BBI is the start, not the end, of political debate

BBI is the start, not the end, of political debate
  • A close examination of the BBI proposals confirms that they are not as radical as was earlier anticipated.

  • Many are even currently incorporated in the Constitution or other laws and national policy.

  • BBI is also largely a summary of previous reform initiatives dating back from the 1990s.

Finally, the Building Bridges Initiative report is out. In its executive summary, the report identifies what ails Kenya as follows: “While a major focus of this report, again reflecting what we heard from Kenyans, is about government and the public service, the country is far more worried by the lack of jobs and income.


“This has led to so much poverty, inequality and frustrated hopes, that our continuity as a unified and secure country is uncertain… We desperately need a shift in our economic paradigm if we are to provide enough jobs to our youth...”

Looming systemic collapse of the political system is, in the report, premised on ethnicised, do-or-die siasa mbaya (bad politics) competition.

Negative ethnicity is a disease of the political class which every five or so years is transmitted to gullible citizens. Put simply, the political class is the prime agent of disunity. Rather than accept electoral results, they jeopardise state cohesion. National unity must start with the genuine unity of the political class.

The BBI is spot-on when it recommends that citizens must commit themselves to duties and responsibilities and not just rights. The idea is to domesticate Article 29 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the individual’s duties into Kenya’s Constitution.


BBI also advocates for the real emergence of national political parties. Since independence, our political parties have been personal chattels of their key leader or joint property of a collective of ethnic barons.

Strengthening the office of the registrar of political parties alone will not change the manner in which parties are established and run. Region-based political parties should be outlawed or not recognised as parliamentary parties.

Political parties should have defined membership, democratically elected officials, and free and fair party nominations.

BBI has proposed a new system of proportional elections in the county assembly and Parliament. This means each party will present a party list of democratically identified men and women candidates to ensure gender equity.


The winners will be selected according to the proportion of votes a party gets in the relevant poll. Voters would then be voting for the party first and foremost as opposed to candidates of their choice.

The most radical BBI proposals relate to the executive. The president, whose deputy is his /her running mate, is still the head of state and government. He /she is to be elected through universal suffrage.

A prime minister is appointed by the president being an elected member of the National Assembly from a political party or coalition which has the majority.

The prime minister discharges the control, supervision and execution of the day-to-day functions and affairs of the government. He/she is the leader of government business in the National Assembly. The prime minister chairs Cabinet sub-committees whereas the president chairs the entire Cabinet. The president is to appoint ministers in consultation with the prime minister.

Although the president is the chief executive under this BBI model, the prime minister exercises significant executive power.


The BBI executive is one of shared power; it is a hybrid executive model.

The Cabinet is to be sourced from within and without the national assembly.

BBI proposes the creation of leader of the opposition who is the runner-up in the presidential race. He /she automatically becomes a member of Parliament. If the above leader joins the government, then the leader of the party or coalition of parties not in the government becomes the opposition leader.

The leader of the opposition has a shadow cabinet, which is to be facilitated through public funds to challenge the government of the day.

Presumably, BBI assumes that the above four powerful positions can facilitate the formation of coalitions by the major leaders in any election, thereby reducing the likelihood of electoral violence since the winner does not take it all.


BBI has three chapters (6,7 & 9) touching on economic inclusion and shared prosperity, which still shy away from concretely laying bare how the current social and economic decline can realistically be arrested.

BBI’s key recommendations on anti-corruption strategy relate to constitutionalising the anti-corruption agency to ensure its independence, banning public servants from doing business with the government and making wealth declaration by public officers public.

During the national conversation on BBI’s proposals, other stringent measures to fight corruption should be explored such as lifestyle audits for all public servants and life imprisonment for corruption-related offences.

BBI’s significant recommendations on devolution relate to retention of the 47 counties but ensuring the legalisation of economic blocs or ensuring “representation and legislation are undertaken in larger regional blocs; increase of resources to the counties to between 35 per cent and 50 per cent of the last audited accounts; relocating current CDF funds (except bursaries) to county development imperatives; equitably reserving 30 per cent of county development budget to each ward; creation of an independent health service commission.


In my view, the Council of Governors’ Ugatuzi initiative has robust proposals concerning the strengthening of devolution. These are likely to prominently feature in the national conversation on BBI.

Of course, governors could still decide to pursue their Ugatuzi Initiative.

A close examination of the BBI proposals confirms that they are not as radical as was earlier anticipated. Many are even currently incorporated in the Constitution or other laws and national policy.

BBI is also largely a summary of previous reform initiatives dating back from the 1990s.

Kenyans should hold a national conversation on the BBI report in the spirit of Article 1  on sovereignty and the public participation policy. This should be done within a legal and structured framework.


In the 1990s and 2000s, Kenyans fiercely fought for a people-driven constitution-making process. Therefore, citizens have a right, within the national conversation or any other platform, to demand change of the Constitution through a referendum. This does not preclude, under Article 255, a role for Parliament in the subsequent constitution-making.

The writer is governor of Makueni county