OPINION: BBI paved the road towards national unity: It’s our turn to walk down it

OPINION: BBI paved the road towards national unity: It's our turn to walk down it
President Uhuru Kenyatta with Deputy President William Ruto and Opposition leader Raila Odinga during the launch of the BBI report at the Bomas of Kenya. PHOTO| PSCU

By Michael Cherambos

A mere two weeks after the publication of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Taskforce’s report, an unprecedented coalition of politicians emerged in support of its mission to unite Kenya.

With President Uhuru Kenyatta, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto alone, we already have the top Kikuyu, Luo and Kalenjin leaders all rallying behind the same goal. For the first time in the history of our country, we are close to truly realising the ideal of one nation.

Building such a broad-based alliance is a remarkable achievement. Ever since we gained independence from colonialism, we have struggled with building a political system that is truly “home-grown”. Experimenting with Western models of democracy only pitted our tribes against each other. When the 1991 constitutional amendment reintroduced a multi-party system, our tribal identities were heightened.

Thanks to our “winner-takes-all” electoral system, politics only made the division lines between factions of our society more pronounced. Ever since our tribal groupings turned into political groupings, we have struggled to design and implement policies contributing to the good of the nation as a whole.

After years of navigating through this political environment defined by “us versus them” sentiments, it is impressive that our President has successfully managed to invite so many leaders to stand with him, working towards common perceptions of the national good.

Seeing our political leadership more united than ever is a significant milestone. We cannot however, stop here. An even greater achievement would be if we the people could follow in their footsteps. It is now up to us, the voters, to put in place a political system that will finally help us think and act as a united nation rather than a mere collection of tribes who happen to share the same land.

The BBI report and the plan for a referendum gives us the opportunity to take control of our future like never before in our history. Not only are we responsible as citizens to thoroughly understand the report and its implications, we also have to encourage as many people as we can to participate in approving its contents.

Understanding the report is the first step towards us acting under the umbrella of one Kenyan nation. The Building Bridges Initiative was by far the most inclusive and comprehensive public consultation undertaken in Kenyan history. Expressing interest in its findings means expressing interest in what our fellow citizens have to say about our shared future.

Importantly, the report mentions that we should reinstate the position of Prime Minister. Chosen from the ranks of the largest party in the National Assembly, the office of the Prime Minister would finally achieve a degree of decentralisation of power by serving as a significant office holder alongside our President. He or she would surely contribute to the diversity of views and approaches represented at the highest circles of Kenyan politics.

On the other hand, establishing the position of the Leader of the Official Opposition and setting up a Shadow Cabinet under his or her leadership is one of the most innovative points expressed in the report. It is also one that would directly contribute to creating a more stable democracy in Kenya based on conversation rather than continuous contestation.

Setting up an organised opposition tasked with holding government to account and offering alternative policy insights will help our politicians focus on the policy over politics.

These new roles will help us leave behind the era of violent tribal clashes after each election period. We have the chance to get rid of the “winner-takes-all” approach. The leader of the opposition would become the presidential candidate that won the second largest number of votes.

This means that the large pool of people supporting this candidate would be represented through the work of the Official Opposition. This is a fundamental departure from current methods in which the voter basis of the presidential runner-up are not directly represented at all.

Uhuru with his foresight identified that the time has come to establish what we have all been hoping for, a truly united Kenya. Our leaders have now taken every step they possibly can to lead Kenya to just that. We must not miss this opportunity!

Michael Cherambos comments on topical socio-political issues; [email protected]

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