Kenya: Ruto Sets Tough Conditions for Backing BBI Report

25 October 2020

Deputy President William Ruto has set five conditions that he wants met before he can support the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report, which is scheduled for launch tomorrow at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi.

Multiple interviews with his strategists and political allies have established that the DP has no problem backing the BBI proposals, some of which seek to drastically alter how the country is governed. But he wants guarantees that his views on a number of issues will be factored in before the document is subjected to a referendum.

Perhaps arising from the manner in which he has been treated in President Uhuru Kenyatta's second term - largely shunned and not assigned any duties - the deputy president and his handlers say that some of the functions of the President's principal assistant must be anchored in the constitution to preserve the dignity of that office.

Read: Ruto no-show as Uhuru receives BBI report

Mr Caleb Kositany, the Soy MP and a confidante of the DP, says the BBI was ideally meant to reintroduce the posts of prime minister and two deputies, and has nothing to do with Kenyans' interests. The legislator, viewed by many as the DP's de facto spokesman, says the rest of the proposals are meant to "fill the pages".

A bystander

He says the proposals do not reflect the reality of the day. "The document is silent on the functions of the deputy president. Currently, he has been sidelined and, even in Cabinet, he is a bystander. It shows they did not look at the constitution holistically but only created seats for themselves," he told the Sunday Nation. The Ruto camp points out that they are not keen on benefiting from the proposed law changes, as Dr Ruto will be going for the top seat in the land, saying they are doing this for posterity.

The DP and his think-tank want their views captured in the Referendum Bill before parliament. His head of strategy, Dr Korir Sing'oei, says the law should be structured in a way that allows Kenyans vote on specific issues and not reduced to a 'Yes' or 'No' vote on a cluster of issues.

He says people must have an opportunity to vote for the specific proposals they like and reject those they don't. Legal experts in the Ruto camp want "room for cherry-picking".

"How the referendum questions are structured will also guide his decision on it," said Dr Sing'oei. "The current format where all issues are lumped together doesn't help much," he added.

The country does not have a referendum law yet and, currently, the National Assembly is in the process of merging two referenda bills published by two of its committees - Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC) and Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC) - to streamline the process.

JLAC chairman, Kangema MP Muturi Kigano, says that the referendum law will address all the current loopholes for a credible process.

"This bill has the responsibility to consolidate the law relating to conduct of referenda for a transparent and fair process to obtain a clear expression of the will of people," Mr Kigano says.

In the clearest sign that the BBI proposals are not cast in stone, handshake co-principal Raila Odinga implied during the handover ceremony on Wednesday that there is still room for editing.

Team Ruto is of the view that there is an urgent need for dialogue before they are fully on board. There is the third condition: They demand a place at the high-table, where decisions are made, and not to be treated as a cheering squad - "only invited at the tail-end to rubberstamp the finished product".

High-table

The demand may, however, prove difficult to attain as the high-table is already occupied by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga with little or no room for a third "principal". That some of their hardline supporters like Jubilee Party vice-chairman David Murathe have no time for the DP may complicate the equation even as some observers claim Ruto may have already decided to oppose the document and is only looking for excuses to go out and launch his 'No' campaign.

Fourth, the Tangatanga brigade, who support the DP's presidential ambition, say that to feel fully accommodated, Mr Kenyatta must host Jubilee's parliamentary group meeting to take a position on the report. Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa says Mr Kenyatta must cast his presidential hat on that day and engage them as the party leader.

"If he can come and talk to us, without lecturing us like he has done in the previous meetings, we may listen to his BBI preaching. What we want is to build a consensus in a respectful manner. He should also give us the implementation matrix of the document," he said.

Mr Kositany said it will be sad for Kenya to spend over Sh11 billion to amend the constitution when the economy is ailing yet the current constitution has challenges of being implemented.

"We have refused to appoint 41 judges, a simple task provided for in the constitution. Failure to perform this simple task has led to suffering of Kenyans whose cases have been delayed," he said.

President Kenyatta is yet to appoint 41 High Court judges more than a year since they were vetted by the Judicial Service Commission on what is said to be 'integrity issues'. The matter is in court. The last condition is economic empowerment, which they say the Treasury should pick up immediately. Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, a vocal supporter of the DP, says they want a document rich in matters economy and not political positions.

"Kiharu people do not want to see a document that proposes that they can have two MPs, but they would be grateful and happy if they heard that the money they receive would be doubled. The document has too many sweeteners like tax breaks for youth and such things, which are essentially there to wrap the big issue of creating positions at the top. These do not need a referendum; Treasury can announce them on Monday if the government is serious on empowering Kenyans," he said.

Proposed changes

The MP said he was concerned that the proposed changes were aimed at bringing back 'Moism' (reference to an imperial president after former President Daniel Moi). He said a powerful President with powers to hire and fire everyone in government like it was during Presidents Moi's reign is unacceptable.

Other than weakening institutions like the Judiciary, Ruto's men believe the proposals create too many levels of conflict and confusion.

"As the PM is to be designated with reference to the majority party in parliament, it is not farfetched that the President and the PM will be from the same party. As such, rather than mute the winner-take-all concerns, it reinforces it," says Dr Sing'oei.

"What is certain is that the establishment of a judicial ombudsman appointed by the president to police the Judiciary and several other amendments focused on the Judicial Service Commission represent an implicit attempt to re-enact total control by the Executive over the Judiciary. It is a direct and most brazen attempt at destroying judicial independence and must not be allowed."

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei dismissed the report as "political fraud," whose intention he said was to help President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga fulfil 'their self-preservation' needs.

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