BBI impact and why it's difficult to postpone polls

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga during the launch of the BBI signature collection exercise at KICC, Nairobi, last year. [Courtesy]

The May 13 High Court condemnation of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) has thrown many political careers into a nose-dive, with the likelihood of ultimate political destitution and even extinction for some. Billed as the silver bullet to end election-related violence in Kenya, BBI has also been seen as a political power-sharing instrument for the political top brass. 

COTU Secretary General Francis Atwoli has been most clear about the political designs of the initiative. As one of the foremost champions, Atwoli has seized every public opportunity to tell Kenyans that those behind BBI will form the government, next year. This, especially, became his rallying call at BBI popularisation rallies across the country at the start of last year, before the novel coronavirus put a sudden stop to the meetings. 

With the fate of the initiative now delicately before the Court of Appeal, Atwoli has once again been the first gadfly off the blocks, floating fresh political balloons. He said in a TV interview this week, “There will be no elections without BBI.” 

They may have to push for an extension of the life of the present government for a year or two, he said, “to make way for the success of BBI before elections.”

Hope alive

It is a no-brainer that the biggest upset in the May 13 court decision was its implications for an expanded Executive, which had kept many political hopes alive. Justices Joel Ngugi, George Odunga, Jairus Ngaah, Chacha Mwita and Mumbua Matheka threw the BBI process into liminal space when they declared it unconstitutional in an epochal judgment. 

Once the popularisation campaigns began in Kisii on January 11, last year, political kingpins from Kenya’s more populous communities coalesced around the initiative, despite initial misgivings among some of them.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga at State House, Nairobi. [Courtesy]

The Kakamega rally on January 18 was a surprise turning point. ANC leader  Musalia Mudavadi and his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetang’ula made a sudden and unexpected entry into Bukhungu Stadium, to attend the meeting.

They had all along given the impression that they would hold their own alternative rally at Nabongo Stadium in Mumias, to oppose BBI. In the fullness of time, they have, together with Wiper Party leader, Kalonzo Musyoka, become some of the most faithful advocates of the President Uhuru Kenyatta- and Raila Odinga-led process.

Pundits have seen the promise of inclusion in government through an expanded Executive as the foremost attraction for the national political party leaders.

The BBI Bill, named the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020, proposed to create the office of Prime Minister with two deputies, to serve alongside the President and Deputy President. Besides, the Bill also proposed the creation of a state cushioned Official Opposition, with a shadow Cabinet.  

Dream rocked

The attractions were magnetic, at once drawing previously reluctant politicos to the centre of campaigns, while also energising the emergence of regional political formations. The Big Five within the expanded Executive have been seen to be Raila, Kalonzo, Mudavadi, Gideon Moi of Kanu, and President Uhuru, or his alternate.

Elsewhere at the Coast, governors Hassan Joho (Mombasa), Salim Mvurya (Kwale) and Amason Kingi (Kilifi) have toyed with the idea of a regional party, as a campaign tool for inclusion in the expanded National Executive. 

The High Court decision has been instant gunpowder that seems to have rocked the dream of an expanded national Executive. It has in its wake thrown the political elite club into confusion and even opened up old rivalries, animosities and public denunciation of politicians against each other. 

In character with what has sometimes led him to be styled as a watermelon, Kalonzo was bouncy at a funeral in Kibwezi, declaring cheerfully that he understood “my brother Raila Odinga very well” and that they could work together next year. Four days later, he was firing from the hip, declaring that he would first need to be insane before he could support Raila for the third time, “without an iota of reciprocity. I would rather retire from politics,” he said in a TV interview. 

Raila fired back instantly, accusing Kalonzo of premature electoral panic. “I have not even declared my candidature and he is already barking and whining. I have not asked anybody to support me. It is too soon. Hold your horses,” Raila said in Kiswahili, at a rally in Mombasa earlier in the week. 

Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu, ODM party leader Raila Odinga and Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka during the burial of the former Kibwezi MP Kalembe Ndile on June 11, 2021. [John Muia, Standard]

Elsewhere, Mudavadi has accused Raila of political treachery. Raila has been accused of reneging on the NASA coalition agreement of April 2017, which bars him from seeking to be elected as president in next year’s elections. Instead, the agreement directs him to support one of the other coalition principals. Nor is ODM eligible to present a presidential candidate, if the coalition still holds. 

Then there is the thorny issue of shares in the political parties funds, which only ODM among the NASA affiliate parties qualified for.

But ODM firmly refuses to give a coin to her partners, contrary to the coalition covenant. According to the accord, registered with the Registrar of Political Parties, ODM is expected, in the circumstances, to redistribute the funds among the partner parties.

The formula for distribution of funds within the coalition is derived from principles 1(e) (i) and (ii) of the “detailed guidelines and procedures for sharing of funds within the NASA Coalition.”

As BBI has floundered into legal complications, the matter of political party funds has been revived in NASA. The three co-principals have recently jointly said that this is one of the reasons they will not support Raila again, over and above the expectation that he should now back someone else, having been unsuccessfully fielded several times. 

Meanwhile, some governors now on the ledge of their second term in office have also banked on BBI as an instrument that could reinvent them. Article 180(7) of the Constitution restricts a governor to a two five-year term of office. Nearly half of the current crop are, accordingly, on their way out in the next 13 months.

There is palpable panic among this fraternity. People who have enjoyed unbridled trappings of power and the perks that go with it now face political oblivion. BBI held the promise of rebirth for them.

Many have been encouraged to countenance the possibility of seeking election to Parliament, in the hope that they could then be appointed to the Cabinet as ministers, under the BBI propositions.

DP William Ruto, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and President Uhuru Kenyatta exit the Bomas of Kenya during the launch of the Building Bridges to a United Kenya Taskforce Report on October 26, 2020. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Particularly outstanding among second-term governors who have cast their sights on greater things have been Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Hassan Joho (Mombasa), Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni), James Ongwae (Kisii) and Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a). 

For these ace governors and national political party leaders alike, it is time to go back to the drawing board. Regardless of the BBI determination in the Court of Appeal, the contestation would appear to be predictably destined for the Supreme Court, for the last word.

Meanwhile, it is difficult to legally predicate the next General Election upon the successful conclusion of the BBI process.

The two are independent of each other and the electoral process has indeed now officially kicked off, with the launch of the IEBC strategic plan for the period 2021-2024. 

Stopping the electoral process is a rocky assignment. Someone may need to take Kenya to war before the life of the present Parliament is extended. Article 102 (2) reads, “When Kenya is at war, Parliament may, by a resolution supported in each House, by at least two-thirds of the members of the House, from time to time extend the term of Parliament by not more than six months at a time.”  

Besides, Article 102(3) restricts such extension to a total of not more than 12 months.

Atwoli’s projection of extending the tenure of the 12th Parliament seems to be an impossible mission. Worse still is the idea of a two-year extension, for nowhere does the Constitution provide for that.

It is reality check time for the entire political fraternity in the country. The BBI stalwarts have travelled with the mantra of “Nobody can stop reggae.” It would appear that the 2022 General Election is the one tough reggae that nobody can stop. Everyone must seek to get their act together, afresh.

As the saying goes, it is time for everyone to fend for themselves, with the possibility that the devil will take the hindmost. And the hindmost is likely to be the one who still banks heavily on the reggae of BBI. 

[Special Correspondent]