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Ideas & Debate

BBI report goes beyond the usual divisive politics

President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President
President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga during the launch of the BBI report at Bomas. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The media are filled with coverage of matters BBI – for and against; Raila and Ruto; waste of money and money well-spent. We’ve all been advised to read the entire 156-page document, but given what has been highlighted I was far from tempted to do the responsible thing.

Then a few days ago, one of the papers featured a brief yet more holistic review of what was in the report, including mention of visions and values, and this led me to download it. What a delightful surprise! From the exhaustive way the media covered the launch and everything since, I had until then been led to assume that it was only about prime ministers and Parliaments, referendums and Raila-Ruto: just new sources of conflict and division, mere feeding ground for juicy headlines.

Immediately I started reading I saw the report was about so much more than the political options that face us – none of which, by the way, will sort out our problems, any more than our new constitution or our endless number of commissions have done. No. It is all, as the BBI report makes abundantly clear, about visions and values, about the need for national conversations at all levels of society, with as much listening as talking, ones that will develop a “national ethos.”

The report is written in a way that everyone can follow. It is clear and engaging, and it flows really well, from identification of our challenges to how we have handled them before to what we should do now. Each of the nine core challenges occupies a chapter: lack of a national ethos, responsibilities and rights, ethnic antagonism and competition, divisive elections, inclusivity, shared prosperity, corruption, devolution, and safety and security.

In them we read blunt feedback on what the BBI members heard from Kenyans, before they lay out their recommendations. They draw attention to the fact that the nine themes are all interlinked, and explain that the reason they list their recommendations at the end of each chapter (as well as laying them out comprehensively together in a clear matrix in an appendix that occupies 26 of the pages) is that they want us to focus separately on each one as well as viewing them all together. Plus they hope we won’t just pluck out the politically exciting ones and ignore the rest. They exhort us to “think big and long” – way beyond our Vision 2030 horizon to 50 and even 100 years from now. They realistically suggest holding on to our 47 counties – while encouraging the development of regional blocs and also further decentralisation to the ward level. And they write at length about how to breathe life into our values and behaviour, urging us to pay attention to our responsibilities along with our rights, and so we can build trust and respect among us rather than relentlessly opposing each other as we play our zero-sum games.

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We read about our “leadership crisis”, with too much preaching water and drinking wine, and with too little follow-through on good intentions. I was particularly delighted to see them recommend the elimination of all sitting allowances.

The bridge-builders acknowledge previous efforts to bring us together around the much-needed national ethos, from the harambee spirit onward, and the opening statement in the report’s Conclusion chapter, “Kenya is at a crossroads,” reminded me of the Kenya Scenario Planning initiative that was named “Kenya at the Crossroads”. I was a trustee of that wonderful initiative, where we branded our optimistic scenario “Flying Geese”, reflecting the aligned energy it represented.

In the two decades since we laid out the characteristics of that Kenya at its best, we are far from seeing the necessary mix of political, economic and social developments that can take us there. But the BBI team (like me) remains optimistic about our unlimited potential to forge ahead and show the way for the rest of Africa. As they readily acknowledge, we definitely possess the needed talent and energy to achieve that shared prosperity.

I’d love to write much more. But in the space available I’ll just conclude by strongly advising you to read the report. You won’t regret it.

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