Deputy President William Ruto was yesterday conspicuously missing at Kisii State Lodge where President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga officially received the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report.
It was not immediately clear whether Ruto was invited or not to the historical function that has set the stage for constitutional reforms perceived to have a significant political bearing on the 2022 General Election.
Ruto attended the burial of Uasin Gishu MCA Peter Chomba where he read the president’s condolences.
His absence was a departure from the release of the first BBI report at State House, Nairobi last year November, which he attended and even took a group photograph with Uhuru, Raila and the 14-member taskforce.
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Ruto also attended the Bomas launch of the advance report of the BBI last year.
Other key political figures including Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetangúla as well as Parliamentary leadership were also a no show at the function held mid-morning.
Yesterday, Director of Communication at the DP’s office Emmanuel Talam could not confirm if Ruto was invited or not, only directing us to put the question to State House officials.
“I do not know if he was invited. He is currently attending a function. Ask State House if they invited him,” said Talam in a phone interview.
Efforts to get a response from State House Spokesperson Kanze Dena did not bear fruit as she neither picked calls nor responded to a text message.
His absence and apparent bashing by Uhuru and Raila for opposing the initiative signalled a possible sidelining in the push to amend the 2010 Constitution.
Ruto has expressly opposed the expansion of the Executive by creating the post of the prime minister and two deputies, which is contained in the report.
His argument has been that the country should give priority to the unemployed majority of Kenyans through job creation and business opportunities.
“Now that they have agreed Kenya is a hustler nation; we want to tell them to give priority to job creation and business opportunities to the hustlers so that they can also take their children to school and afford decent housing,” Ruto said recently.
Uhuru had on Tuesday described opposition to the document as simplistic and parochial.
“We should not give my suggestion the parochial interpretation of creating positions for individuals. I am only urging for a constitutional consensus that accommodates all communities in an election,” said Uhuru during Mashujaa Day celebrations.
Raila also took a swipe at Ruto questioning his hustler narrative, saying he was not genuinely pushing for youth empowerment.
“Someone will come and say today is when we have discovered Kenya has poor people, we want to have a conversation about poor Kenyans, the common mwananchi. But you have been there all this time; if you are concerned why did you give them a wheelbarrow and not your helicopter,” said Raila.
At the same time, Ruto has warned against the exclusion of “hustlers” in the BBI report unveiled yesterday. The DP while speaking at the burial said jobless Kenyans and those struggling with business must be heard before the document is subjected to a referendum.
The country’s second in command has been critical of the process since the handshake between Uhuru and Raila two years ago. Ruto said he will support proposed changes to the Constitution if they capture the views of ordinary Kenyans.
The DP was accompanied by his close allies; Kikuyu MP Kimani Inchung’wa, Kimani Ngunjiri (Bahati), Caleb Kositany (Soy), Oscar Sudi (Kapseret), Didmus Barasa (Kimilili) Daniel Rono (Keiyo South) and Janet Sitienei (Turbo).
Ainabkoi MP William Chepkut who in recent months has been a critic of the DP was also present.
Governor Jackson Mandago and his Elgeyo Marakwet counterpart Alex Tolgos who is the BBI Rift Valley coordinator were also present at the burial.
DP Ruto hit out at Raila, saying he was not genuine on constitutional consensus resulting from the handshake. “I am ready for the BBI debate but the voice of the hustler nation must be heard first,” said Ruto.
Ichung’wa said he will only support the report after reading it, and if it has interests of ordinary Kenyans. “If you imagine that you will force it (BBI) down our throats, we will spit it out,” he said.
Barasa told Raila to stop using the BBI process to gain political mileage.
“Kenyans should be given time to make independent decisions,” he said.
Tolgos said he will meet Elgeyo Marakwet leaders to review the report. The governor asked Ruto to meet with Uhuru and declare a common stand on the direction which Jubilee Party will take. “Jubilee should meet and put its house in order,” Tolgos said.
[Moses Nyamori and Stephen Rutto]