As the saying goes, the Building Bridges Initiative is exactly what it says on the tin.
This initiative was born from building bridges, from a president to his opponent, from a leadership to the people, and the report demonstrates that the people want less division and more unity in our nation.
This process, eighteen months in total, even though it is far from ending, has been a cathartic soul-searching period for the people who contributed their thoughts and recommendations.
It has given many of us the opportunity to think long and hard about what is best for our future, a national future.
One of the most important parts of the BBI report but perhaps one of the least spoken about is about the “lack of a national ethos”.
Like many post-colonial nations, Kenya, in the early years defined itself largely by what it was not, rather than what it was. It was no longer ruled by a foreign colonial power whose interests were in many instances diametrically opposed to those of the indigenous population.
Our first leaders were all national liberation heroes, and this set the tone for the early years. Our cracks and divisions were papered over when we had a common enemy but when that faded into the rear mirror, they came to the fore again.
In recent decades the tribal nature of politics in Kenya has led to many unsavoury and bloody moments.
According to the report, many of those the taskforce spoke to said that there was a major disconnect “from our pre-colonial societies, and a sense that together, as African peoples, we are not the equal of others from distant lands. Kenyans yearn for a national ethos of cultural pride, one that allows us to reconcile our traditions with the new and dynamically changing world around us.”
This displays a society that remains unsure of itself.
However, the antidote to this malaise comes directly from the people in a bottom-up process, whereby the family and community are imbued with a new sense of unity and a pride in feeling and being Kenyan.
To turn such a diverse and multicultural nation into one unit can take some time, and the authors of the report talk about one hundred years.
The bottom line is that the length of time and the difficulty or ease in unifying our nation is up to us.
The report mentions some nice initiatives, like commissioning an Official History of Kenya, to document, protect, and promote ancient and historical monuments of national importance, and to replace Boxing Day on 26th December with a National Culture Day for celebrating culture and learning about other Kenyans’ cultures.
Nevertheless, no one can force anyone to feel or be anything they don’t want to do or be.
Only we the people, by building bridges to other Kenyan cultures and tribes can build unity. By standing in each other’s shoes, learning each other’s languages, history and challenges, we can foster a deeper understanding of our fellow countrymen and women.
Kenya is likened to a choir where we all sing different notes and vocal ranges, but together we can either make beautiful music or a dreadful din.
For too long it has been the latter, but now, perhaps for the first time in our history, we have the chance and the tools to be the former.
We need to place the creation of a national ethos as the foundation of not just a new society, but a new nation.
No divided nation has ever survived, let along thrived and flourished.
Yet if we continue to live as separate, one community from the other, everything will be seen in a competitive light, pitching one tribe or region against another, and little will be achieved for the good of all.
We all see some of our pettier politicians using the tribal and ethnic card to gain support or attention. Too many thrive on our divisions, and we all suffer as a result.
The Building Bridges Initiative was born from a simple but complex handshake. While the physical act was minimal, it was fraught with a complex history. It was about taking risks for the greater good.
When President Kenyatta reached out and shook the hand of Raila Odinga and drew him in, it started a chain reaction that will see Kenya built anew.
With this example, the people can follow in mind and deed, and in these simple acts we will build a new Republic of Kenya.
Sammy Kwinga is a Nairobi-based political scientist. [email protected]