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BBI factions are fighting to control Kenya’s soul

By Macharia Munene | November 23rd 2020 at 08:11:52 GMT +0300

Kenya appears eternally engaged in a struggle to free itself from various straitjackets that many blame for its imperfections. The country attracts attention, in part, because of its strategic location to outsiders in Eastern Africa. It anchors the region politically, socially and economically.

At times, it appears lost either in its own political wilderness or in calamities beyond its control. The rancour from its politics lightens up common banter in the region. Presently, it is in one of those times, struggling with a document referred to by its acronym BBI.

The confusion around the Building Bridges Initiative is mainly because it is more than a document. And for that, it has gained a life of its own that is beyond its chief architects President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga. It deviated from its original intent of cooling down hostilities arising from the 2017 presidential elections and forging strong unity bonds that would outlive the two leaders.

Raila’s threat and ‘success’ in making the country ungovernable led to the March 9, 2018 ‘handshake’, the formation of the committee on building bridges and new unofficial political dispensations.

In most cases it has, however, appeared as if accommodating Raila was at the expense of Deputy President William Ruto and his whole constituency in the ruling Jubilee. Ruto and his followers accuse Raila of trying to chase him out of the Jubilee Party as he did in ODM where Ruto served as a senior official previously.

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Subsequently, BBI’s objective seemed to shift as influential ‘citizens’ announced their desire to block Ruto’s presidential ambitions using BBI. Former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga spoke for many when he wondered whether the handshake had made Raila co-president and how BBI could promote national harmony and unity by sidelining Ruto.

All along, sideshows have dominated BBI, so much that at its launch last month, the content of the document was no longer the issue, but who knew and attended its launch in Kisii. The issue really is who, between Uhuru, Ruto and Raila, will be the political winner on the road to 2022. Although the resurgence of Covid-19 has slowed it, three clear factions have emerged to compete for attention in the aftermath of the Bomas BBI drama. There is the “wapende wasipende” (like-it-or-not) faction; those who want a little work done on it (panel-beaters) and the rejectionists. They all accept that the 2010 Constitution needs to be tweaked, but differ on the modus operandi, timing, content and implementation.

The ‘wapende wasipende’ camp have tried to monopolise the ownership of BBI. They insist that the document is virtually perfect as it is and brush off calls to reopen it with declarations like “the train has left the station” and therefore there is no room for change. Arguing that those calling for adjustment had had and wasted their chance, it wants an immediate referendum to legitimise BBI governance proposals. It is making it clear that it is ready for a repeat of the 2005 ‘Banana/Orange’ or ‘Yes/No’ referendum that birthed ODM.

The forefront

The second, the panel-beating faction, observe that the BBI document is generally good, but that it needs adjustments here and there to make it a better document. Members, differing on which part needed ‘panel-beating’, included such unlikely fellow political mechanics as Charity Ngilu, Ruto, and Musalia Mudavadi. Interest groups like the Church complain of being left out and they, too, want in. For them, the document could do with some bit of improvement.

The third faction, the rejectionists, was a later growth. It sees little that is good in the BBI proposal and claims that the intent is to create an imperial presidency catering to tribal kingpins. For them, the document is retrogressive and undermines the spirit of the 2010 Constitution. In the forefront of these arguments are Martha Karua and Kivutha Kibwana, two battle-hardened luminaries of the Second Liberation.

By extension, the emerging three BBI factions are competing for the soul of the country. They are likely to dominate future political direction. The thing is what formations all these three morphs into in the coming days or how their ideas about BBI and the imminent Uhuru succession fuse together. Certainly, interesting times lie ahead.

-Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta Raila Odinga BBI
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