Days after the release of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report, Deputy President William Ruto’s allies have changed tack and may not publicly oppose the proposed changes.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga have already hit the road, popularising the BBI report they unveiled on October 21 at Kisii State Lodge.
Ruto and his allies had initially laid ground for opposing the BBI report even before it was unveiled and on Tuesday during the Mashujaa Day celebrations in Kisii, the DP observed that the taskforce’s outcomes should be subjected to a national conversation.
The DP had called for dialogue to accommodate divergent views in the BBI insisting that there was need to bring everyone on board to ensure the country achieves the much-needed unity.
Ruto, who yesterday met leaders from Wajir led by Deputy Governor Ahmed Mukhtar, nominated MP Nasri Sahal and members of the County Assembly at his Karen residence, has maintained a studious silence on the BBI report since it was unveiled on Wednesday.
Now, a group of MPs and political strategists allied to him have ruled out mounting opposition to the document that, among other things, seeks to create the office of prime minister and two deputies.
Instead, they have decided to let President Kenyatta and Raila run their course on the report that also recommends the expansion of the National Assembly and the Senate to cure the controversial two-third gender rule.
This is a climb down from the initial position where Ruto’s allies had vowed to oppose the report by a 14-member team led by Garissa Senator Yusuf Hajji.
A member of Ruto’s think-tank, who sought anonymity, noted that mounting a referendum campaign to oppose the document was unnecessarily expensive, distracting and will feed into Uhuru and Raila’s interests.
He also noted that the ‘hustler nation’ had spread across the country and any divisive campaigns would alienate some of their supporters warming up towards the report.
“We will let Uhuru and Raila run with their initiative, we will not be blinded into a contest, we refuse to fight a battle that belongs to two individuals and not ours,” said the source.
According to Ruto allied MPs who spoke to the Saturday Standard, they would not allow their team to be distracted by the contestation of the change of Constitution.
Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen yesterday said they would not be distracted by the BBI sideshows of ‘creation of five jobs for the big boys’ when their focus was on jobs for the five million hustlers.
“This BBI Referendum Bill is more about 2022 succession politics than people’s issues. They know we have the ball they want us to drop it. We will not,” said Mr Murkomen.
His Tharaka Nithi counterpart Kithure Kindiki said they were still reading the document and will make an informed position.
Prof Kindiki said he has been analysing the BBI document with a tooth comb, including an examination of both the political and economic implications of each proposal and the overall value of the recommendations to the nation.
Former National Assembly Majority Whip and Mumias East MP Ben Washiali said the report was generally what they supported in Bomas of Kenya One.
“The report has similar aspects to what we wanted in the harmonised Bomas of Kenya draft, which I supported. The issue of having cabinet in Parliament is welcome as it gives room for major national issues to be sorted,” said Washiali.
The Service Party leader and former Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri, a Ruto ally, urged President Kenyatta to bring together Kieleweke and Tanga Tanga groups in Jubilee into a consensus over BBI report so as to forge a united front and avoid a divisive campaign.
Belgut MP Nelson Koech said the document, a product of the handshake between Uhuru and Raila, would easily build a contest that would create a ‘divisive referendum’ campaign that would distract them from the hustler narrative.
“We know they are eager to build a contest of us versus them, we have decided that this is not the time to divide the hustler nation. We will remain focused on empowerment of the poor, we will not support or oppose the BBI document,” said Mr Koech.
Soy MP Caleb Kositany said some proposals on youth like the seven-year tax holiday for businesses, and removing impediments to starting enterprises and HELB loanees to be given four years grace period for repayment, were issues that would easily be dealt with in Parliament.
MPs Hillary Kosgei (Kipkelion West) and Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu) said they are still reading and analysing the document.
“Initially, we were opposed to this document because we assumed Raila was aware of the contents and decided to be reluctant to support it until we know the contents,” said Kosgei.
“It is not cast in stone. We are carefully going through the document and our position will be known soon. By and large, except for the concern of the bloated wage bill and public debt, we can reach consensus on the document,” Nyoro said.
Kosgei also raised concern with the issue of the two-thirds gender rule and youth empowerment.
Yesterday, BBI Steering committee vice-chair Adams Oloo and joint secretary Paul Mwangi defended the document, saying it captures the aspirations of Kenyans as presented before them.
They denied assertions of the issue of an imperial president, saying with the expanded Executive, there will be more checks and balances, doing away with winner-takes-it-all at the ballot.
Dr Mwangi cited the scenario where the President wins the elections but has less MPs as was the case in 2007 with retired President Mwai Kibaki and Opposition leader Raila Odinga, giving rise to position of Prime Minister.
“We are borrowing from the French model. The two will have to find a way to work together. The PM will be appointed from the majority party or coalition in parliament,” he explained.
Oloo and Mwangi also tackled the issue of gender, where they clarified that the top-up for women is for both Houses.
“Parliament is one. We calculate the number of women in the Senate and National Assembly to address the two thirds gender rule. The nominations will be from the populous constituencies,” said Mwangi.