BWIRE: BBI; Let the signature collection begin

BWIRE: BBI; Let the signature collection begin

By Victor Bwire

Its done! Signature collection on the proposed constitutional review through a referendum as recommended by the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) will start, with obviously the need to move to the next steps.

However, the process must not be ‘winner take it all’ as variously discussed in terms of popularization of the substance of the contents and implications of the recommendations. Among the few concerns is that just like we failed in conducting civic education on the constitution, with the current approach, where it seems we are only focusing on the game of strategy, the BBI report still remains unpacked to many Kenyans.

Given that some politicians and others reluctant to engage with the process are intent on causing confusion, media should call them out, remind those who snubbed the process why the sudden interest and set the agenda on the discussion with elaborate space and time for nuanced debates on the same, instead of just pushing the narrative on either support or opposed.

As the media has done before, they should internally develop an itemized agenda, that allows citizens to either support or oppose the document on the depth of information shared, create a data base of informed sources and panelists and guest writers that supplement internal reporters to guide a civilized public engagement exercise. Media should not shy aware from opposing or supporting some sections of the proposals that make sense or are not good for the country.

Hopefully, the BBI secretariat in addition to signature collection, will develop and implement an outreach and information sharing program, not only to deal with the many myths and falsehoods about the document, but popularize the contents and substance of the report, so that the proposals reach various sectors of the citizens for both collective and individual use.

While again, we appreciate that the BBI is a political process, there was room for the team to allow the team of experts that worked jointly with the taskforce members, to have countrywide town halls and related media sessions to educate Kenyans on key proposals and implications for understanding even if they won’t vote before the politics took over.

The documents and proposals are rich in history, policy recommendations and frameworks that have largely missed in previous legislative processes- we have previously made laws without policies.

Those deeply involved in the development of the proposals are very critical at this stage, and hopefully, the media will seek them out to help in giving details on how and why some issues where presented in the way they are, what informed their approach and real implications, fears and contexts.

In addition to the politics of the process, and from lessons learnt with the 2010 constitution, there should be investment from both the government and non-state actors to discuss the contents of the report.

I am not sure why people who snubbed the process for the last two years should be the ones driving the discussions on the BBI report and process now, and especially when all the time, media is quoting them when they are misleading citizens on the same.

The BBI taskforce report, looked at in the context of the taskforce report and the implementation plan/matrix by the BBI steering committee can help this country more than just a constitutional review to merely change the constitution to solve the political crisis that faces the country after every general election; but a major landmark in the country’s history.

It might also serve as a monitoring of the implementation of the constitution, and has already shown areas where implementation is lacking, problematic and where progress has been made.

The media for example should help set the agenda on what are the short, mid-terms and long-term things to be implemented in that order, so that debate focuses on national needs aware of the impending elections in 2022. The issue of the finalization of the law on elections campaigning is urgent and will help solve some of the political issues affecting the country. A strong culture of handouts has also arisen. Women and marginalised groups, including youth, the disabled and women remain underrepresented at all levels across the political parties, which has led to unfair practices and further marginalisation that calls for redress.

The issue of political party management, access to information on running of parties, handling party primaries and the related dispute resolution mechanism, party lists for nomination consideration among others are critical issues that need addressing as a priority. That the proposals mention something on perpetrators of election violence is welcome.

While we a unique country, we need to implement what an evaluation of the implementation of the constitution has shown us so far, and also look at the political systems in the UK, India, South Africa, Finland just to name but a few.

Some political parties remain dormant between elections only to resurface during elections or when clamoring for funds under the Political Parties Act. Our politics tends to be dictated by those who fund a party to enable it to ascend to power and stay there. Those elected and or nominated must balance between serving the interests of their funders, Kenyans and maintaining political accountability.

Victor Bwire works at the Media Council of Kenya