BBI is not a solution to Kenya's problems, but a step to the end

Thursday November 05 2020
Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga.

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and Raila Odinga with copies of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) in October, 2020. PHOTO | PSCU


The Building Bridges Initiative report is finally out. Its launch at the Bomas of Kenya where, years ago, delegates from all over the country met to draft what would become known as the Bomas Draft of the Constitution reminded us of an important step the BBI process missed. 

In an ideal situation, the BBI process should have started with a national delegates’ conference to audit the whole constitution in order to see what worked and what did not.

But it is also important to remember that BBI is a child of a crisis made more critical by the divisive elections of 2017 that left half the country feeling alienated from the other half, and calls for secession moved from the fringes to centre stage.

It was encouraging to see the Deputy President who has spent the last two years reduce a complex problem into what logicians call a false dilemma of ‘Hustlers versus Dynasty’ doing what he should have been doing right from the outset — contributing to bettering the process.

It was also encouraging to hear the president during the launch admit that we are a very tribal society. He said that all leaders, including himself, used nationalist rhetoric while stoking ethnic nationalism in order to advance individual political interests. It was a brave admission because for far too long our leaders have thrived on this hypocrisy.

It will not be easy to completely rid our society of ethnic nationalism for two reasons. First, tribal arithmetic is deeply ingrained in our political culture. Our founding fathers and those who followed them perfected this art of playing deadly ethnic politics below the surface of nationalist rhetoric.


The question will be whether the political class can wean itself of this “baby formula” that enables them to cream the fat of the land for themselves.

Second, notions of ethnic superiority are deeply ingrained in our society. The other day I heard a young man on TV claiming that his community has no thieves. I have heard others at public forums claiming a special relationship with God. I have heard very educated people implying superiority of their ethnic group by clever employment of phrases such as ‘in our community’ we are like this or like that.

It is incredible that these notions of superiority persist even in the face of scientific and experiential evidence that they are patently false. So the other question is whether the general public is ready to abandon these backward and false notions that make it so easy for the political class to get away with having no policy or ideology to sell during elections.

We might not be able to completely eradicate ethnic consciousness in the next 100 years but we can — in the next 10 — make sure that it has no bearing on who gets resources or opportunity.

In this regard, the BBI report is an important step, not a panacea.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator