Almost a year after the Handshake, the Building Bridges Initiative Advisory Taskforce presented its final report to President Uhuru Kenyatta. Thereafter, in a colourful ceremony attended by almost all politicians at the Bomas of Kenya, the full report was launched and released to the public for reading and further scrutiny. The Building Bridges Report encompasses nine key areas of focus that have been identified to be vital to the building and sustaining of a stable and united Kenya. The nine areas examined are: the lack of a national ethos, the responsibilities and rights of the State and the citizens respectively, reducing ethnic antagonism and competition, divisive elections, inclusivity, devolution, shared prosperity, corruption and safety and security. The matter of Commissions and other cross-cutting issues were also looked into.
In its opening remarks of the report, the Taskforce states that ‘more than 7000 citizens from all ethnic groups, genders, cultural and religious practices, and from different social and economic backgrounds were consulted.’ Further, it provides that more than 400 elected leaders, both past and present; youth from the counties, 123 individuals representing major institutions and 751 citizens via handwritten submissions participated in the public forums that were held to collect views during the process.
The recent 2019 census results show that Kenya has 47, 564,296 people. The Taskforce provides that it consulted ‘more than 7000’ citizens. Is this really representative of the views of all Kenyans? Were all Kenyan citizens given an opportunity to make representations on the nine key areas supposed to create a better Kenya?
Public participation is perhaps best defined as a process of allowing and involving the public to participate in the decision-making process. It is a principle that facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected or interested in making of a decision. This process is done by engaging the public in decision-making by receiving its input and considering it in making that decision.
The importance of public participation cannot be understated. It promotes the legitimacy and acceptance of decisions by public bodies, fosters values of democracy, entrenches governance and accountability and fulfills constitutional requirements. Public participation has been anchored in the Constitution of Kenya 2010 under Article 10 (2) (a) as a national value and principle of governance.
The Building Bridges Initiative appears to be a paramount report that will, perhaps, change the discourse on key issues in the country. But yet, have the electorate been factored in? The Taskforce cannot claim to have carried out meaningful public participation with only a section of the public yet there were different innovative ways to have reached to all Kenyans.
When the citizens are empowered to be aware of what is being deliberated upon, it is easier for them to understand what is going on and as a result, implementation is effective. The report is in English, thus putting those who are illiterate or cannot understand English at a disadvantage. Kiswahili is also a national language. The report speaks on increased inclusivity but has it factored in that persons with disabilities, especially the blind, cannot be able to access the document?
The political class cannot purport to be speaking about a document that people on the ground have not read. The sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya, who chose to exercise it indirectly through representatives. Relegation of citizens to the backseat on important national conversations leads to disillusionment among the electorate and apathy as they feel that their views are not taken into consideration.
Moving forward, as the discourse around BBI takes shape and informs the way forward, it should be ensured that the voice of citizens is heard. Kenyans have to be given a chance to read, understand the contents and thereafter provide their views in the discussions arising. The external role played by the public provides special information, insight, knowledge and expertise to the matters under deliberation. This way, in seeking to achieve and implement some of the highlighted recommendations, all Kenyans can forge ahead together in creating a better Kenya for themselves.