After slightly over a year of work, the Building Bridges Initiative Advisory Task Force presented its report to President Uhuru Kenyatta. The initial reaction is mixed with a feeling of “harmless” “not what we expected” and “we can live with it” to “I think this is what ails Kenya.”
As expected, the media has done a good job at summarising the content of the report. However, the focus of the summaries and discussions have been on the aspects of the report that focus on politics and the political implications. While important discussions, there is a real possibility that they end up obfuscating in-depth and detailed discussions of the entire document.
Having read the whole document, I would like to share a few insights. First, it is important that we all avoid misconceptions about the document and spend time reading. There are several friends of mine who have called to discuss their concerns about the document. Some were even worried that I had participated in the drafting of the report. While I was not involved in the process leading up to the report, the focus must be on what the report contains and not who authored it.
The report raises several concerns that Kenyans have with themselves, with their fellow citizens and with their leaders. Some of the key issues that stood out for me is the fact that there is recognition that we have failed to address the deep-sated challenges for very long.
As a result, we have a very short window to try and right past wrongs. The country does not have the luxury of time. It is for this reason that as citizens read and digest the report, we should avoid the normal tendency of over analysis and instead focus on understanding with a view to determining what to do in resolving the problems.
The second issue is to recognise that the solutions for the problems bedeviling Kenya are not all legal. As a country we trust the law too much. As a lawyer I know the importance of law. Indeed, the hallmark of any democratic society is the reality adherence to the rule of law. However, not all problems require legal solutions.
Reading through the report one gets the impression that several areas of proposed solutions do not require legal action. It is important, therefore that we focus on discussing whether we agree with the proposed solutions to the identified problems before worrying about how to actualize them, Form must follow substance and not the other way round. In the discussions we must avoid legalese.
Thirdly, the challenges facing Kenya are many and their solutions complex. The compromises that the country will require to make are such that the focus should be on identifying issues we agree on, suggestions we support and better alternatives. As the late Vice President of Kenya Wamalwa Kijana once quipped, a good idea must give way to a better idea. It is the task of citizens to identify better proposals and ensure there is consensus,
People should also keep in mind that the report does not pretend to provide solutions to the problems Kenyans face. It instead offers a window for honest and candid discussions on how to fix what is broken in the Kenyan bond. For far too long, politicians have held the country hostage. Citizens have been relegated to the background of most discourses. Following several online debates, one gets the impression that this trend may be set to continue. We should not let this happen.
Citizens must seize the moment and robustly engage each other on the ideas in the document and those not in it with a view to determining lasting solutions to their intractable problems. If we leave the next steps to politicians, they will continue with their beaten path of schemes and counter-schemes and looking at the process both from a political dividend and trap standpoint, which is their principal pre-occupation. Should that happen the 2022 elections will arrive without much traction in the issues and with citizens disenchanted.
The country has a history of failed promises and unrealised expectations. Many reports have been prepared in the past with far-reaching recommendations. Had these been dealt with the country would be in a better place than it currently is.