CHANGES

Are critics out to derail BBI?

Rather than seeking to improve the draft, some demands could torpedo the initiative.

In Summary
  • Rather than seeking to improve the draft, some demands could torpedo the initiative.
  • Once granted, it could open floodgates for other interest groups to make further demands.

The Building Bridges Initiative is an investment in political stability. It’s an attempt to rekindle stunted nationhood. But cynics are treating proposed constitutional and legislative changes as a lottery for recurrent expenditure.

Some emerging demands have no bearing on the fundamentals of BBI. Some want BBI deferred to prioritise Covid-19-related challenges. They agree the report is progressive, but it needs ‘panel beating’, and safe timing.

The clergy wants proposed elective positions reduced to ease tax and debt burden. Kenya, clerics say, needs a leaner government, and quality public service. The clergy wants presidential powers, especially the leverage to appoint a prime minister and two deputies, trimmed. They don’t want the president to appoint Ombudsman for the Judiciary; and he won’t without checks.

 

Once approved, the position would be advertised. The qualified would apply. The applicants would be shortlisted, interviewed, and vetted. The president would then appoint. This is how the Chief Justice and other heads of independent commissions are appointed.

The clergy does not want political parties to influence appointment of electoral commissioners because it’s ‘dangerous’ to do so. Parties did not appoint the IEBC that messed the 2007, 2013 and 2017 elections. The electoral agency of 1997 was constituted with the input of parliamentary parties. It had more credibility than this IEBC, whose autonomy is skin-deep.

IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati and his predecessor Issack Hassan are known for craving political correctness. Any reform that makes the IEBC answerable to interest groups is an improvement on this one, which panders to vested interests.

Clerics want an independent police force. But the issue is bigger: For as long as the president is the head of government, the head of state, and the commander-in-chief, police independence will be elusive. The Judiciary and IEBC have had to deal with this kind of president, even without BBI.

Refining the BBI report is a fair demand, which should be granted. Derailing the initiative to preserve a skewed Executive, which has been dominated by two of 43 tribes for 60 years, is selfish and anti-nationhood.

During the Supreme Court proceedings following the 2017 bungled presidential election, the Bench dealt with an imperious presidency. The President could not understand how the Supreme Court nullified the election of a powerful incumbent.

Before the IBBI report was published, voters were said to want a president with a popular mandate. They did not want two centres of power. Now that they got a ‘powerful president’, the clergy don’t want an ‘imperial president’.

Shifting goalposts may delay or derail the process. When Mwai Kibaki became president in 2002, he promised a new constitution within the first 100 days of taking office. He didn’t until 2010, three years into his controversial second term. Former activists who surrounded the ‘change’ President Kibaki, like former Gichugu MP Martha Karua and Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, want BBI deferred.

 

Rather than seeking to improve the draft, some demands could torpedo the initiative. Once granted, it could open floodgates for other interest groups to make further demands.

Nine key issues sprout from the original Building Bridges Initiative of 2018: Shared prosperity, inclusivity, divisive elections, dearth of national ethos, ethnic antagonism, devolution, corruption, security and human rights.

The March 2018 amity between the advocate of liberation politics Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta was a reconciliation pact. It’s the foundation of BBI, whose report is the subject of partisan rancour. It’s a clash between agents of the status quo and pro-change forces. The Uhuru-Raila pact ended post-2017 post-election fires. It’s marketed as the vaccine for future post-election misadventures.

Refining the BBI report is a fair demand, which should be granted. Derailing the initiative to preserve a skewed Executive, which has been dominated by two of 43 tribes for 60 years, is selfish and anti-nationhood.