Columnists

BBI report: what next for citizens?

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Kenyans gathered at a past public rally. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • The discussions though raise a dangerous issue that the country and process must grapple with — the dishonesty and pervasive influence of partisan politics on our national culture.
  • While the BBI process was supposed to ensure that we address fundamental problems ailing our country, the reactions to the report have only served to demonstrate the existence of deep fissures in Kenya.
  • Positions seem to have already been taken either in support of or against the report and its recommendations.

The Building Bridges Initiative(BBI) taskforce report was handed over to President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga a day after the October 20 Mashujaa Day celebrations.

I had the advantage of speaking at the launch of the initial draft after it was released late last year. Since the current draft was handed over, there have been a lot of commentaries in the public on its contents. This is as it should be.

The discussions though raise a dangerous issue that the country and process must grapple with — the dishonesty and pervasive influence of partisan politics on our national culture. While the BBI process was supposed to ensure that we address fundamental problems ailing our country, the reactions to the report have only served to demonstrate the existence of deep fissures in Kenya.

Positions seem to have already been taken either in support of or against the report and its recommendations. On the one hand, there are groups to whom the process and its product are the best thing that ever happened to the country and must be supported. On the other, are those for whom BBI is nothing but poison. These positions are entrenched and difficult to change. They are also driven largely by perception and other underlying issues.

There are many Kenyans who while not having read the contents have taken a position on whether they will accept or reject the document and do not care whether their reasons are supported by the content or not. For a democratic society this is inimical to the values we aspire for.

Decisions must be made on an objective criterion. The concept of access to information and public participation are an important component of any democratic society.

It behoves the public agencies in charge of any process to ensure that citizens have access to accurate information and get an opportunity to participate in critical decisions that affect them.

Citizens once granted information must also utilise it. In this instance we all owe ourselves a duty to read the document, internalise its contents and then make an objective decision on where we stand.

We should avoid the temptation to rely on rumours and innuendo. We owe it to ourselves to ensure that we read the document and take an informed position.

What is being discussed is not just any other document but the social contract that we entered to determine the basis of our government.

Sovereign power rests with all of us. We cannot subcontract that to anybody. Politicians are keen on subverting citizens’ power. It is a mistake we should not make. To avoid reading the document is to give up our rights to politicians. This is a mistake that we cannot afford to make. The discussions are about our future, and to allow a few people to make this decision for us would be absurd.

Whether or not to change the Constitution is one of the most critical decisions that we can make as part of exercising our sovereign authority.

In addition, the context of the decision is one we must pay attention to. The BBI discussions will take place in a very polarised environment. One of the issues that is at the heart of the nature of society we have is elections.

Elections continue to be a do or die affair. They makes even sane citizens behave insanely. Instead of being reasonable we recede to our tribal and partisan cocoons. Unless we are careful, it is very likely that the decision will be turned into a theatre for sorting out short-term 2022 political interests.

We must remember that the 2010 Constitution has led to fundamental changes in the nature of the Kenyan society. That is the magnitude of the decision before us.

As citizens we owe it to ourselves to prove to the politicians that we are the ones that donate power to them. My plea is that we ensure we take back our rightful place and determine our destiny.

The BBI process is about a fundamental aspect of our lives. Whichever decision we make about it we should treat it with the seriousness it deserves.