Uhuru, Raila and Ruto troops wait for word on BBI

President Uhuru Kenyatta (centre), Deputy President William Ruto (left) and ODM leader Raila Odinga at the Bomas of Kenya during the launch of the BBI report.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The two camps admit that it is not clear when the uncertainty will end.
  • The direction the report takes appears to hang in the balance after the postponement of the launch of signature drive followed by a meeting between the President and his deputy.

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) factions allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga are jolted and separately waiting for instructions from the principals on the next course of action after the botched launch of the referendum Bill initially slated for last Thursday.

With Mr Odinga flying out to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Friday as the Head of State embarked on inspections of development projects, supporters and their representatives to the steering committee are waiting for direction even as it emerged that the search for a consensus and the possibility of bringing in Deputy President William Ruto on board may have caused the change of plans, a fact the steering committee denies.

Read: Separating facts from fiction on the BBI proposals

As such, the country’s politics, it would appear, is being controlled by three main players who decide the mood with their words and actions.

An Odinga ally who works in the BBI team yesterday told the Sunday Nation that they were closely monitoring the situation even as a key representative of Mr Kenyatta in the task force failed to immediately say when the event would be reconvened. Both sources spoke in confidence.

“It would all depend on the President’s diary. You know the President is a busy man and to sit here and say he will preside over the launch next week or next month without that information coming from the State House would amount to dishonesty on my side,” the source said.

The two camps admit that it is not clear when the uncertainty will end.

Signature collection

This is happening as it emerged that the committee chaired by former Dagoretti South MP Denis Waweru and National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed on Friday wrote to the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC) informing it about the format and general approach to signature collection.

Another constituency waiting with bated breath is that of DP Ruto as he is said to be keen to see the BBI report before making up his mind on whether to support the push to amend the constitution or not.

But as he cautiously weighs the options at his disposal, the vast constituency which has already voiced its opposition to the project spearheaded by President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga are waiting on him to lead them.

Opposition

The church, the civil society, sections of elders such as the Njuri-Ncheke among the Ameru and the Tangatanga all need a political vessel around which to solidify their opposition and had hoped, going by his criticism, Dr Ruto would be the man belling the cat. As it were, the entities are leaderless. The other politicians like Makueni governor Kivutha Kibwana who have raised serious questions about the document lack the firepower and national appeal to lead the ‘No’ camp.

Yesterday, the DP and his allies remained exuberant that consensus would be agreed upon before a referendum is called.

“Consensus was, is and will continue as our position. Pushing those with alternative/better ideas to oppose BBI is raw arrogance which negates any bridge-building efforts,” Dr Ruto tweeted.

Soy MP Caleb Kositany, a confidante of the DP, last week said his boss is not keen on leading a ‘No’ camp.

“We have chosen the line of consensus and were not budging. We are asking the President to lead us to consensus. Whoever is looking for someone to lead the ‘No’ side can themselves take up the role. The DP is not interested in it.”

In the wake of the State House meeting between Mr Kenyatta and his deputy believed to have informed the cancellation of the launch, Mr Kositany urged the two to meet more often and possibly restore the relationship between them to where it was in the pre-handshake days.

“It should not be news that the President and his deputy met. They should conduct regular meetings so it becomes routine, not news.”

Equally, the postponement of the launch of BBI Bill last Thursday has given hope to the Tangatanga brigade, which oscillates around Dr Ruto of the possibility of their concerns being captured in the final document. The hope has seen them go slow on their attacks on the handshake between the President and the former prime minister with Elgeyo-Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen saying that the President ‘had gained his senses’.

“I congratulate President Kenyatta for against all odds/pressure postponing the BBI signatures launch to provide room for consensus. This is the President I knew. Let’s now have meaningful engagement for win-win result. We only have one Kenya let’s listen to all voices,” the lawmaker said.

For the DP, the overarching concern is how to navigate the dilemma in a way that preserves his presidential ambition.

The import of Thursday’s cancellation of the launch of the period for collecting signatures in support of the BBI can also be seen from the President’s close handlers. Sources indicate that some of the members of the President’s family are concerned that a contested referendum will cost him politically and argued for caution.

“The BBI process is about uniting the country, a contested referendum is not advisable. Those who have issues with it are Kenyans and ought to be listened to, that how you should view Thursday’s cancellation,” said a source in the President’s circles, a revelation already being downplayed by those close to Mr Odinga.

Momentum

The ODM leader’s camp is understood to be keen on having the DP lead the “No” team with Mr Odinga on the “Yes” side so that they settle the contest of who between them has the momentum ahead of the 2022 elections — as a candidate or a kingmaker.

The same source indicated the President may opt to give into some of the demands of Mr Ruto and the Catholic Church in the process mellowing him.

The anticipated climb down has also made the deputy president’s position precarious. A decision to support or not has its pros and cons for his political career.

Though the DP seems to be having waiting arms in the ‘No’ camp, he is encumbered by the unfolding political game which may burn his fingers if he does not exercise caution.

To his handlers, by owning the ‘No’ camp, the DP will have an opportunity to test his campaign juggernaut he’s built since 2013 when Jubilee first rode onto power. He would need that momentum to power his presidential campaigns, they say.

But in so doing, the move will also put him in a direct collision path with his boss who remains the undisputed kingpin of the Kikuyu nation, a support base he has since warned up to and desperately needs to win the coveted prize, the presidency.

Contrasting the position taken by Mr Kenyatta would thus be fraught with the real risk of eroding the gains he has already made in the mountain region. It would also further alienate him in the government.

Leading the “anti-change the constitution movement” also means that he largely finances it hardly two years to another watershed contest that may drain his coffers. An advisor told the Sunday Nation that the expense was one of the leading factors for his reluctance to own the ‘No’ camp.

Dr Ruto has in the past said government development programmes had stalled “because we have been told there is a very important project ... the project of BBI, which is geared towards creating three or four jobs for some few people.”

In the event he throws his weight behind the report, the DP, observers say he runs the risk of losing the “Hustler Nation” brand he has heavily invested in.

His support base could also feel betrayed, they say.

There are also those around Dr Ruto who feel he should fence sit as leading or opposing the planned referendum would be unnecessary distraction from the 2022 campaigns.

His advisors are however opposed to this route as they say it is good for a leader worth his salt to stand for something. The option may not be on the cards, at least for now.

Nonetheless, Mr Odinga’s supporters are equally not sitting pretty. Whispered in low tones in his camp, there is the hanging cloud of suspicion that the former premier may end up being played hence the need to stay vigilant.

With the hard-hitting statement by the Catholic — the President’s own church— against the BBI report, and the growing chorus by other stakeholders opposed to it some from his inner circles, it remains to be seen what decision he will settle on in the long run.

At the same time, sources disclosed that the President’s camp this weekend asked for campaign permutations that will lead to a ‘Yes’ win at the referendum.

In the end if consensus building fails, the President is said to be determined to push ahead with the referendum, an exercise his confidantes like David Murathe, the Jubilee party vice chairman say he cannot afford to lose.

As part of manoeuvres, the DP has cleverly demonstrated his capability to fight to the bitter end in the event his calls for a harmonised document is ignored.

He recently did a whirlwind tour of Mt Kenya region as a warning sign that he was ready to campaign vigorously and take on his opponents head on if need be.

Additional reporting by Walter Menya. jwanga@ke.nationmedia.com wgithae@ke.nationmedia.com

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