Nine years after a new Constitution came into effect, Kenya is once again at a crossroads.
This time, the country is about to launch a quest to redress the myriad challenges bedevilling it since Independence. This is indeed a defining moment in the country’s history, a time to reflect on the original ideals espoused by the country’s founding fathers.
It is also a time to decisively address the recalcitrant problems of tribalism, corruption, inequality, disenfranchisement, exclusion, division and insecurity, that have burdened the country since 1963. An opportunity to reassert nationhood and surmount barriers that have made unity, prosperity and equity such elusive dreams.
I am talking about the Building Bridges Initiative, which seeks to tackle the fundamental issues the country faces. BBI has been touted as an attempt to heal and reconcile a nation riven by toxic ethnic politics and endemic inequalities. At its unveiling, the architects of BBI, President Kenyatta and Hon. Raila Odinga, identified nine core national challenges requiring urgent attention.
These are ethnic antagonism, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, devolution, divisive elections, insecurity, corruption, human rights and prosperity for all. If not addressed, they said, these problems will continue to fuel a perpetual cycle of mistrust, division, violence, insecurity and social decay.
I will not delve into the nine points of reference considering the BBI task force is about to release its report and Kenyans will have their say on the issues. The point is that this is a conversation that requires honesty and courage given the seriousness of the issues involved.
As the two leaders stated in their communique: “We must courageously face our challenges, and openly and honestly discuss our successes and failures….”
That in my view basically sums up the essence of BBI. This is the time to rally the country into a candid and sober discussion about the past, present and future relative to the challenges facing the country.
CONFRONT DIVISIVE PAST
This however entails confronting a painfully bitter and divisive past in the hope that this time, Kenyans will seize the moment like they did in 2010, to chart a new path to the future they desire for their country. BBI is also essentially about re-imagining Kenya as a Nation-State and recreating a Republic the present generation can proudly bequeath to posterity.
That is why BBI should not be seen as a political campaign. Instead, we should all embrace it as an attempt at healing and uniting a nation that is still struggling to find its soul fifty-six years after emancipation from colonial rule. A struggle in our generation to reclaim national identity and infuse a collective ethos of patriotism, unity, hard work and integrity among our people.
By its nature, BBI may be a political process but we must however insulate it from partisan interests especially those that feel threatened by the quest for a new order. We should learn from the experiences of the 2005 and 2010 constitutional referenda, when partisan interests nearly derailed the quest for a new Constitution.
BBI is also not a dress rehearsal for the 2022 elections. Wanjiku should especially be wary of spirited attempts to whittle it down into a contest between rival political formations. In fact, BBI is a litmus test of patriotism and statesmanship among our leaders. Those who genuinely desire a better future for Kenyans will be known as will those who are hell bent on holding us back to the past.
Also, some may see in BBI an opportunity to reassert political relevance or jumps tart waning careers not to mention mercenaries with a predilection to myths and propaganda of all sorts devoid of serious interrogation of the real issues.
Kenyans must be alive to three important facts. First, BBI is a unique opportunity to reset the country’s direction in light of the frustrations and failures the country has endured since 1963. Whatever the outcome, BBI will have accorded us a historic chance to shape the destiny and direction of our nation for generations to come. As such, we should put ourselves in the shoes of the founding fathers by asking, ‘what would they have done if they were here today?’
Second, BBI is a major step toward consolidating the gains achieved over the last nine years under a new Constitution. Though hailed as one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, ours has been acknowledged as having certain shortcomings requiring urgent remedial measures to ensure it lives up to its original promise to deliver democracy. The BBI process provides a platform to anchor such reforms on a broad-based national dialogue involving all citizens.
Third, Kenyans should rise beyond 2022 election politics and use BBI to evaluate their leaders on the basis of commitment to addressing the fundamental problems afflicting every citizen regardless of tribe, religion, gender, race and status.
In so doing, we must resist attempts at derailing the process or being swayed by certain narratives that only serve to exacerbate the very problems we want cured once and for all.
Most important, let’s remember the decisions we make today regarding the country will affect future generations for centuries to come. Let us honour our forefathers who fought so hard that we may be a free nation by doing the right thing.
Mr Choto is a lawyer and public affairs specialist. Email: [email protected] or visit blog: kingorichoto.com