Get ready for referendum in March next year

ODM Chairman John Mbadi and Secretary General Edwin Sifuna at the Chungwa house in Nairobi. [File, Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga are burning the midnight oil to have a referendum by March next year, The Standard has established.

Allies of the two leaders yesterday confirmed that the much-awaited Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report could be out by the end of this month.

This would consequently pave the way for a referendum ahead of the 2022 General Election in what is set to charge the country’s political landscape as well as shape Uhuru’s succession.

It has emerged that the main political parties backing the handshake have been tasked to identify county assemblies – which they have absolute control of – to prepare them in the fast-tracking passage of the document once submitted by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to the 47 assemblies.

The details come hot on the heels of yet another strategy meeting at Central Organisation of Trade Unions Secretary General Francis Atwoli’s Ildamat home in Kajiado County on Saturday.

The meeting attended by Jubilee Vice Chairman David Murathe, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga, Fatuma Gedi (Wajir), Mishi Mboko (Likoni), Naisula Lesuuda (Samburu West), former Nairobi Speaker Beatrice Elachi, and National Gender and Equality Commission chairperson Priscilla Nyokabi discussed the resumption of BBI rallies.

The Saturday meeting followed a similar one attended by Kanu chairman Gideon Moi, Siaya Senator James Orengo, 2013 presidential candidate Peter Kenneth, National Assembly Deputy Majority Whip Maore Maoka, and other influential pro-handshake politicians.

At the heart of the over five-hour long discussions at the weekend was the role of “Team Embrace Kenya” – a women lobby group in support of BBI – in rallying the country to back the envisioned amendments to the supreme law.

Sources indicated that preparations for BBI rallies resumption were in top gear following reports of a dip in the Covid-19 infection rate in the country. The rallies came to a halt after the first case of the viral disease was reported in Kenya in March.

“The Saturday meeting was part of our strategy for BBI. We are prepared to drum up support for the BBI and referendum,” said Atwoli, while confirming the meeting.

“We are sure there would be minimal opposition to the document once it is made public by the two principals anytime soon. Anyone opposed to the proposed changes is daydreaming and will be shocked by the outcome,” said Atwoli.

Atwoli’s home has of late become the venue for political scheming in the race to succeed Uhuru.

From left: David Murathe, Fatuma Gedi, Gladys Wanga, Mishi Mboko, Francis Atwoli, Ann Waiguru, Beatrice Elachi and Naisula Lesuuda at the weekend. [Standard]

National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi and Maore told The Standard that Uhuru and Raila are likely to receive the report this month.

The leaders projected that the entire BBI process, once the document is made public, would take about five months before Kenyans can go to the ballot to decide on the proposed constitutional amendments.

The mandate of the 14-member task force committee chaired by Yusuf Haji (Garissa) expired on June 30 and they are just waiting to hand over the report to the two principals.

“We are currently strategising to resume the BBI campaigns because we expect the report to be made public this month,” said Maore.

“The moment the report is handed over to the two leaders, we will hit the ground running. We should be ready for a referendum early next year; around March,” he added.

The Igembe North MP said BBI enjoys the backing of the majority county assemblies, stating that it would not require any sweat to bag approval of at least 24 assemblies.

Similar views were shared by Mbadi, who revealed that Raila told them to prepare for a referendum “soon”.

“Raila told us the report will be out very soon. I would not expect it to go beyond this month. Once it is out we will have a public discourse on the proposals,” said Mbadi.

“The timelines for the process would be determined by the recommendations of the task force. But I can tell you that a referendum will not go beyond March next year,” he added.

Wanga yesterday disclosed that the weekend meeting discussed what is in the report for women, saying female politicians have to be at the national table.

“We want to ensure women’s issues are protected by the proposed changes to the constitution. As women leaders we are more than prepared to hit the road running in rallying the country once the report is handed over to the two leaders,” said Wanga.

The handshake team would be required to collect at least one million signatures of voters in support of the proposed changes should they take the popular initiative route, and submit the signatures alongside a referendum Bill.

The commission would then be expected to submit the Bill to the 47 county assemblies once it verifies the signatures.