All eyes on Ruto as BBI train hit the rail

Deputy President William Ruto addresses delegates at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi during the official launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report on October 26, 2020. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

As the Building Bridges Initiative campaigners start crisscrossing the country to push for constitutional changes, the jury is still out on whether Deputy President William Ruto will jump on the bandwagon or attempt to obstruct the process.

After Wednesday’s launch by President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, political observers believe proponents of the initiative will easily secure the one million signatures required to endorse the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020.

But the pressing question is whether Ruto, who skipped the signature collection launch, is satisfied with the final document even after his earlier concerns were factored into the Bill.

“Even with the launch, there is still a real chance at consensus for a non-divisive referendum that will give Kenyans the opportunity to express themselves without us vs them, win vs lose contest. Unity is the strength needed to fight Covid-19 and organise the economy,” Ruto tweeted on Wednesday.

During the launch of the BBI validation report at the Bomas of Kenya last month, the DP highlighted six issues he was not comfortable with. This was in addition to faulting the timing of the plebiscite, coming in the middle of a pandemic.

Ruto was opposed to the formation of the Kenya Police Council that would be chaired by the Interior Cabinet secretary, saying it would take away the independence of the police.

He was also not comfortable with the Executive appointing the Judiciary ombudsman and the role of political parties in appointing commissioners of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

Other complaints included the whittling down of the Senate’s functions, failure by the BBI report to address the complaint of winner-take-all during elections, and the documents failure to address farmers’ issues.

The Bill addresses three of Ruto’s concerns on police independence, the appointment of IEBC commissioners and strengthening the Senate.

Yesterday, Senate Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata said the government ‘bent backwards’ to accommodate some views on BBI.

“See changes on the Senate, persons with a disability, judicial ombudsman, women agriculture, blue economy and pastoralism,” Mr Kang’ata tweeted.

Former Ol Joro Orok MP John Waiganjo said the road to the referendum might be ‘very uneventful’ and give the report an ‘easy passage’ if it is not opposed.

He said the ‘panel beating’ of some of the contentious issues before the launch of the collection of signatures had reduced opposition to the document.

“The BBI brigade could easily raise one million signatures since even Dr Ekuru Aukot managed to do so with little resources, and they were approved by the IEBC,” said Mr Waiganjo.

Some of Ruto’s allies conceded that some of their concerns had been addressed.

“We need more time to read the Bill but a few issues are welcomed. If we can have a non-contested referendum then it will give the country an opportunity to remain united,” said Belgut MP Nelson Koech.

The Church had also threatened to oppose the BBI for creating an imperial presidency, something Raila and the initiative proponents have dismissed.

In 2010, Ruto teamed up with the church to lead a ‘No’ campaign and garnered 33 per cent of the votes against a 67 per cent ‘Yes’ camp. 

Ruto and his allies have been cagey on whether they will support the BBI process or lead a ‘No’ campaign.

Koech acknowledged that some of the issues they had raised had been captured in the bill that was unveiled.

Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro said Raila and his allies were looking forward for Ruto to lead a ‘No’ drive “with a desire to have a divisive process that would help them build a momentum for the 2022 polls”.

Due to the huge following enjoyed by BBI architects, President Kenyatta and Raila, in the two Houses of Parliament, opinion leaders note that the taking of the Bill to the National Assembly and to the Senate would just be to fulfil the process.