The Building Bridges Initiative report launched with great pomp last Wednesday reinforced the divide it was intended to bridge by drawing praise from those pulling with President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and outright derision or tepid endorsement from those that stood by Deputy President William Ruto’s steadfast opposition to the BBI in the lead-up to the launch.
The ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ responses we are hearing were predictable. While he was expected to say the right things on such a politically significant day, to expect that Dr Ruto and his brigade were overnight going to transform from fervent critics to adorers of a proposal he opposed because it complicates his plan and ambition to take over the presidency in 2022 is to stretch credulity too far.
Neither were President Uhuru and Mr Odinga going to bury their discomfort with the well-known positions taken by Dr Ruto just because the report was now out.
The differences were played in stark outline on that day. The cameras showed us a Deputy President ill at ease with the proceedings. If he was happy, he is an extraordinary actor. The President and Mr Odinga, on the other hand, were at ease, comfortable with the manner in which the show was choreographed to almost lock out the voices that all along had been opposed to the report.
If the report launch reinforced the political divide fracturing the country, its contents were hardly profound to warrant the demonisation it had been subjected to in the months before it was finally unveiled. Apart from its recommendations on reshaping the structure of executive leadership, there is hardly anything radical in recommendations under the other pillars. Apart from the elections pillar, the other eight were ethnicity, inclusivity, lack of national ethos, devolution, safety and security, corruption, shared prosperity, and responsibilities and rights.
Reading through the report, one gets the sense that the respected men and women who worked on the document went to great lengths to avoid anything as radical as is contained in reports like Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report handed over to government in May 2013! Or those in the Ndung’u Commission Report of 2005 that made far-reaching recommendations to cure cases of rampant land grabbing of public land. Or even the Agenda Four recommendations that were the result of discussions on causes of the 2007-2008 post-election violence and what Kenya needed to do to avoid a repeat. The recommendations in those reports have not been implemented.
BBI is a report that admonishes Kenyans to do the right thing, obey the laws, be good to each other, love their country, etc. These are all nice proposals, but nice is not what we need. We want the proposals referred to above implemented. The BBI is repeating a truism when it proposes that the government should share resources by treating all Kenyans as equals and ensuing that no one feels left out. This it says fully aware that Kenya is a capitalist state where the laissez faire ethic reigns supreme. The report’s socialist sentiment finds resonance only in the Ekuro Aukot Punguza Party, whose proposals were ruthlessly quashed recently.
Let us not over-agitate over the BBI. Its purpose is to plead the case for a return of the PM post and expansion of the government to create more opportunities for sharing. It’s futile to try to read too much into a document that was never intended to provide much.
Tom Mshindi is the former editor-in-chief of Nation Media Group and is now consulting. [email protected], @tmshindi