Kenya: I Doubt DP Ruto's Sincerity on Support for BBI - Odinga

29 November 2020

ODM leader Raila Odinga has said Deputy President William Ruto is not sincere in his ultimatum for consensus before supporting constitutional amendments through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) referendum.

In an interview with the Sunday Nation, Mr Odinga repeated his stand that there was nothing like a non-contested referendum anywhere in the world.

The former Prime Minister said the DP was replicating the political games he (Dr Ruto) played in 2010, when he ended up joining hands with sections of the Church to oppose proposed changes to the old Constitution.

"He is following his 2010 script when he signed the Naivasha Declaration only to turn around and campaign for 'No'. We ended up with a contested referendum but still won. That's his nature, but it is his democratic right to oppose," he said.

Mr Odinga said the DP's conscience should disturb him that he ended up being a beneficiary of the very project he fervently fought.

"In the end, he came to see the fallacy of his actions, becoming one of the biggest supporters of the Constitution he was opposing. Now he does not see anything wrong with it. Tell me what else hypocrisy is," he said.

Mr Odinga added that Dr Ruto -- who has been blowing hot and cold -- is looking for excuses to justify opposition to the referendum, "something he did not start yesterday".

Had his chance

"He had a chance to give his views to the task force to be captured in the final report but he squandered it," Mr Odinga said.

By last evening, the DP had not taken a stand on the referendum, instead saying that he had been consulting with various stakeholders before making a declaration that his handers hinted is expected sometime in the week.

"Rush not to conclusions or pretense to prophecy," tweeted the Deputy President yesterday. "I've received overwhelming feedback (all shades) from Kenyans. I've (a) constitutional duty to assist my boss, the President. We've made improvements to BBI post Bomas. Now working on consensus for Kenyans to have real choices to decide/vote while avoiding yes/no, all/nothing division. We avoided lose-lose, we can overcome win-lose to achieve win-win."

Mr Odinga said Dr Ruto was welcome to join him and the President in leading the push to amend the Constitution.

"Those having a change of mind, like Ruto, are welcome to join. They say if you can't beat them, join them," the ODM leader said.

Dr Ruto has also previously said a referendum is not a priority during the pandemic that had devastated lives and livelihoods. Mr Odinga disagrees.

"The question should be, is it necessary? The answer is 'Yes'. We had this Constitution promulgated in 2010 after a bitterly contested presidential election in 2007 which resulted in huge loss of life and property. One of the resulting proposals of the peace negotiations under the Kofi Annan process was Agenda Four putting a strong case for a number of reforms. Some of these were never followed through and, as such, 10 years after the promulgation, the document is ready for review. It is time to complete the job, given that we have today was largely a firefighting Constitution -- what some call a ceasefire document," he said.

No instructions

He explained that when the BBI task force was constituted, there were no instructions that they should amend the Constitution. But after getting views across the country, it became clear that "some of the issues cannot be adequately addressed without looking at the Constitution".

Mr Odinga dismissed as unfounded the assertions that a bitterly contested referendum may end up dividing the country even further.

"I need to be taken to a political school and receive lessons on this so-called non-contested referendum. Then why do we have it if it's non-contested? You can never expect absolute support on any issue. A referendum by nature must have some people supporting and others opposing it."

At the same time, Mr Odinga said that the online signature collection is going on as planned. He said the physical collection that started on Friday is expected to hit the target of five million signatures by Wednesday even though the law only requires one million.

"We'll then take it to the IEBC immediately for validation before it is passed on to the County Assemblies. We are sure to get support in 30 counties and above. The law requires 24 but we are sure of clinching more than 30."

He said the promised land was beckoning " but it will not come to us".

"We must trek," he noted. "We must go there. That is what I described as Canaan in my last campaigns."

Mr Odinga said he had accumulated invaluable experience from the last two referenda (in 2005 and 2010) on campaigns and intrigue that will go a long way in helping him and President Kenyatta succeed in the coming one.

In what appeared as being kept in the dark over some of the last minute changes made to the final report, Mr Odinga came under a barrage of attacks from DP's lieutenants

Mr Odinga later clarified that he had been fully in the picture, and that his use of the appointment of IEBC commissioners by political parties -- which had been amended in the Bill -- was for context.

Calling on Kenyans to observe the health protocols issued by the Health ministry, he said it was important to learn to cope with the new reality.

Equally, Mr Odinga sought to downplay the criticism that the new proposal would create a monster in the name of an imperial president.

"Those saying so are only taking a superficial view or just being emotional. What is has been provided for is that the President nominates a prime minister then Parliament votes to appoint the premier. The President has no choice but to appoint the leader of majority party or leader of the majority coalition, so it is not discretionary that he or she picks anybody."

He further said that any changes in the Bill of Rights would only make it better and make the citizens more proactive in their patriotic duty.

"Nobody has touched the Bill of Rights, not even a comma. What has been added is responsibilities of the citizens. Because of the historical background of our constitution-making, we were protecting the rights of the people, and that's why our Bill of Rights is the most elaborate of all the constitutions in the world.

"However, we never created responsibilities. Rights go with responsibilities. Like, you have a right to demand services from the State but also have a responsibility to defend the country in the event of external aggression.

Countries that have had serious conflicts like in Europe have this part in their Bills of Rights. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, for instance, told me that if you haphazardly cut trees there, you go to jail. You cannot claim it is your right to cut down trees. We have a responsibility to protect the environment," he said.

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