Though BBI may be good, we need serious opposition to the initiative

Wednesday March 18 2020

Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) cannot create national unity without building a broad church or a big tent. It cannot create a fraternity by driving a wedge between leaders and the led. And it will not create amity by threats, intimidation or coercion.

It is deceptively this simple and yet delicately that complex. The starting point is conversation and that means constantly talking to each other and not at each other.

As recent BBI events have shown, politicians are talking at us. But given that we are keen to start anew, we should get on track.

It falls on BBI to lead a campaign for the development of the politics of listening and tolerance in order to debate, and of settling political contests through exchange and testing of competing ideas.

Political contests should be won and lost on the strength of fact-based arguments. Arguments test the strength of an idea and the thinking of its proponents. But we cannot debate effectively if we fight freedom of thought, expression and sharing of ideas.

Put another way, if we are going to debate politics in general, and BBI and Kenya's unity in particular, then we must appreciate that almost all points on the table will be contested. Therefore, we must embrace the spirit of give and take, and concede we will win some and lose some.

Therefore the issue cannot be whether reggae (BBI) is stoppable or not. The issue must be whether it is palatable. The issue is whether reggae is tuneful to many and for the upliftment of many, or is the opium with which the few want to drug the many.

Because we are seeking to construct a new Kenya, it is right and in order that some of us are invited to disagree with what is proposed; with the process that put it on the table; or to dislike the table itself.

The political arena becomes uninspiring, stultifying and tiresome if it features only one orchestra, one song and one conductor. For one thing, that is the reason Kenyans rebelled against Kanu's constitutional monopoly of power in the 80s.

For another, it is why I argued here in the lead up to the 2017 General Election that if there was no difference between the governing Jubilee Party and rival National Super Alliance, there was no need for Kenyans to be asked to choose between them.

Therefore BBI must be opposed. That way we can have a debate because its backers will have to explain themselves to Kenyans. Why, for example, does BBI sidestep proportional representation, yet dismisses first-past-the-post poll format offhandedly?

Opposition will force BBI-ists who preach that thieves steal alone and partake of the proceeds alone, to explain why they also posit that tribes compete for power when their sons or daughters run for the presidency.

Parliamentary opposition would have pointed out in the Houses, or at rallies, the risks inherent in a multi-tiered government, perils of regional governments, frictions arising from several centres of power and pitfalls of having MPs elect a prime minister.

Such disciplined opposition would have demanded BBI puts meat on its skeleton of inclusivity. As I have argued here previously, expansion of the Executive does not constitute inclusivity. It is, in fact, exclusivity for it will create jobs for the boys at the apex of the political class.

Surely a parliamentary opposition would have vouched for the establishment of institutions for peace building and conflict resolution. Many must still shudder at our inability to resolve the 2007 post election crisis. Ghanaian Kofi Annan sorted us out before we shamelessly handed ourselves to the International Criminal Court.

Of course there is no parliamentary opposition because Mr Odinga and Mr Kalonzo Musyoka ordered legislators from their parties to align themselves with the government which is the sponsor of BBI.

So we have MPs driven by party compliance rather than legislative competence in the service of BBI. But BBI cannot bring focus to its own rallies which have served to put Kenya firmly on a long march to the 2022 General Election.

Sadly, BBI is a juggernaut. Not because it is running the competition ragged through reasoned and fact-backed arguments, but because it has no opposition. Even the token criticism it gets is dismissed with the contemptuous declaration that nobody can stop reggae.

Disciplined opposition would have forced debate on BBI and the use of public funds. Should the taxpayer not call out an out-of-tune piper?

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