Kenya: Country Faces Tense Moments as Kenyatta, Odinga Launch Report

26 November 2019

The much-hyped Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report expected to be handed over to President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga today is likely to radically alter the country's political landscape ahead of the 2022 General Election.

The initiative, mooted following the March 2018 pact between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, promises to create a new political dispensation as the campaigns to publicise it gather steam.

Already, Deputy President William Ruto and leaders allied to his Tangatanga brigade have given tough conditions for their support, a move likely to set the DP against his boss, President Kenyatta.

Incidentally, Dr Ruto has been invited to attend both the State House event and the document's launch at the Bomas of Kenya on Wednesday.

Just as the 2005 referendum gave birth to the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party, political pundits say campaigns for the BBI could lead to a new political formation.

The realignments were evident during the November 7 Kibra by-election campaigns, which pitted leaders backing the BBI and the unity deal between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga's -- called the 'handshake' -- against those opposing it, led by DP Ruto.

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Already, President Kenyatta's wing in Jubilee, Mr Odinga's ODM, Kalonzo Musyoka's Wiper, Amani National Congress (ANC), led by Musalia Mudavadi, Ford-Kenya and Kanu, headed by senators Moses Wetang'ula and Gideon Moi, respectively, have expressed their support for the document.

The 'handshake' was used by President Kenyatta to give his tenure some level of stability and help him and DP Ruto to visit perceived opposition strongholds like Nyanza and Coast freely. It also helped reduce the fear of Mr Odinga in central Kenya.

There has been speculation that President Kenyatta will go for the prime minister's position if the BBI proposes an expanded executive and the law is changed.

Speaking at Sagana State Lodge recently, President Kenyatta said he would not mind the post.

It is also not clear whether Mr Odinga would vie despite being seen by political observers as DP Ruto's main opponent.

The ruling Jubilee is divided over the BBI and President Kenyatta's succession. DP Ruto has stated that the BBI will be rejected by Kenyans if it does not address issues affecting them.

SPECULATION

It is not clear whether DP Ruto will back a referendum or launch an onslaught against his boss and the opposition leaders, with close allies intimating that he is determined to go his own way.

Sources on Monday said the BBI report could recommend a referendum possibly in April next year.

Although the BBI task force, chaired by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji, focused on a nine-point agenda, it is the proposals given by various leaders on governance and the executive structure that have elicited heated debate, with speculation rife that the team is proposing creation of a prime minister's post.

Women leaders have also cried foul over reports that the woman representative position could be scrapped.

Leaders from formerly marginalised counties have also cautioned against dissolution of some counties or merging of electoral areas.

Some Mt Kenya leaders also want the one-man-one-vote electoral formula maintained.

NATIONAL DIALOGUE

Political analyst Javas Bigambo says the BBI provides an opportunity for national dialogue.

It is unfortunate, he argues, that some have dismissed the initiative even before the report of the task force is released.

"Some are anxious [about] its potential effects and others support it based on the presumed interests of their political leaders," he says.

Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru said "the report is anticipated to shape the future of our nation and transform the lives of Kenyans for the better".

"As such, neither its contents nor the approach used to communicate to Kenyans should be taken lightly. As proponents of the principles of peace, unity and national cohesiveness on which the 'handshake' and the BBI is built, and as directed by (President Kenyatta), we will first read the report to understand what is proposed therein," she adds.

Political analyst and lawyer Gacheru Wabandi is also of the opinion that the report is likely to cause political realignments.

He argued that the report might see foes becoming friends due to political interests.

FAILED PROMISES

Politicians positioning themselves for national seats such as the second-term governors and some Cabinet secretaries are likely to use the report to test their influence in their backyards.

Should the report lead to a draft bill for a referendum, the lawyer said the country might be divided further than it was during the last election.

"It is unlikely that the political class will face the recommendations from a united front or have consensus on what should be implemented now or progressively," Mr Wabandi said.

The lawyer also observed that President Kenyatta might shoot himself in the foot should he be more dedicated in implementing the recommendations of the BBI report, considering that there are reports which he declined to act on.

"Most of the issues the BBI task force was meant to address were covered in other reports such as the Kriegler report, Waki commission and the Kiplagat-led Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC). The President may be confronted with a question of why he is committed to BBI and not the others which are gathering dust," he said.

DEBATE

He added that the report might face legal challenges, arguing that an individual is likely to move to court challenging its legality, saying "the BBI report initially intended to build national bridges (but) has caused further divisions".

"Nonetheless, it behoves President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga to encourage openness of thoughts among Kenyans and allow divergence of views and debate, and not to choke it," he said.

ODM chairman John Mbadi said there is a likelihood of forming a team of experts to look at the report to ensure lose ends are tightened before the two principals are advised accordingly.

"The experts will advise the two leaders, who will give the way forward," he said.

Jubilee Senate Deputy Whip Irungu Kang'ata said: "As a lawyer and a senator who supports the President, I will read it and explain it to the people in layman's language its contents and benefits to the public."

Nyeri Town MP Wambugu Ngunjiri, a leading member of the Kieleweke camp that favours President Kenyatta against DP Ruto, said: "Our team intends to read it and organise public forums where we will invite experts to guide discussions."

PUNGUZA MIZIGO

Then, he said, they will engage in a political push to rally Kenyans to support it and "counter any disinformation on it".

The BBI report comes after the rejection of the Ekuru Auokot-led Third Way Alliance Party referendum push by county assemblies, with only DP Ruto's Uasin Gishu County and Dr Aukot's Turkana passing it.

Dr Aukot's "Punguza Mizigo" referendum push had divided Jubilee right down the middle, with DP Ruto being non-committal on his stand despite his key allies Elgeyo-Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen and Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa backing it and National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale vehemently opposing it.

Dr Aukot collected more than one million signatures and the electoral agency approved them, catching the political bigwigs unawares.

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