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BBI committee should propose brain transplants for all of us

Tuesday August 13 2019

Building Bridges

Building Bridges Initiative committee members engage a delegation from the Ethiopian Federal Reconciliation Commission during a consultative forum at Intercontinental Hotel on June 13, 2019. The team must recognise that most of Kenya's problems will not be solved merely by constitutional amendments. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

MACHARIA GAITHO
By MACHARIA GAITHO
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Having collected views across the country, the Building Bridges Initiative is expected to complete a report for presentation to President Uhuru Kenyatta and ‘former’ Opposition leader Raila Odinga within the next two months.

If what Mr Odinga has been publicly saying for a long time now holds any water, the team will recommend constitutional changes of a magnitude that can only gain passage through a popular vote.

I don’t know whether Mr Odinga is a seer or simply had advance knowledge of the Building Bridges outcome well before views of the public were collected, but I am thus persuaded that a referendum is inevitable.

A lesson from history might be useful as the merry men and women retreat to compile their report.

This reminder from March — the first anniversary of the famous handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga that spawned BBI — is worth repeating.

It is from the report of the Kanu Review Committee formed in 1990 as President Daniel arap Moi sought to deflect pressure for reform.

PEOPLE'S VOICE

After months of open hearings, the committee chaired by Vice President George Saitoti reported that the people were happy with President Moi’s rule and wanted to retain the one-party regime.

It was a monumental lie. Ordinary men and women from all parts of the country had taken advantage of the rare opportunity to speak their minds, and it was clear the majority were fed up with dictatorship.

The Saitoti committee’s findings were a betrayal of the people’s demand for return to a multiparty system. It was a lie to no avail as the march to demolition of the monolithic edifice proved unstoppable.

The saving grace was that the Kanu Review Committee held its sessions in the open.

It was thus easy for all to see that the Saitoti team was lying, which no doubt emboldened leaders of the multiparty campaign because they knew they were on the side of the people.

By the same token, the report of the Building Bridges team must reflect the voice of the people.

SUSTAINABLE DEMOCRACY

Recommendations based on what the founding fathers of BBI dictate will be rejected outright.

President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga will suffer a crushing and embarrassing defeat if they try to force through proposals for governance structures based on creating offices for individuals rather than a more sustainable democracy.

I have no doubt in my mind that Building Bridges is a noble initiative. It rescued us from stultifying political competition and the ever-present threat of violence.

It recognised that Kenya suffers basic defects which must be cured if we are to move forward from the retrogressive politics based on dangerous ethnic scrambles for power, lopsided development, a criminal wealth gap, unchecked corruption and historical grievances.

However, Building Bridges must recognise that most of those problems will not be solved merely by constitutional amendments.

Our present Constitution is still very young, just under a decade old and still going through the birth pangs.

Many of the issues it was written to address plague us to this day, but that is not the fault of the Constitution, rather our own failure to live up to its spirit.

AMENDMENTS

Ethnic rivalries are not constitutional issues, but the result of warped mindsets.

Inequality, violent politics, injustice, corruption, politics of exclusion and other ills continue to plague us not because of shortcomings in the constitution, but because we refuse to give life to the document and to properly employ existing laws and institutions.

The present Constitution was the result of many years of discussions and negotiations. It was the best compromise for its time, and admittedly needs tweaking to remove inconsistencies and contradictions.

However, wholesale changes based on an opaque process that might be more grounded in political expediency will not solve our problems.

We still need an open and participatory ‘Kenya we Want’ national dialogue to properly discuss our issues and reach broad consensus before proceeding to put a final coat on the Constitution.

SOUL-SEARCHING

As we stand, going to a referendum when so deeply polarised will only divide us further.

Even more than constitutional amendments, we need to look inwardly at our own foolishness as the biggest national problem.

We must look deeply into why we willingly elect thieves to high office, and get surprised when they steal our money.

We need answers on why we elevate ethnic warlords to national leadership, yet bemoan continuing communal rivalries and violence.

Honest appraisal might reveal that what BBI needs to recommend is not constitutional amendments, but brain and heart transplants for all of us.

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