As the Building Bridges Initiative Report release fever rises, its contents remain subject of great public speculation. Kenyans’ cannot be faulted for this anticipation. The 9th March 2018 Handshake, which was the precursor to the formation of the BBI Task Force came on the backdrop of high political temperatures and fears of eruption of violence to the scale only seen after the 2007/8 Post Election Violence. This was to the detriment of the country’s economic performance and press freedom, following the media shutdown of 30th January 2018. The 9-Points Agenda identified by the Principals, coined in the joint communique issued after their March 9, 2018 were therefore seen as the panacea for recurrent election antagonism in every election cycle.
By launching a programme that will address shared values, the two parties believed that the country will steer in the right direction and away from ethnic animosity that has existed because of political tension and insecurity. Since the March 9, 2018 pact, the country has been at a trajectory point of healing and resemblance of tranquility. While this has been commendable, it is important that as a country, we do not lose sight of the factors that got us into the pre-handshake state in the first place. Electoral malfunctions, distrust of the electoral management processes and ethnic divisions as well as perceived non equitable and equal sharing of natural resources were some of the driving forces to these challenges.
Violence in Kenya has unfolded from general elections such as the one in 2017 in different forms, these include the use of excessive force against protestors and even innocent individuals by police, ethnic-based killings and counterattacks by supporters to both the ruling and opposition parties. This in most instances has been fueled by a great sense of political manipulation of ethnic tensions, impunity with longstanding grievances over land, corruption, and lastly political, social and economic inequality.
The handshake that caught many by surprise brought a halt to the post-electoral drama with a final rapprochement between the two parties. This dramatically changed the simmering political under-currents nationwide between the opposition and the governing party. To date it is viewed by citizens as one of the most constructive idea for the common good, that was watered away by political tensions putting the country at the verge of collapse each electoral period. From our past experience on political standoffs, politics informs every aspect of governance, it is then undebatable, to cure our ill politics. The nine-point agenda therefore remains the best antidote.
The report by itself therefore provides an opportunity for the country to put an end to the prevailing case of political injustice, discrimination in service provision and also offer solutions for restorative justice to victims of historical electoral violence and not just act as another cosmetic post-election reform as witnessed in the past. The report apart from addressing the nine items in the agenda should be anchored on both public and national interests that the Task Force has collected from different parts of the country and from actors in different sectors should form the basis for inclusive recommendations that will address the challenges highlighted in the 9-point Agenda.
Needless to say, as a country we have been struggling with finding a way to ensure that institutions tasked with service delivery and accountability especially for the violence in elections are working. The vision that was anchored on the BBI report during its drafting has the potential to finally attain the elusive inclusion for Kenya. Unlike reforms that led to the establishment of commissions such as the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission and an Independent Review Committee on the elections that weren’t implemented; the issues addressed by the 9-point agenda such as inclusive and shared prosperity are a great opportunity for leaders to strategize and establish institutions and frameworks that can make national unity and stability a reality.
The continued growth of divide, competitive ethnic-based politics and irresponsible politics that has every so often led to the viscous ‘ballot to bullet’ cycle should therefore be unheard of if the countrywide tour by the BBI task-force results in a diverse set of views from Kenyans that highlight the real day-to-day challenges they face.
The hope is that the release of the report will not be subjected to politics but that citizen anticipation for long lasting solutions to electoral tensions will be handled once and for all.