BBI: Whose Document is It?

Published on 17th December 2019

In my 25-year teaching stint in the University, I have discovered that getting students to read coursework has been an uphill task. In 2018, I was forced to assign each student a text to read and then make a presentation in class. I did this to ensure that the students had actually read the text. At the end of the course, one female student approached me and confessed that I had initiated in her a culture of reading.

Currently, in Kenya, the Building Bridges Initiative report christened BBI is the talk of the country. This product of the famous handshake was recently launched and citizens asked to read it to either agree with its sentiments, disagree with portions that don’t resonate with them or modify areas that need modification.

My feeling is that most people will not read the BBI report. They will rely on what politicians, opinion leaders or the news media will say about the report. To begin with, the report is written in English. How many ordinary citizens can read and comprehend a document written in English? For those who can read, bearing in mind that Twaweza has reported that some class 7 students cannot handle class 3 reading materials, will they understand the contents of the document?  How many Kenyans can read and comprehend a report that is written in technical language?

Another challenge. Do Kenyans see the sense of reading the BBI document? It is an open secret that majority of Kenyans are apathetic and skeptical about the Kenyan politics. After many years of walking on the socio-political and economic treadmill, they have given up and do not believe anything can change in Kenya. They were promised jobs but they are still jobless. They were encouraged to develop a business acumen but the predator business environment has led to the collapse of their businesses. In spite of all respecting the Kenyan flag, they are discriminated against in terms of tribal affiliations. Their farm produce either has a poor market or is suffering the onslaught of imported produce. They have to pay huge hospital bills or risk being auctioned.   They have watched their patients die at home. Their tea, sugar and coffee crop and milk go unpaid. Their roads are impassible, they have wrongly been imprisoned. The citizens are generally angry with the system. How do we get these Kenyans to read the BBI report and ensure that they will vote objectively without duress?

On one talk show I listened to on Kiss FM where presenters asked listeners whether they had been interviewed by the BBI Task Force, most of the callers said they had not been interviewed. 

Does Wanjiku understand what Prime Minister is? What is Prime Minister in Wanjiku’s vocabulary?  Where did this idea of Prime Minister come from? Wanjiku values the kind of governance practiced in the Chama and African markets. Wanjiku values blood ties as a means of connecting people in space and across generations. Where did this concept in BBI that we should move away from blood ties to ideas come from?

Wanjiku is concerned about thriving and flourishing families as well as transfer of life from one generation to the next. She values working with other women in solidarity, protection of life and security of her children. Her concerns in the BBI would have been the alcoholism and drug abuse that are wasting away young people. Her kind of report would have reflected on food security, choking taxation, high cost of living, insecurity, and expensive farm inputs.

To say the least, the BBI report is not based on Wanjiku’s norms, logic, values and strategies. It is an elitist imposition that Wanjiku is being asked to react to. But who is Wanjiku? Is she a conservative or liberal progressive? The answer to this question should determine whether we should bank on her to pass the document for us.  It will also determine whether she will do it without coercion.

Wanjiku knows it is not her document and will wait to be told what next. The one with the loudest and convincing voice will take the day. Wanjiku will walk to the ballot box emotionless after coercion because as always, she is loyal to her course of caring and nurturing. She knows that the constitution or the many elections she has participated in have never addressed her issues.  She will take the sugar and lesso  handouts and give the givers a job for the next many years.

By Dr Mary Njeri Kinyanjui

Institute of Development Studies, University of Nairobi.

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