What BBI success means for Uhuru, Ruto and Raila

President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga at State House, Nairobi, on March 21, 2020.

The passage of the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020 by county assemblies yesterday marked a major milestone in President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga’s efforts to sway next year’s presidential succession in their favour and cement their legacies.

The initiative was endorsed in all Western, Eastern, Nyanza and Mt Kenya assemblies and most of the Coast.

By the time of going to press, 38 counties had voted “Yes” to the Constitution Amendment Bill, popularly known as BBI Bill. Bomet County Assembly, where Deputy President William Ruto recently teamed up with former Governor Isaac Ruto, also passed the Uhuru/Raila Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) pet project.

In what was dubbed as “Super Tuesday”, at least 27 assemblies passed the Bill, giving it the 24-county legislatures threshold required for it to proceed to the Senate and National Assembly. 

The major battle for the Bill was expected in the assemblies as its treatment in Parliament will constitutionally not stop it from proceeding to a referendum.

The Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020 also enjoys the support of political bigwigs such as Musalia Mudavadi (ANC), Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Moses Wetang’ula (Ford-Kenya) and Kanu chair Gideon Moi, who are all keen on being in the next government.

Political pundits believe that the passage of the Bill by the assemblies is a major step in securing the political future of Raila and Uhuru who have insisted the envisaged laws are meant to unite Kenyans and boost the country’s growth.

The passing of the Bill by the assemblies also dims Deputy President William Ruto chances of succeeding Uhuru, as it sidelines him following his lukewarm support for what is seen as Jubilee government’s project.

The endorsement of the proposed laws could mean Uhuru and Raila are supported by a majority of the ward representatives who call the shots at the grassroots.  

“The backing of the Bill by the assemblies will help Uhuru cement his legacy having been president for two terms. It also boosts Raila’s presidential candidacy,” Moi University don Prof Nyaga Kindiki, said.

“If the Bill is passed in Parliament and at the referendum, it would make it easy for Uhuru to craft a political deal with Raila where the ODM leader could vie for the presidency and be Head of State as Uhuru goes for the prime minister’s position and be head of government since nothing bars the president from being in the next Cabinet.”

Kindiki said in this arrangement, Ruto will be boxed into the opposition as the other political leaders are rewarded with deputy president and deputy PM slots.

He said currently all top political leaders seem to be in government except the DP “who appears to be there but is not as he is even excluded from key meetings.”

Masinde Muliro University political scientist Frank Matanga said the validation of the Bill by the MCAs is seen as part of Uhuru’s and Raila’s achievements and crucial in consolidating their support countrywide.

“It has proved to the Doubting Thomases that Uhuru still controls Mt Kenya region and that together with Raila, they have a huge say nationally.

“Uhuru and Raila are joined at the hip and the passage of the Bill shows that although the former PM has not indicated he will vie for presidency, it will be okay for him to do so,” said Prof Matanga.

He said the DP could still benefit if BBI passes at the referendum, as it will lead to creation of more positions “to throw around for the executive”.

More resources

Ruto’s Rift Valley stronghold, just like Uhuru’s Mt Kenya, is also set to get more constituencies and thus more resources through National Government Constituency Development Fund (CDF).

“Whichever way the referendum goes, Ruto will benefit. If the BBI fails, he will seek to show Kenyans he was right and increase his popularity.

“If the proposed laws go through, he will still reap from it even if he doesn’t win the presidency following the creation of powerful leader of official opposition’s office,” Matanga said.

But the political scientist said failure by Ruto to show his political muscle by ensuring the Bill dies at the devolved units is a significant setback to his efforts to penetrate Mt Kenya region, Coast and Western counties which he has been visiting frequently.

In some counties, where Ruto and his allies had been thought to enjoy immense support, the Uhuru/Raila project received unanimous support.

Yesterday, Raila said county assemblies managed to push back on a year-long campaign of lies, misinformation and undue influence on a document whose centre-piece is ensuring prosperity and equitable sharing of resources.

“I thank the members of those county assemblies and our governors who refused to give in to mistrust, cynicism, brinkmanship and fearmongering and passed the Bill,” he said.

The ODM leader said yesterday’s events were an indication that “we are extremely close to giving our people the reforms they need to create a united, inclusive, stable and prosperous nation that also deals decisively with the crime of corruption”.

Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, a close Ruto ally, however, poured cold water on the excitement.

“Why are BBI promoters excited and overjoyed? When you are running on your own, how are you celebrating that you won?” Murkomen tweeted.

But Kitutu Chache South MP Richard Onyonka welcomed the assemblies’ decision, terming it a win for BBI.

He said a change from the presidential to a hybrid system encompassing both presidential and parliamentary systems of governance is the greatest achievement of BBI since it will create more positions at the top level of leadership.

Onyonka said the present scenario where the winner takes all after every general election was a cause of conflict, with the opposition leader who gets millions of votes being left idle yet he has a crucial role to play in governance.

“We are going to have Cabinet ministers who are Members of Parliament elected by the people and who will be accountable to the electorate, unlike in the present scenario where some of those serving in the Cabinet are not known to the public,” he said.

North Mugirango MP Joash Nyamoko, who is allied to Ruto, said the creation of the Ward Development Fund is the greatest achievement of the BBI. He said each ward will be in control of about Sh100 million for development “which is a big boost”.

Nyamoko disputed claims that Ruto’s allies were against BBI, saying they only felt it was not a priority and that they were happy that more money will be moving from the national to the 47 county governments.

South Mugirango MP Silvanus Osoro, also an ally of Ruto, said the approval of the Bill by the counties meant nothing to the “hustler nation, which has more important issues to focus on”.

Political commentator Barrack Muluka downplayed chances of Ruto leading a No campaign against the constitutional changes. “The DP wanted an opportunity for further dialogue to panel beat the contentious issues, but the owners refused,” said Muluka.

“It has some merits here and there, of course. But it also has issues that should have been reconsidered.”