Could Kenya’s Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Be A Model for Rest of Africa?

The so-called Building Bridges Initiative BBI is a proposal for a new political system in Kenya that would provide lasting peace and stability, according to its proponents.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his former arch-rival, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, both promise that the proposed changes would end once and for all, the constant political strife and periodic inter-tribal post election violence brought about by the political tension that comes about during every election cycle.

The political dispensation that would emerge as a result of the initiative would produce not just a new system of government but also a new way of doing politics. The proposed changes include a new expanded executive that would include a president, at least two deputy presidents, a prime minister as well as a number of deputy prime ministers. It would create a system where all candidates for the top political position would essentially be accommodated in some sort of hierarchy within the executive.

I was previously opposed to the proposed changes arguing that Kenya’s youthful constitution was not only sufficient but needed to be given time to be fully implemented. However, I have come around to the acceptance that the constant strife of the always bitterly contested current electoral horserace really does no favors to the Kenyan, indeed, the African political environment.

As a result, the genius of the proposal lies in the elimination of the appearance of the current winner takes all political system that leaves the supporters of the losing candidate feeling left out of political representation.

Politics is not bean bag, indeed and in politics there are always winners and losers. The problem with African politics however is that the political divisions always fall right along tribal lines rather than along any sort of ideological lines. That is not to say that the ideological differences we see in the west between the right and the left for example aren’t actually quite tribal themselves, as we saw recently in the January 6th tribal terror attacks on the US Capitol. However, in the AFrican context, what this means is that there is often the feeling of exclusion whether real or imagined by certain ethnic groups and tribes from the spoils of political victory and subsequent perceived economic bounty and privilege that comes from perceived political representation that comes from having a member of one’s tribe at the helm.

I would argue that in fact, not only is the proposal good for Kenya, but indeed, it can be the model for the rest of Africa being that all political rivalry right across the African continent is tribal or ethnic. Kenyans are divided on the process that this reshaping should take, with the president and his allies pushing for a referendum to bring about the needed changes.

The idea of a referendum has its opponents and with great reason, a referendum would incur massive costs for the country at a time when most Kenyans are struggling under the stress and burden wrought on the economy and society by the pandemic. Whether a new constitutional dispensation comes about as a result of a referendum or a vote in parliament however, it does seem that a system that reduces the tensions and lowers the political temperature in Kenya will be a welcome one.

A referendum seems unnecessary as it would not only be expensive, but ironically, the campaigns for it have threatened to be just as divisive as the presidential elections that usually lead to discord and violence. At this point, it is highly likely that a referendum would not even pass whereas a vote in parliament quite probably would as it does appear that majority of politicians do favor the measures proposed therein.

Proponents of the referendum currently believe that passage of the referendum and the subsequent dispensation that will emerge from it will favor the perpetual candidate, and Kenya’s one time former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, while opponents of the referendum are thought to be supporters of current deputy president, and aspiring 2022 presidential candidate William Samoei Ruto. However, regardless of which politician emerges at the helm under a new system, I do believe that the proposed dispensation that would emerge as a result of the constitutional amendment would be good for Kenya and a great model for the rest of Africa, and indeed the developing world.

As to which of the two current giants of Kenyan politics it will help is the subject of another whole entire article and endless debate, and frankly it is of less import. It should be noted however, that Ruto’s position about the needlessness of wasting money on a referendum especially during a pandemic seems to have caught momentum among the public. It does afterall make great sense. It remains to be seen whether that will result in Ruto being rewarded for his position and his opponents being punished for it, or whether indeed Raila manages to ride the wave of the perceived success of the motion if indeed it were to pass.

Africa and Africans need our own systems of doing politics and government that do not merely imitate western systems that just simply do not work for us. As long as political competition in Africa continues to run along tribal and ethnic lines, the competition for resources will continue to be a perennial one that will continue to lead to spates of infighting and even wars over the distribution of resources, while only benefitting Africa’s former colonizers.

These wars only ever serve to perpetuate popular stereotypes of Africa as a war torn dysfunctional place, and indeed leave everyone involved impoverished. The only ones served by these perpetual wars such as are ongoing in Mozambique, in Angola, The Congo, Tigray, Cameroun amongst countless others are the arms dealing nations of the west, who additionally profit from the chaos with western mining companies conveniently swooping in to help themselves to the natural resources. These corporations criminally continue to acquire raw materials of massive worth essentially for free, managing to loot trillions of dollars worth of raw materials for pennies in small bribes to hungry warring soldiers and petty bureaucrats.

Africans must wise up to this and cease to attempt to remake our governments, indeed our continent in the likeness of our former colonizers and perpetual tormenters.

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