OPINION: On BBI, let’s work on overcoming our differences, not arguing

OPINION: On BBI, let’s work on overcoming our differences, not arguing

By Michael Cherambos

A great deal of hype around the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) involves discussion of the future of the executive branch. While we have not yet fine-tuned the precise contents, a lot of the talk and rumours speak to the needs of the people.

The fact that we are speculating about constitutional changes indicates that our country is ready for some fundamental political reform. President Uhuru Kenyatta seems to be aware of this need, and has made it clear that he will not stand in the way of what the people want.

At a recent meeting in Nyeri at Sagana State Lodge with over 4,000 politicians and other Kenyan leaders, Uhuru assuaged their concerns: “Ndiui uria BBI irouga, tondu ndiri ndiramiona. No andu marauga ati Uhuru niagutuika Prime Minister. Ndingigithura kuneneha ringi no tiuhoro; ni tuambe turute wira.” (I hear people claiming Uhuru Kenyatta wants to become the Prime Minister of Kenya. I wouldn’t mind being in leadership in such a post, though let us deal with the current situation first).”

Practically speaking, the creation of more executive posts would reduce the power of the president himself. Right now, the winner-takes-all system creates a situation in which whoever gets the most votes, even by a marginal majority, gets all of the power.

Though on paper this is democracy, it is not particularly representative. And it is especially problematic in a country like Kenya, which seems to have even more different opinions than it does tribes!

Though changing the constitution is at this stage only theoretical, Uhuru has essentially already put this concept of power sharing in motion following the handshake with Raila.

The President even revealed to the audience that the handshake had nothing to do with power sharing in the beginning, but stability: “I reached out to Mr Odinga for the stability of this country. And I told him, the voters have played their part, if you have any issues, then try resolve them with me to achieve national cohesion. And when we talk with Mr Odinga, we never mention anything to do with power but only about peace and how we will help our people.”

But there is really only one solution to post election violence: better representation in both the executive and the legislative.

Most of the time, Kenya is seen by international pundits as the eye of the hurricane – a calm state amongst gusts of chaos around the continent. But whenever there are elections, we become the storm.

After the elections in Kibra constituency, there was admittedly a bit of tension – but nothing in comparison to what we have become accustomed to. Though the Jubilee candidate was not elected, it was a big win for everyone because all candidates were able to campaign peacefully and complete the election cycle amicably and graciously.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) costs taxpayers a great deal of money each election. For a medium sized country, our national elections cost much more than the global average. And each time that elections are disputed or there is some kind of voter conflict, we end up paying more for recounts and settling disagreements.

It is not sustainable.

Tension in the country is not high right now because our leaders are working on overcoming their differences. But it is a delicate situation. If we do not work constantly on maintaining it, this careful balance could be disrupted at any time.

All of us must exercise restraint and patience as we deliberate on the BBI report that was handed over last week.

This is a sign of our healthy democracy. It is still young, and it is a work in progress. While adults in their 20s and 30s can barely remember older administrations, many of the older generation have strong memories of the country under former President Moi.

That period is almost unrecognisable from the Kenya of today. Leaders from across tribal divides have united behind the BBI. Unity has become more a social issue than anything, and our economic development is increasingly depoliticised.

We are all after the same things – prosperity, harmony, unity, and good education to name a few. If the people we elect are willing to swallow their pride and recognise these common goals, then we should too.

As Woodrow Wilson, the American President exactly one century ago, once said, “There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.”

Let us use our faith as a channel to unite us, not to claim our differences.

Mr Cherambos comments on topical socio-political issues. Michaelcherambos1@gmail.com