State of the Nation: BBI vs National Dialogue: Ruto to rally MPs on issues he rejected

President William Ruto addresses the 13th Parliament.

President William Ruto addresses the 13th Parliament on September 29, 2022. 

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • President Ruto – who was one of the main opponents of the BBI proposals – is expected to rally the two Houses of Parliament to support his joint bid with opposition leader Raila Odinga to settle the 2022 presidential election dispute.

President William Ruto is expected to echo his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta's remarks in his last address to Parliament on the clamour to expand the executive when he takes the same podium on Thursday afternoon.

In his last speech in 2021, Mr Kenyatta lamented the rejection of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) by the courts, but declared that the push for constitutional change must "happen for the country to realise political stability".

President Ruto – who was one of the main opponents of the BBI proposals – is expected to rally the two Houses of Parliament to support his joint bid with opposition leader Raila Odinga to settle the 2022 presidential election dispute. 

As in 2008, Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga were forced into the ongoing negotiations after months of violent street protests that resulted in scores of deaths, injuries and destruction of property.

The two leaders have since agreed on a proposal to create the positions of Prime Cabinet Secretary and Official Leader of the Opposition in a bid to resolve the electoral dispute.

They have also agreed on how to deal with the two-thirds principle.  Similar proposals were contained in the BBI document, which the courts ruled unconstitutional. In pushing for the changes, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga sought to address the winner-take-all scenario blamed for the vicious cycle of post-election violence. 

In particular, the National Dialogue Committee set up by Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga will meet in the morning at the Bomas of Kenya, with the President expected to rally the two Houses to adopt the report they are due to write on Monday and Tuesday.

The team, co-chaired by Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wah, has two weeks to get the report tabled in both the National Assembly and the Senate.

In his final speech, Mr Kenyatta described the court's decision on the proposals as a loss for the country.

“We went to the people and five million Kenyans agreed to initiate the process of putting to the vote the first amendment to the 2010 constitution…(it was) taken to the County Assemblies, where it received nearly unanimous endorsement. In Parliament, the People’s Elected Representatives gave the first amendment a clear nod of approval by a margin in excess of two-thirds,” said Mr Kenyatta.

He told the two Houses how the proposed changes would have ensured that 50 per cent of all senators were women.

“The third loss was about expanding the national executive to accommodate a broader face of Kenya and expand representation. This would have constitutionalised the end of the winner-takes-all outcome of elections that creates so much toxicity and tension,” he told Parliament.

A proposal to increase the number of counties and a push to create ward development funds for Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) are also on the agenda. They were included in the BBI report.

As part of the BBI, a steering committee formed by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga after the famous 2018 handshake went around the country to gather views from Kenyans before producing a report.

The report had recommended the expansion of the executive, additional constituencies and a county development fund, among other proposals that have found their way back into the current talks by the 10-member team tasked with negotiating solutions to the 2022 post-election crisis.

In a nine-page memo to the Speaker of the National Assembly Moses Wetang'ula, and the Senate Speaker Amason Kingi, in December last year, the President raised four issues – the gender rule, the National Government Constituency Development Fund (NGCDF), the position of the Leader of the Official Opposition and parliamentary oversight of the executive.

The President proposed the implementation of the elusive gender rule by adding 40 more women to the National Assembly and Senate, as is the case in county assemblies.

And just like the 2018 handshake and subsequent botched BBI, the current clamour has created a new legion of vicious opponents led by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.

His fears, and those of the other opponents of the talks, seem to stem from the aftermath of the 2018 deal, which left a trail of casualties on the political scene.

The famous handshake also created new power brokers, sidelining former close allies of Mr Kenyatta.

In the 2018 deal, Dr Ruto, who was then serving as deputy president, turned out to be the main casualty. His decision to oppose the ceasefire saw him lose favour with his then boss, Mr Kenyatta, before he was kicked out of the centre of government.

A majority of Jubilee politicians allied to him also lost their plum parliamentary leadership positions in a purge orchestrated by Mr Kenyatta in both the National Assembly and the Senate.

But the deal was a victory for Mr Kenyatta, who was able to govern without the political turmoil that could have wrecked the economy.

Jubilee Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni, who is also part of a technical team involved in the talks, predicted a great constitutional moment in a recent interview with the Nation.

“The current constitutional moment was not called by us (Azimio) but by our opponents in the Kenya Kwanza. They initially wanted to micromanage it to achieve their selfish interests, but it has now been opened to the general public,” said Mr Kioni, referring to a memorandum to Parliament by President Ruto seeking major constitutional changes.

“I see a constitutional moment because some of the proposals cannot be achieved through parliamentary approval but through a referendum,” he said.

Macharia Munene, a professor of history and international relations, said the current negotiations would end up being a replica of the BBI. But he argued that the final document of the process would be decided by President Ruto and Mr Odinga.

“What is going on is a replica of BBI. The two leaders are trying to accommodate each other. In the final analysis, it would all be about what President Ruto and Raila want,” said Prof Munene.