The underwhelming BBI report was a huge missed opportunity

Monday December 02 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


In the aftermath of the Building Bridges Initiative report launch, the social and mainstream media is awash with sycophants and system apologists fiercely outdoing one another in making perfunctory and empty platitudes of the exercise.

Although many of them know the BBI was a wasted opportunity, they are engaged in this absurd ritual to endear themselves to the system.

In supporting the report, allies of the Deputy President, Dr William Ruto, seem to have chosen compromise over confrontation.

The BBI is elitist and exclusionary. Beyond the mysterious “handshake”, it has no demonstrable efforts for unifying a divided country.

The task force, secretly selected to duplicate the work of constitutional bodies, delivered a grossly underwhelming report with widely simplistic, worthless, absurd and impractical recommendations.

It is insulting that a broke country spent so much to be told it is wise to retain its constituencies and counties and that referring to Cabinet secretaries as Cabinet ministers was actually better.



It’s populist to suggest that ministers must use public facilities and services. That’s outright silly; we are a democracy, not a dictatorship.

And how would a Prime Minister appointed by the President contribute to the healing of a divided people, foster national ethos and end electoral fraud and violence?

Evidently, the BBI was designed to keep the country talking about nothing. Kenyans understand their structural problems, which date back to independence.

And it is not that we don’t know what to do. Over the years, expert-led and participatory exercises have generated strong recommendations which the system has strenuously ignored.

Many acknowledge that our problems are inherently linked to powerful groups that control the political, economic and judicial systems.

A bold and transformative report should have recommended ways of identifying, targeting, dismantling and destroying this nefarious structure. But this one chose to ruffle no feathers.


Tackling ‘State capture’ is a complex and dangerous affair for an outfit enjoying government favours.

But this fear is pervasive; it explains why majority of Kenyans choose to remain silent. Rigorous honest debate has been replaced by duplicity, dishonesty and self-delusion over the state of affairs.

Kenyans sought devolution, which they used to refer to as “majimbo”. Regrettably, with the manner in which we structured our “majimbo”, counties are nothing but a sad reflection of the national structure — with an all-powerful Executive.

Enjoying near-absolute control of devolved funds and appointments in the counties, whose boundaries follow ethnic lines, governors are emerging as powerful, untouchable tribal chiefs.

Business and job opportunities are largely a matter of open tribalism, nepotism and cronyism in a system that overlooks qualified individuals and professionals.

Corrupt governors who have entered into complex economic and political ties with powerful leadership at the top appear invincible and immune from impeachment and prosecution.


Despite widespread reports of corruption, the DCI is reluctant to go after them. Some are so emboldened they have repeatedly snubbed Senate committee summonses.

Their accomplices flaunt their ill-gotten wealth for they perceive the DCI and ODPP as weak, compromised and selective and prosecution as of no consequence to them and kin.

The task force could have suggested ways to promote efficient use of devolved funds, foster economies of scale, unify the people and lessen the burden on taxpayers.

It could have identified counties to be merged in an bid to blunt tribalised service delivery.

But there is value in one of its recommendations — arguably its best — that we should extend to the counties.

It would be incredibly beneficial for the gubernatorial election runner-up to become an ex-officio Member of County Assembly and Leader of the Official Opposition if their party is not represented in the county government.

Mr Chesoli is a New York-based development economist and global policy expert. [email protected] @kenchesoli