Civic Education on BBI is key
On 27th November president Uhuru Kenya launched the Building Bridges Initiative(BBI) which among other things aimed to unite Kenyans. The initiative which was an aftermath of the handshake between president Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. With pomp and colour and attendance of delegates from the 47 counties at the Bomas of Kenya, Kenyans were ushered into what the president called a period of unity, inclusivity and political tolerance.
The one hundred and fifty five paged document seeks to resolve perennial challenges that the country has faced from divisive elections, lack of inclusivity, corruption and lack of national ethos. In annex 2 of the document which is a joint comminuque of BBI, the roll out of the initiative is placed in the hands of the president and H.E Raila Odinga; nothing much is mentioned about the need to educate and/or inform the public about BBI.
The BBi website which has a full copy of the report, the highlights of the report both in English and Swahili and the BBI journey, gives a roadmap of what is to happen after the launch at Bomas. According to the Website the first stage is for Kenyans to download and read the report. The second stage is for us Kenyans to discuss the challenges and solutions in the report with our friends and neighbours. Thereafter, there will be town hall meetings and workshops which are being organised and will be held throughout the country on dates that will be announced on the website; for the tech survey there will be an opportunity to contribute online through a medium that has not been provided yet.
These stages misses out a critical part of our constitutional pillars i.e access to information and inclusivity which are also adversely mentioned in the report. It begs the question how many people are able to access the internet and download the document? Although Kenya’s internet access has risen to 89.87% according to Communication Authority of Kenya, this should not be mistakenly compared to Kenyans' digital literacy level which is still very low. It must also be remembered that not all Kenyans are able to read the document on their own, according to UNESCO, Kenya’s literacy levels stands at 78.73% of the population. With all the above factors in consideration the BBI taskforce and the two national leaders have failed to consider a critical part of the BBI process that is civic education. Before writing this article I randomly asked a few of my friends about what they know about the BBI report and if my sampling is to go with then the taskforce, the president and H.E. Raila Odinga needs to rethink about the strategy in which the public is informed about the report. The planned and ongoing public forums cannot be construed to be civic education.
Civic education is essential in ensuring that the citizens are well informed. An informed citizenry is the cornerstone of a democratic society. Civic education ensures that the citizens are self governed and do not just passively accept whatever is thrown to them but are also able to actively shape their civic space. It is indeed not just their right to participate in these discussions but it is their fundamental responsibility. Throughout history, Civic education has been used to inform the public on their rights and responsibilities. In Kenya, civic education has been used to inform the electorate during general elections and referendums. In 2016, the government re-launched the Kenya National Civic Education Programme (K-NICE) to build the capacity and knowledge of the citizens to actively engage in public affairs and to protect and exercise their constitutional rights. Such is the initiative that the taskforce needs to consider.
It is therefore a huge mistake that the taskforce in its wisdom failed to include a civic space stage in their next steps of BBI. The public is now at the mercy of politicians who are either drumming support or are against the initiative. The narrative is now controlled by the politicians who in most instances have chosen to only speak about chapter five of the BBI on divisive elections. If asked, many Kenyans will tell you BBI is about expansion of political seat and consolidation of power. A few Kenyans are aware that the report touches on other issues such as safety and security, corruption and lack of national ethos. Due to this civic education lacuna, different uninformed theories countering or supporting the BBI has emerged. Those against the initiative have cited that there are other pressing issues in the country and that the process is being used to drum up support for the 2022 general elections while those in support have argued that the document will cure ethnicity and all other forms of division. It is unfortunate that with lack of civic education and with the start of the BBI forums that began in Kisii the citizens have now been left to believe in what the politicians tell them even without having gone through the report. It is even worrying when there is an expectation of the voters to go into a referendum as called for by Raila Odinga in Kisii bearing in mind the BBI document bears his signature yet the same electorate is not aware of what they’re going to vote for or against.
The BBI taskforce should therefore reorganise the “after BBI” process to include the civic education phase. This will not only uphold the right to access information as provided for under Article 35 of the constitution but will also guarantee the public’s right to shape their civic spaces.