Ruto-Raila talks’ proposals mirror botched BBI constitutional amendments

Youth display a placard to show support for BBI

Youth display a placard to show support for BBI at Ndathi village in Nyeri County where President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the last mile power project on February 1, 2021.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Negotiations for a political settlement between President William Ruto and Opposition chief Raila Odinga to unlock an impasse stemming from the disputed 2022 presidential elections have triggered proposals for constitutional amendments that mirror the botched Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

A proposal to increase the number of counties by nine and a revived push to create county development funds for Members of County Assembly (MCAs) are some of the proposed changes to the 2010 Constitution to be submitted to the National Dialogue Committee for consideration.

A motion giving the committee legal backing has opened the door for submission of views from the public.

As part of the BBI, a steering committee formed by then President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga after their March 2018 political détente, dubbed the “Handshake”, criss-crossed the country to gather views from Kenyans.

They recommended in their report the creation of the Office of the Prime Minister, the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition, additional constituencies, establishment of a county development fund.

These are among the proposals that have found their way back into discussions by the 10-member team tasked with settling the 2022 post-election crisis.

A group of 14 MPs has written to the team that is co-chaired by Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and National Assembly majority leader Kimani Ichung'wah, proposing the formation of an additional nine counties.

The group, whose leader is Tiaty MP William Kamket, wants the Constitution amended to create Kuria, Teso, Mount Elgon, East Pokot, Mwingi, Gucha, Suba, Ijara and Nakuru West counties, bringing the number of the devolved units to 56.

Besised Mr Kamket, other MPs behind the proposal are Abdi Ali (Ijara), Peter Lochakapong (Sigor), Marwa Maisori (Kuria East), Robert Pukose (Entebes), Joseph Tonui (Kuresoi South), Charles Nguna (Mwingi West), Irene Kasalu (Kitui), Alfred Mutai (Kuresoi North), Oku Kaunya (Teso North), Mary Emaase (Teso South), Fred Kapondi (Mt. Elgon), Gideon Mulyungi (Mwingi Central) and Mathias Robi (Kuria West).

The lawmakers have also tabled a Bill sponsored by Mr Maisori that seeks to “address long-standing ethnic tensions and divisive electoral patterns that have hindered our collective growth and unity due to the marginalisation of some ethnic communities in the existing 47 counties”.

BBI report Kisii

President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister with copies of the BBI report during its presentation at the Kisii State Lodge in October 2020. 

Photo credit: Photo | PSCU

The Bill seeks to hive off Kuria from Migori, Teso from Busia, Mt Elgon from Bungoma and Trans Nzoia, and East Pokot from Baringo and West Pokot counties. The MPs also want to create Mwingi County from the existing Kitui, Gucha from Kisii, Suba from Homa Bay, Ijara from Garissa and Nakuru West from Nakuru.

The Bill also proposes amendments to Article 97 of the Constitution to increase the number of women elected to represent counties in the National Assembly from the current 47 to 56.

Clause 3 of the Bill also proposes amendments to Article 98 of the Constitution to increase the number of Senators from 47 to 56 to reflect the increase in the number of counties.

According to Mr Kamket,the talks had presented the country with another constitutional moment.

Machakos Deputy Governor Francis Mwangangi revealed to Nation plans to submit a proposal to create a fund akin to the National Government Constituencies Development Fund (NGCDF) to initiate development projects in every ward.

Jubilee Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni, who is also part of a technical team at the talks, hinted at looming constitutional reforms. He said the team was yet to agree on how to deal with public views and submissions.

University don Prof Macharia Munene said the current negotiations would end up being a replica of the BBI. The final document, he saidd, would be decided on by President Ruto and Mr Odinga.

Political analyst David Monda claimed the talks have been hijacked by political interests of the elite.

“We are repeating the failure of ... 2018. Kenyans cannot expect different results from the failed methods of the past,” said the professor of political science at the City University of New York.

During debate on the motion to give legal backing to the National Dialogue Committee, Mr Ichung'wah and his minority counterpart Opiyo Wandayi made comments suggesting that the two sides had agreed that the country could make changes that would require a referendum.

"We will also remember the bipartisan spirit that guided the debate on the 2010 Constitution and its eventual enactment by this House and approval by the people. We will legislate on the outcome of those discussions," Mr Wandayi said.

Mr Ichung'wah said: "I would like to ask that we all join hands to midwife the rebirth of our nation, protect our democracy and build a strong, united and prosperous Kenya.”

Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi and former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero said the decision to invite public views risks diluting the main agenda of the talks.

"We need to give the committee time to crystallise the issues. It is premature to think of a BBI moment when we have serious issues like the cost of living still pending,” Mr Osotsi said. Mr Kidero said: “But it is an opportunity for Kenyans to put forward what they see as their immediate concerns.”