INCLUSIVITY

Will BBI be Kenya’s Babelian curse?

Expanding the Executive to include different tribes will not make us feel inclusive.

In Summary

• The BBI has largely been touted as a unifying instrument that will inter alia terminate our cyclical electoral violence, reduce feelings of ethnic exclusion by expanding the Executive

• Expanding the Executive to include different tribes will not make us feel inclusive. It will only serve to idolize the tribe over the nation.

Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir and Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho at the BBI rally at Mama Ngina Waterfront Park, Mombasa, on Saturday, January 25, 2020.
Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir and Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho at the BBI rally at Mama Ngina Waterfront Park, Mombasa, on Saturday, January 25, 2020.
Image: JOHN CHESOLI

Genesis 11: 1-9: In the Holy Bible, it is recorded that in the land of Shinar, there lived a people of one language and of one speech.

They said, “Come let us make bricks, bake them thoroughly, and build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top reaches to the heavens, so that we can make a name for ourselves, lest we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth”.

Then the Lord said, “if as one people, speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”.

 

So the Lord confused their language and they ceased to understand each other. From there He scattered them over all the earth.

Last week, we saw oodles of politicians in attendance at the Building Bridges Initiative rally in Mombasa. Not surprisingly, they each scrambled for a moment of fame to address the crowd. And like the inhabitants of Shinar, they had one common language. They all declared their support for the BBI and paid homage to Baba, former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga. And just like that, the much-anticipated showdown between the BBI supporters and opponents was deflated. Or so we thought.

However, a couple of days later, the tensions rose again after several MPs aka Tangatanga, who had made their declaration in Mombasa, convened in Naivasha and pronounced that they will hold complementary rallies to popularise their BBI proposals. The upshot of this was a presser by ODM legislators and the polar brigade known as Kieleweke alleging that the Tangatanga team duped them into believing they support the BBI. And just as quickly as it ended, the tensions within the political class are back and loud.

The BBI has largely been touted as a unifying instrument that will inter alia terminate our cyclical electoral violence, reduce feelings of ethnic exclusion by expanding the Executive, and restore historical, economic and social inequities experienced by various communities over time. To achieve this, calls for unity as the antidote have reverberated across the nation.

Begs the question, is unity synonymous with sameness? As a nation, can we be united towards a unanimous utilitarian mission, but have different opinions and discrete approaches on how to achieve it? Or will we be deemed to be united only when we sing the same song, from the same music sheet, in the same vocal voice?

I am not a preacher; neither am I a theologian. But I wish to hazard an exposition on the Tower of Babel. It is my submission that God was not against the unity in the land of Shinar. This is because elsewhere in the Book of Psalms, He commands a blessing when brothers dwell in unity. So unity or lack of is not the variable in this equation. The subliminal question is, unity for what purpose?

In the case of Shinar’s inhabitants, their unity deluded them to think that they were so powerful that they could build their way to heaven and perhaps dethrone or displace God. This way, they would have created a name for themselves. Their process was noble, but their motive did not please God. Hence His decision to confuse and scatter them over the earth.

 

The politicians have told us that expanding the Executive will make people feel inclusive. But did you know that no one can force you to feel a certain way? You are solely responsible for how you feel about the things that happen around you.

Expanding the Executive to include different tribes will not make us feel inclusive. It will only serve to idolize the tribe over the nation. The other unforeseen outcome will be the shift in the locus of electoral conflict. This will be transposed from inter-ethnic conflict to intra-ethnic conflict and we will then be presented with BBI 3 to pacify the monster we will have inadvertently created.

But let us for a moment give the politicians the benefit of doubt and assume for once they are honest about their support for the BBI. The question then would be, is it really about unity? Could it be that like the inhabitants of Shinar, they delude themselves to be so powerful that they can unite the whole nation? And if so, unity for what purpose? Is it to make a name for themselves? And if that is the case, is it probable that the confusion we are witnessing among the political class is deity induced confusion? Is this Kenya’s Tower of Babel?

I submit that unity is not synonymous with sameness. We can be united towards desiring a better future but how we get there can be through various means. In economic-speak, this is called creative disruption. This occurs when innovations, new technologies or business models demolish the structures of long-established industries that have lost the ability to satisfy the urgent wants and needs of consumers.

During Henry Ford’s era, the Americans' desire was a faster and efficient means of transportation. Through creative disruption, Ford disrupted the long-standing status quo of horse owners and carriages by creating the first automobile that many middle-class Americans could afford. By being unified in the desire for an improved means of transportation, Ford changed the transportation landscape in subsequent centuries.

If BBI had happened during Henry Ford’s era, our politicians, in a bid to preserve the power of the horse owners and carriages, they would have popularised that what we needed is a faster horse.

Finally, my unsolicited advice is to Wanjiku: Cowardice asks, ‘is it safe?’; Expediency asks, ‘is it politic?’; Vanity asks, ‘is it popular?’; but Conscience asks, ‘is it right?’

There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells them that it is right”. What is your conscience telling you about the BBI, the rallies, and the wish list of county proposals? Will you be a coward and support it because it is the safe thing to do? Will you be expedient and interrogate the political interest layers that are propping it up? Will you be vain and support it just to be popular? Or will you listen to your conscience and support it because it is the right thing to do?

Culture is the celebration of diversity. Let us therefore not deny our origin; but instead celebrate ours as a cultural mosaic, not a Tower of Babel – Ali Mazrui