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BBI report calls for a reflection on, realignment of our social norms

Monday December 9 2019

The Building Bridges Initiative is an opportunity for reflection on the Kenya we want for posterity.

The BBI report prescribes proposed constitutional, legislative and policy recommendations to address these challenges.

However, they have not explained why all constitutional changes since independence have failed to guarantee a free democratic State where the rule of law is respected and human rights upheld.

The answer to this question lies in our norms as a society that glorifies ethnic identities over merit and hard work.

As long as we lack what the BBI report calls “national ethos”, no amount of constitutional and legislative reforms will deliver us from the destructive ethnic-based politics characterised by corruption, rent-seeking and cronyism.

While the BBI task force acknowledges that most laws and institutions are ineffective, they still — wrongly — proposed that the solutions lie with more laws or reforms.


The question is, why are constitutional organs (like Executive, Legislature and Judiciary) unable, or unwilling, to effectively and truthfully carry out their mandates?

The answer is simple: The culture of Kenyans is inconsistent with these laws, hindering their execution.

Sadly, societal norms are not easy to change. Luckily though, sustained implementation of laws gradually changes them over time.

For example, have you ever wondered why female circumcision and early marriage are rife in some remote parts of northern Kenya and Rift Valley and not in Nairobi or many other urban centres, yet the law that prohibits it is the same?

This is because these are unacceptable in cities and people will report any such cases to the authorities and, indeed, the sanction will surely come!

But why can’t the same apply to corruption? Because many Kenyans still believe corruption is permissible and tend to tolerate instead of genuinely condemning it through their actions.


As a country, we must deliberately choose to do what is right and avoid the temptation of easy money that is often stolen from State coffers by unscrupulous state and non-state operatives.

We must be angry at ourselves for the bad trajectory we have steered our country.

We need a national dialogue on how we got here and quickly agree on an exit strategy to the right path — or risk an imminent State failure.

Indeed, colonialism and failure of postcolonial African leaders to promote African nationalism after independence is partly to blame for our warped perception of leadership and governance.

The spirit, which was the momentum of the freedom struggle for many African countries, was soon replaced by simplistic, individualistic and ethnic interests that threatened the very existence of the State and the freedom.

The result is fragile or failed states, and Kenya must seize the moment to transform itself into a progressive State.

Dr Peter Kirui, history and politics lecturer, University of Eldoret. [email protected]