Aukot's initiative threat to Raila political dream

Opposition leader and Thirdway Alliance's Ekuru Aukot. [Standard]

Elites never grow tired of plotting how to short change each other, often in the guise of working for the mythical Wanjiku, the brainchild of former President Daniel arap Moi.

While the term Wanjiku was initially used disparagingly, it acquired respectability with demands and competition for constitutional changes meant to attend to the personal gripes of influential politicians whose word is law in some parts of the country.

Currently, several constitutional amendment movements have set the stage for interesting political games. The Punguza Mizigo initiative, for instance, is competing with Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta’s Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). Critics now term BBI as the Breaking Bridges Initiative for supposedly breaking socio-political bridges on the Jubilee landscape.

But it was Ekuro Aukot’s Third Way Alliance that set the agenda with its “Punguza Mizigo”, which initially sounded unrealistic as his team went around collecting voter signatures for a possible referendum. But Aukot was not the first to make such an  effort. Raila had tried it with his highly publicised Okoa Kenya Movement only to flop badly. Aukot, with limited political bravado, managed to attain more than 1.2 million signatures and quietly submitted them to the IEBC for verification.

His initiative calls for reduction of the number of constituencies and scrapping of slots for nominated legislators.

Okoa Kenya

When IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati announced that Third Way Alliance had fulfilled the constitutional requirement for holding a national referendum, he surprised many political players. Since he had previously found signatures from Raila’s “Okoa Kenya” inadequate, Chebukati aroused the wrath of top ODM functionaries, who could not help, but read mischief and, as a result, dismissed Punguza Mizigo.

Fulfilling Chebukati’s requirement made Aukot the agenda-setter and the public focus for constitutional change discussions, which he likes. More than that Aukot’s Punguza Mizigo appeared to have stolen the fire from Raila’s “handshake” and BBI initiative.

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The BBI, led by eminent Kenyans, supposedly representing the interests of both Raila and Kenyatta, had given the impression it would recommend amendments to the Constitution that would increase layers of government and expand executive positions to cater for political kingpins. That’s why a section of the public sees the BBI as an “Ongeza Mizigo” outfit that feels threatened by Third Way Alliance’s “Punguza Mizigo” success.

Raila’s rejection of Punguza Mizigo showed how Aukot had upset Kenya’s political “gitama” (draughts).

Political desires

He vowed to do two things. First to defeat Aukot’s initiative. Second to ensure that BBI would recommend constitutional changes, through a 2020 referendum that would cater for his long time political desires. He thus reinforced the view that, from its start in March 2018, the BBI was simply an instrument for delivering his (Raila) political wishes, which now Aukot threatens.

Besides upsetting the presumed BBI agenda-setting role, Aukot attracted peculiar reactions. Since Deputy President William Ruto and Raila rarely see eye-to-eye on anything, Aukot’s success had the magic of seemingly uniting political rivals Raila, Ruto and Kalonzo to oppose his suggestions. While West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo humorously declared Punguza Mizigo “dead on arrival” and ridiculed Aukot for supposedly ignoring Turkana interests, others went ballistic.

Supposed Ruto supporters are against any tampering with the executive structure, fearing Ruto’s potential presidency will be weakened. Women politicians angrily forgot their Kieleweke (or Embrace Raila) and TangaTanga (or Ruto Inua Mama) divide and vowed to fight for their positions.

Interest groups mounted efforts to discredit Punguza Mizigo following fears the initiative might succeed. Chebukati’s competence to verify the signatures came into question and lawyers rushed to court to demand the voters’ register he used. Since it appears there are no referendum or signature verification laws, the IEBC’s capacity to verify signatures came into question. Questions have also been raised over where Aukot derives his finances, also in an effort to derail Punguza Mizigo.

All said and done, Aukot’s initiative has made him a political celebrity. He has succeeded in temporarily uniting political rivals and threatened entrenched interests. Only salary and allowance increases are known to unite politicians in the manner Aukot has.

Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU 

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Okoa KenyaPunguza MizigoBuilding Bridges Initiative