Kenya’s Bishops Express Reservations about “Building Bridges Initiative”, Want CONSENSUS

Members of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) at the end of their Plenary Assembly in Subukia.
Credit: Public Domain

Catholic Bishops in Kenya have expressed their reservations about the “Building Bridges Initiative” (BBI) report, highlighting the gaps that need to be addressed in what they describe as “a draft in progress.”

Officially launched on October 26, the 204-page BBI report contains recommendations that are meant to foster the building of a national ethos, to end negative ethnicity, political antagonism and a host of other ills, which have bedeviled Kenya over the years.

In their Thursday, November 12 collective statement shared with ACI Africa, the members of Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) express their concerns about the nature of the executive, which “risks consolidating more power around the president thereby creating an imperial presidency.”

In the BBI report, Kenya’s President who will have been elected by eligible voters will be expected to appoint a Prime Minister and two Deputy Prime Ministers, a scenario that centers too much power in a single person, according to KCCB members.

“The expanded executive was supposed to reflect the face of Kenya and tame the ‘winner-takes-it-all’ structure,” they say in their collective statement issued at the end of their Plenary Assembly held at the Village of Mary Mother of God Shrine, Subukia in Kenya’s Nakuru Diocese.

The amendment to the executive, the Catholic Bishops in Kenya say, “could be creating the same problem it set out to solve. It is very important to stick to the principle of separation of powers, for it is the backbone of democracy.”

A bloated Parliament that will see the membership of the Senate increase from 67 to 94 and that of the National Assembly from 349 to 360 members is an issue of concern for KCCB members who consider the move to expand the legislature a “huge burden to the taxpayers of this Country who are reeling with a huge wage bill supporting the present numbers of legislators.”

“There is no reason why we should have such a large number of legislators,” they say in their seven-page statement, and add, “We do not want more government, but better government.”

In their statement titled, “A call to build a united, healed and reconciled nation,” the Prelates express their concerns about the proposal to have the members of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) appointed by political parties, noting that such a move is a “dangerous one since it will politicize IEBC hence compromising its independence.”

BBI report’s proposal “will turn IEBC into a political outfit with partisan interests. The question will arise on how fair the elections will be,” KCCB members say in their November 12 statement signed by 24 members.

The attempt to have formation of a Kenya Police Council headed by the Cabinet Secretary of Interior with four other members, replacing the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) is a “move that is likely to make Kenya a police state and compromise the independence of the police from the Executive,” the Bishops in Kenya say. 

Amid calls for a referendum to vote on some of the BBI report’s constitutional proposals, KCCB pose, “In the wake of the persisting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit families across the country, is this the time to subject Kenyans to heightened political activity to undertake fundamental constitutional reforms?”

They add, “Hit by COVID-19 pandemic, with the economy affected, does the country have the funds needed to carry out a referendum before 2022, 18 months before the general election, a process that also requires money?”

“Can the country afford to spend its very limited resources in a referendum when there is a struggle in the education and health sectors to provide for urgently needed support due to the effects of COVID-19 pandemic?” KCCB members further probe.

In the Bishops’ considered view, BBI report’s proposals that require constitutional amendments through a referendum need to “be separated and handled as a cluster to which Kenyans will be subjected, for their input through a ballot.”

This move is to “avoid a rejection of good ideas that have already been generated in the BBI report,” they say, and explain, “This is the reason we keep on emphasizing on building consensus rather than taking sides.”

For the proposals that are legislative in nature, or which require policy or institutional and administrative amendments, the Bishops propose that they “be handled through the relevant existing organs and institutions of governance.”

The Bishops encourage Kenyans to read and discuss the report put together by a 14-member task force and point out how the document could be improved while avoiding “the risk of taking hardline positions and sectarian demands, and ultimatums that destroy the very meaning and spirit of the BBI.”

“Dear Kenyans, especially our political leaders, this is not about political competition, it is not about FOR or AGAINST, YES or NO, it is not about 2022. It should be about KENYA, about which way we want to take as Kenyans, not only for ourselves, but for posterity. It is about CONSENSUS,” KCCB members say.

They add, “It is our recommendation, as Catholic Bishops in Kenya, that any amendments to improve the report should still be listened to and included where necessary. This means, the report is still a draft in progress, not cast in stone; and therefore, every voice should be accommodated.”

“It is about unity, (building bridges),” they underscore, and add, “Everyone must therefore embrace a spirit of patriotism, listen to the recommendations made and adjust the report to reflect popular consensus.”


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