BBI must seek to fix our ethos first before reforming other ills of society

Saturday December 07 2019

President Uhuru Kenyatta (centre), Deputy President William Ruto (left) and ODM leader Raila Odinga launch the Building Bridges Initiative task force report at Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi, on November 27, 2019. PHOTO | PSCU


Politicians have reduced the report of Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), and discussion of it, to a fight over an expanded Executive and its enfeebled prime minister.

They have further reduced this to who was favoured or snubbed by BBI. Yet from the word go, the report paints a picture of Kenya mired in crises, with a hapless people and clueless leadership in a sinking ship.

That should panic Kenya's leaders into action. From the presentation, it is not the Executive or first-past-the-post poll format that deserve immediate remedial intervention, but identity, economy and ethos for Kenyans.

Sample these sub-titles from the first chapter timidly titled ‘Notable issues that Kenyans must deal with: young people feel left out; Kenya has a trust deficit; Kenyans disrespect the law at all levels; the Kenyan family is in a crisis and we are suffering a failure of parentage; Kenyans feel let down by their leaders in all spheres of life, and public service in Kenya is a favour, not a right.

Witness more: most injustices in Kenya are swept under the carpet; in Kenya there is no tomorrow, only today; Kenyans feel insecure (security); Kenyans are insensitive to people living with disabilities, and we must bake a bigger national cake.



We will not bake a bigger cake however in "a continuing downward drift into sustained poverty, misery, instability and conflict", or by maintaining current political and economic systems "that are not fit for purpose".

That Kenya's youth feel excluded from society, yet they are the majority of the population, and the majority of the unemployed, and poor, is urgent enough reason for a change of direction.

And that leads me to inclusivity on which BBI dwells briefly, while echoing politicians. I will therefore, again, take the definition of inclusivity a notch higher and dovetail it into ethos and national development.

Inclusivity and diversity bring numbers and variety to mind or help reflect the face of Kenya. However, inclusivity must mean more than being included or being a member. First, it means one brings a certain strength to the group.

Second, one must feel they are valued and their contribution is listened to, welcomed and appreciated. Being included goes to the head, but feeling one belongs speaks to the heart.


Belonging feeds into oneness (unity) and builds strength, industry and productivity of the group. Being a member and being appreciated encourages innovation, creativity and productivity.

Just as an unappreciated member could be lonely in a crowd, so does a region left out of the national power grid or rail system feel marginalised.

Seeing inclusivity in terms of representing Kenya is fine, but a lot more will be achieved in terms of national or county objectives if Kenyans are made to feel they belong to Kenya or their counties or civil service.

Belonging therefore is a culture, an ethos, that Kenyans need to be taught. That is a much bigger task that requires time, thinking, resources, concentration and commitment. Those are not our politicians’ strong points.

When they narrow a national report to a single snippet, they drive traffic away from its serious content. That is why BBI merits kudos for proposing a national conference.


There is possibly no way a referendum can be held on the report. In a referendum, the electorate is asked to vote for or against an issue. BBI addresses nine issues and makes a raft of recommendations on each.

One such issue is the Executive, where it recommends the creation of a premiership. Another is national ethos on which one recommendation is that Kenyans be taught official history.

While we can vote 'Yes' or 'No' on having a premier or official history, a plebiscite on ethos and the Executive combined would be cumbersome.

However, a national conversation would be an opportunity for Kenyans to listen to themselves and to each other, guided by BBI.

There's another reason for a national conference. Sixteen months ago, writing on the search for a national ethos, I said in conclusion that what needs fixing first is the politics.

From Kenyatta I to Kenyatta II, politics has got the policies and priorities (the politics) wrong. Kenya does not, for example, need a premier to develop an ethos or inclusivity.

But an ethos and inclusivity will make governance, national or devolved, easier. It's that straightforward until you meet a politician.

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