Revealed: BBI strategy, road map to referendum

Revealed: BBI strategy, road map to referendum

What you need to know:

  • Draft strategy paper notes there is need to counter the impressions that BBI is just about to ‘create more positions for the political class’
  • President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga have already hit the campaign trail since they received the BBI report of October 21 from the Steering Committee.

The Building Bridges Initiative technical advisory team has worked out the road map and strategy for a vigorous campaign leading to a referendum in six months time.

A draft strategy paper exclusively obtained by the Nation proposes formation of teams at regional, county, constituency and ward levels to drive public education and sensitisation, and counter the anti-BBI narratives.

The strategy paper acknowledges that BBI process has suffered negative perceptions, public criticism and distortions, which it expected to peak on launch of the report.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga have already hit the campaign trail since they received the BBI report of October 21 from the Steering Committee chaired by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji.

Allies of Deputy President William Ruto have also hit the road vowing to shoot it down. Mr Odinga’s former allies in civil society are also mobilising against BBI in various online platforms. 

Punguza mzigo

The paper proposes an aggressive public communications strategy be developed and rolled out across Kenya. It notes particular need to counter the impressions that BBI is just about constitutional amendments to ‘create more positions and jobs’, but about genuine opportunities and options for furthering the governance and political reform agenda in Kenya.

“Toxic opposition to BBI can only be defanged by the right, well-timed messages on the process and the various areas of proposed reforms getting into and dominating public discourse,” it reads.

It also wants to sell BBI as a people-owned national dialogue rather than a “secret power pact owned and controlled by a few politicians interested in positions for themselves”.

The paper envisages engagement of at least 200 trainers to be deployed in batches across the counties for BBI dissemination forums intended to unpackage the proposed policy, constitutional, legislative and administrative reforms.

Stakeholder engagements will involve County Town Hall meetings involving up to 300 participants and Constituency Town Hall meetings of up to 500 participants.

The team also proposes continuous engagements on both mainstream and social media platforms, but cautions that the message bearers, including MPs, community leaders, professionals, religious leaders, women and youth representatives must be properly briefed and prepared to ensure coherent and consistent messaging.

The report proposes that the BBI report be distributed throughout Kenya with the help of MPs, county political leaders, county administrators, religious institutions, civil society organisations and business and traders’ associations.

It identifies regional blocks to serve as nerve centres of the BBI campaign based around the old eight provinces but with the larger ones split for ease of administration.

Identified regions are Coast, North Rift, Central Rift, South Rift, Mount Kenya East, Mount Kenya West, Lower Eastern, Upper Eastern, North Eastern, Nyanza 1, Nyanza 2, Western and Nairobi.

The paper proposes that the two BBI principals, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, establish a popular initiative to drive the push for a referendum, which will be backed by an organised structure in much the same way Mr Odinga’s then Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) set up the Okoa Kenya Initiative in 2014 and Dr Ekuro Aukot’s Third Way Alliance set up Punguza Mzigo Initiative in 2018.

A National Coordinating Secretariat to drive implementation of the proposed policy, constitutional, legislative and administrative interventions, the report proposes, will have at least four senior staff responsible for overall coordination and liaison, five experts each responsible for a key department, and assorted administrative and support staff.

It also proposes identification of promoters of the referendum drive in line with the constitutional requirements. They would be recognised by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission as the ‘owners’ of the initiative.

Separately, proposes the strategy paper, an Inter-Ministerial Committee will be tasked to drive implementation of the BBI policy, legislative and administrative proposals.

It will provide leadership on actual implementation, with help from the Secretariat. A critical objective will be outreach, political liaison and strategic partnerships with key blocs and political actors designed to reach out to undecided constituencies and convert naysayers into active supporters.

The paper has drawn a number of timelines looking at best and worst case scenarios for leading to a referendum.

It suggests unveiling of the National Coordinating Secretariat just one day after presentation of the BBI report to Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.

It gives 40 days for County and Constituency Town Halls, stakeholder engagement, political outreach, and collection of signatures.

It also proposes to learn from the positive and negative lessons from the failed Okoa Kenya and Punguza Mzigo initiatives, particularly the issue of verifying signatures that the IEBC has no database of.

Referendum campaign

Pitfalls identified include management of signature collection at the time of the coronavirus pandemic, delays caused by legal challenges mounted by anti-BBI forces, and possible mischief by the IEBC itself.

Even with all that, the report looks at a 90-day window for Submission of Constitutional Amendment Bill and verification of signatures by IEBC. It gives another 30 days for Submission of the Bill to County Assemblies, and well as debating and voting for it.

That would then be followed by submission of County Assembly resolutions to Parliament, providing 90 days for debate and making decision.

The paper notes that there is no legal time limit with which County Assemblies and Parliament must make the decision, raising the threat of a filibusters that could interminably delay things.

Finally would be 60 days for running the referendum campaign and up to the actual poll.

The paper acknowledges that the Popular Initiative is fraught with challenges, but mostly deals with the technical, administrative and logistic issues, rather than the management of a full-blown political campaign if Deputy President Ruto mounts a strong opposition.

Another grey area is how the referendum campaign will be funded given that a Popular Initiative would be deemed as an independent citizen’s constitutional amendment drive rather than a government move.

mgaitho@gaitho.co.ke. @MachariaGaitho. www.gaitho.co.ke

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