not succeed if they carried on without constructing their own version of bridges.
The chairman of the committee, Mr Haji, would weigh in with a passionate plea to the team on the need for secrecy.
“You are people of honour and that is why the President and Mr Odinga have picked on you,” the Prof remembers the chairman’s plea. “It is only fair that there should be no communication until we complete this task.”
It was then agreed that any public communication would be done by the joint secretaries.
While the team was well received across the country, Prof Oloo says it was only in Uasin Gishu and Bomet counties that elected leaders gave the BBI public appearance a wide berth.
The two counties are perceived to be political bases of Deputy President William Ruto who had appeared opposed to the handshake.
The writing of the report took two and a half months, involving eight retreats.