Parliament should salvage the BBI Bill
By Adhere Cavince
Kenya has been thrown into a moment of political anxiety following the High Court’s verdict that the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020, popularly referred to as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), was irregular, illegal and unconstitutional. While those opposed to the BBI have welcomed the ruling as progressive, the backers of the bill have since expressed intention to appeal the court ruling.
It is not hard to understand why the BBI proponents feel deeply disappointed by the High Court ruling. The triumphant passage of the Bill by both houses of Parliament had already paved the way for national referendum in which the Kenyan people were to either validate or throw out the proposed constitutional amendments. The Bill’s success in parliament was both unique and unprecedented. It was passed by over two-thirds majority in a show of massive and bipartisan support not witnessed in the recent activities of the August House.
It was indeed a continuation of wins for the handshake born Bill at every stage since it was first taken to Kenyans for collection of signatures and then to the county assemblies where it received support from 40 out of the 47 counties. It is therefore not farfetched to say that while it may have been proposed by President Kenyatta and his handshake partner Raila Odinga the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020 resonated with a large spectrum of the Kenyan voters.
That said, it is also true that at different stages, the Bill attracted quite a bit of debate; an evidence of Kenya’s indispensible democratic culture and a as a requirement of the Constitution. The issues raised by those opposed to the constitutional changes were however eclipsed by the good that the Bill was set to usher in.
It was clear that Kenyans wanted a stronger devolved system marked by more resources to the counties. Kenyans wanted to see a more inclusive structure of governance that could cushion the country from the vagaries of violence at the end of every electoral cycle. Also desirable to Kenyans was the need end to endemic corruption that has drained our productive sectors for decades and held back the country’s economic takeoff.
As was evidenced during the debate and voting on the Bill in Parliament, even legislators who had expressed concerns with certain provisions of the document, in the end voted in favour of the document. Therein lies the realization that agitation is not rejection; it is only an attempt to make better what is good.
Even seen from the court ruling, the contention was heavily placed on the process, rather than the substance of the contents. No moral judge would wish away the strong and universally appreciated provisions of the envisaged amendments under the Bill.
The fate of the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020 now hangs in the balance. Should the Court of Appeal uphold ruling of the High Court, it would cast a dark shadow over the prospects of Kenyans ever moving closer to what could have been achieved with the Bill.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga demonstrated their willingness to bridge the divide for the benefit of the country and at the risk of fraying relations with allies who did not believe in the handshake. The progressive ideas contained in the Bill should therefore not be lost.
If the process was the problem, I believe that can be fixed. Avenues such as a parliamentary process should be considered in order to salvage the Bill. The interlude can also be used to engender a more unitary, bipartisan and inclusive process as the country contemplates the way forward. Kenyans should forge a long lasting atmosphere of trust, and amity in the advent of constitutional changes.