Uhuru, Raila plan to corner Ruto as referendum push gathers steam

Tony Karumba | Afp

President Uhuru Kenyatta (centre) reacts with opposition leader Raila Odinga (right) as Deputy President William Ruto looks on during the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report in Nairobi on November 27, 2019.

What you need to know:

  • The Nation has established that President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga are set to reactivate regional campaign teams that will push the case for the plebiscite.
  • Already, ODM and Jubilee youth and women leagues have been brought on board and are planning rallies countrywide, targeting the youth and women.
  • On August 18, Mr Odinga met Narok ODM youth leader Dickson Sarbabi at his Capitol Hill office in Nairobi where they discussed the BBI process.

President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga are turning to religious leaders in their bid to boost support for the planned referendum amid opposition from Deputy President William Ruto.

The two principals, whose March 9, 2018 ‘Handshake’ birthed the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), are counting on clergy support to push their agenda after delays linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2010, the DP used a similar tactic when he rallied religious leaders against the referendum on the draft Constitution, which Kenyans ended up backing overwhelmingly.

The Nation has established that President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga are set to reactivate regional campaign teams that will push the case for the plebiscite.

“The teams that were set up before the pandemic are still in place and will be tasked with publicising the document once it’s handed over to the two principals,” ODM Director of Elections and Campaigns, Junet Mohamed, told Nation on Monday. The teams will be bolstered by the civil society, trade unionists, elders, youth and women.

During his 11th speech on the pandemic last week, Mr Kenyatta underscored the need to amend the Constitution. He said that in the next three weeks, Kenya will chart its post-Covid-19 future.

BBI campaigns

In January during a visit to Mombasa, President Kenyatta had unveiled regional teams, mainly consisting of governors and Cabinet secretaries to take charge of countrywide BBI campaigns, with Mr Odinga in command.

The Coast region is headed by Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, Western (Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa), Eastern (Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu) and in Mount Kenya Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru and Agriculture CS Peter Munya were put in charge.

Elgeyo-Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos heads the Rift Valley, supposedly working closely with Kanu Chairman Gideon Moi. In North Eastern, the BBI team will rely on its steering committee chairman, Mr Yusuf Haji, and Eldas MP Aden Keynan, the Jubilee parliamentary group secretary.

Interior CS Fred Matiang’i is expected to lead the charge in Nyanza, while Nominated MP Maina Kamanda will mobilise support in Nairobi under Mr Odinga’s close supervision.

Already, ODM and Jubilee youth and women leagues have been brought on board and are planning rallies countrywide, targeting the youth and women.

On August 18, Mr Odinga met Narok ODM youth leader Dickson Sarbabi at his Capitol Hill office in Nairobi where they discussed the BBI process.

Mr Odinga is said to have briefed them on plans to involve the young generation in the BBI process. On March 12, Mr Odinga hosted trade unionists, led by Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli, at his office to explore BBI execution paths. 

Common interest

“I met with leaders... to deliberate on issues of common interest that they have raised with the BBI steering committee,” Mr Odinga said during his brief after the meeting.

Mr Atwoli has been in the forefront advocating for the implementation of the document that is set to be unveiled “soon”, according to sources at State House.

The ODM leader has also held several meetings with Gema Council of Elders to rally them behind the proposed referendum.

Mr Kenyatta is counting on the support of Cabinet secretaries, whom he directed last year to ensure their respective ministries implement interventions envisaged in the BBI.

Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua, in a circular addressed to all CSs and the Attorney-General, listed support for BBI among key areas of appraisal for ministries, departments and their agencies.

Among the issues the teams are expected to debunk are claims by Dr Ruto and his Tangatanga troops that constitutional change is not a priority. The DP is already laying ground to oppose the initiative. On Sunday, he enlisted religious leaders as allies in his opposition to the BBI and calls for a plebiscite.

In 2010, he capitalised on clauses in the draft Constitution that differed with religious doctrine, including abortion, to unite men of the cloth to oppose the document.

“The BBI document was taken back and we don’t know whether it will come the way it was or it will be altered,” the DP said last week, giving his strongest signal yet that he would oppose changes to the Law.

Require a referendum

But the opposition is unlikely to stop changes that do not require a referendum.  

“One thing that may come out is that some of the proposals of the BBI would call for certain administrative actions to be taken which don’t require any vote,” ODM National Chairman John Mbadi said.

ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna said they expect increase of funds to counties, address of gender question proposals for boosting the management of the affairs of the country, including electoral justice, to be addressed through BBI.

“We’re also looking forward to ensure the role of political parties in the appointment of commissioners is addressed,” Mr Sifuna said.

But Jubilee Deputy Secretary-General Caleb Kositany said amending the constitution is not a priority for Kenyans. 

“With challenges Kenyans are undergoing now, the state of economy, Covid-19 situation and the fact that there’s a lot of secrecy in the BBI movement, I don’t think amending the constitution now is towards the right direction,” said Mr Kositany.

jjochieng@ke.nationmedia.com