Kenya: BBI - How Kenyatta Outwitted Ruto in Central

25 February 2021

The fight for control of county assemblies in Mt Kenya between President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto was billed as the battle of the titans.

But it turned out to be a whitewash as the President turned the tables on the DP, resulting in the unanimous endorsement of the Bill by 10 assemblies on Tuesday.

Nation can now reveal the elaborate BBI plan President Kenyatta rolled out to consolidate his Central political turf and rally the region behind the proposed constitutional changes.

It involved dishing out of goodies to MCAs like the Sh2 million car grants, a whirlwind tour by Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho, meetings with opinion leaders, acceleration of development projects and emphasising monetary gains the region was bound to get from the initiative.

Mr Kenyatta fired the first shot in a meeting with leaders, including MCAs from Nyeri, Nakuru, Embu, Laikipia, Meru, Kiambu, Tharaka Nithi, Kirinyaga, Murang'a, Nyandarua counties, and which excluded Ruto allies.

He followed it up with a few engagements with the people in the region and Nairobi.

The direct engagement with the people at the January Sagana State Lodge meetings shifted the ground in the President's favour.

He was categorical that the Sagana tour was not a one-off visit, but a sustained campaign in his political stronghold.

Full-throttle campaign

In Sagana, there was only one message -- the BBI was the surest way to secure the interests of Mt Kenya even after the President's second and final term ends.

"The President approached every leader and the result is what we saw on Tuesday. The next phase is a full-throttle campaign for the referendum," National Assembly Deputy Majority Whip Maoka Maore told Nation yesterday.

Mr Kenyatta also pushed to have the Bill debated and passed within two weeks.

Mt Kenya Assemblies Caucus representative Charles Ng'ang'a said there was an express directive to the MCAs to prioritise the Bill.

"The President's message trickled down to the grassroots after he explained his BBI position to opinion leaders.

"He also told us, MCAs, of the massive benefits that will help solve the region's representational and economic challenges.

"Additionally, MCAs also get to serve as county executives, have a ward fund and more resources to the counties," Mr Ng'ang'a said.

But some ward representatives, like Kiruga Thuku, Nyeri's Chinga MCA, and Elias Murega, Meru Municipality, who voted 'No', cited threats by the executive.

Uhuru projects

"Some of the executives were there to watch how each MCA would vote. It was meant to intimidate the MCAs. I was also denied a change to speak my mind at the assembly," Mr Murega said.

Governors, a majority of whom were elected through Jubilee Party, also rallied MCAs to back the Bill.

Ndiritu Muriithi's Laikipia was the first to approve the Bill in Mt Kenya-leaning counties.

"Mt Kenya will always vote as a bloc. Anyone interested in our support cannot claim to be against the BBI, which protects our region's political, economic and development future," Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru said.

The President and his Cabinet Secretaries also recently launched or inspected regional development projects, which insiders said were used to "soften the ground" for the Building Bridges message.

Behind the scenes, Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho played a key role.

He coordinated a wing that was meeting MCAS and also going round TV and radio stations selling the message that Mt Kenya should embrace BBI first and think about 2022 later.

"We're correcting the unfair resource allocation that has bedevilled Mt Kenya using the BBI. It's now or never," Mr Kibicho told listeners and viewers.

Laid-back leader

A confidant said the PS was and will be critical in managing the inner workings of referendum campaigns moving forward.

With no love lost between Dr Kibicho and Mt Kenya politicians allied to the DP, it was not surprising that he was thrown at the centre of the campaign to sway the region in favour of the President.

Yesterday, he lauded counties for their overwhelming support for the BBI bill.

"It differentiated noise from reality and demonstrates that Kenyans have understood and chosen the path of reconciliation based on the pillars of fair representation and resource allocation," Dr Kibicho said in a radio interview.

Kieni MP Kanini Kega said there are those among the DP's supporters who believed that the President lacked the political capacity to counter the BBI onslaught against him but, judging from the way political events fast unfolded, they may well have played into his hands.

"They proclaimed that BBI would not be passed but it has. They even claimed that the President was a laid-back leader, who was helpless and easy to politically manipulate with no support at home.

"But the message is now clear that anyone who wants our political support must support the BBI and engage President Kenyatta, our kingpin," Mr Kega said.

All leaders, however, agree that the hard part will be in the campaigns for the referendum.

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