After long months of political debate since the special presidential task force released its report in late November, the arrival of coronavirus has brought Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) rallies to a temporary halt. And while public gatherings as part of the BBI have been suspended, the public health emergency our country has begun to tackle might just guarantee that the spirit of the movement lives on.
As evidenced by
numerous countries across the world, wherever coronavirus reached, illness and
death followed. While such negative implications of the epidemic cannot be
downplayed, not all that is left behind by it needs to be negative. While our
conscious political efforts in building nationwide solidarity and cooperation
through the BBI have not yet been fully realised, the current situation might
force us to come together even more cohesively as one.
The process of
public consultation that the BBI initiative started gave rise to hope in our
country’s ability to devise a grassroots movement of reformation. It also gave
rise to scepticism in our people’s ability to forge consensus. Rallies and
other gatherings spurned numerous quality policy proposals. These often brought
out underlying tensions between different interest groups.
viewed the emergence of such tensions as a menacing presence that threatened to
halt the progress made through the BBI altogether. According to their
reasoning, the BBI could not possibly be concluded when differences emerge at
such early stages of the process.
A more sober
assessment would nonetheless recognise that disagreements, even if heated, have
been inevitable, and even useful elements of this project. Our attempt at
“building bridges” is perhaps the most ambitious political initiative
undertaken in the modern history of Kenya. Expecting it to be without barriers
and challenges would be naïve.
underlying suspicion and social tensions that have mired our society is
precisely where the value of the BBI lies. The success of this initiative
should by no means be judged by the presence of disputes. Rather, its success
must be judged by how those disputes are resolved. Aiming to overturn the long
history of ethnic and tribal conflicts between factions in our society in the
matter of a mere year requires discipline and commitment from us all.
In a way, rallies
did present a major risk factor, as they could have provided a forum for
renewed inter-tribal conflict. Apart from our willingness to participate in
these events, nothing guaranteed that we would be able to contribute to their
agenda peacefully. Nevertheless, this concern was repeatedly proven to be
irrelevant. Not only did multiple large-scale meetings end up being concluded
in an orderly manner, but they provided useful insight for the BBI taskforce
for perfecting their final proposal.
After their initial successes, it has come as a disappointment that President Uhuru’s preventive measures against coronavirus have led to the postponement of these gatherings. This naturally includes planned BBI rallies, such as the much-anticipated gathering in Nakuru, due to be held on 21st March. While the eternal pessimist sees the faltering of the BBI process in this, others might find an opportunity to use the current public health emergency to carry it on.
Not by political
means but a truly bottom-up process that appeals to the empathy and solidarity
present in each of us. A countrywide outbreak of COVID-19 in is not necessary
to spur such solidarity. Efforts to minimise the reach of the virus have
already required us to watch out for not only our immediate family and friends
but also our fellow citizens, be they strangers or not.
Thankfully, we are
far from having to confront such an outbreak in Kenya, with only a handful of
cases confirmed. Yet the preparations to ward off the spreading of the virus
have the potential to bring our people together. Caring for each other in
everyday situations, such as on the way to work or in the supermarket, will
naturally create the foundations for a much broader sense of solidarity.
The message of the
BBI will not dissipate in the absence of its flagship public gatherings. With
what will likely be a several-month-long campaign of increased awareness for
one another in public spaces, prevention of the coronavirus can potentially
give us an opportunity to practise what we have preached. If we successfully
cooperate in tackling the spreading of the epidemic and do our best to protect
ourselves and our fellow citizens, we will also demonstrate that the message of
unity promoted by the BBI is not a distant goal to achieve but already a part
of everyday life in Kenya.
Mr Mugolla comments on topical issues. [email protected]