What next for Ruto in BBI tussle?

Deputy President William Ruto (centre) with members of Wajir County Assembly at his Karen office, Nairobi yesterday. [DPPS, Standard]

Deputy President William Ruto yesterday insisted on consensus around the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report despite proponents of the document giving the clearest signal that Kenya is headed to a contested referendum.

With the ‘Handshake’ partners, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, saying the report is closed and the process for the referendum is set to begin this week, the situation leaves the DP with only two options.

Ruto, who from the beginning has been opposed to the report and even registered his reservations on some of the contents of the document in front of the President during its launch, now has to eat humble pie and team up with the proponents of the document or lead the ‘No’ camp.

Yesterday, when he hosted Wajir MCAs, led by Majority leader Mohamud Gabane and his Minority counterpart Abdi Hussein, Ruto said a divisive referendum process could not be used to achieve a united country. “We must at the moment prioritise the health of our people and focus on countering the effects of Covid-19. County assemblies must work together and push for progressive engagements around the BBI so that we can build a consensus on the report. They must shun a forced ‘Yes-No’ campaign that threatens to be retrogressive for the country,” Ruto said on his Twitter handle.

Uhuru has twice said his deputy was aware of the BBI agenda and even helped him choose members of the BBI taskforce that collected and collated views from Kenyans.

“I informed William about this process and he has been part of it. He is here, and if you think I am lying, ask him,” Uhuru said at Bomas during the launch of the report.

Yesterday, Ruto said the country was headed to a lose-lose outcome on the BBI unless the hardline position taken by some of those steering the process is relaxed.

He regretted that the costly two-year product had turned out to be “highly controversial and with so many glaring gaps”.

“Those driving BBI should not tell Kenyans that they have no time for further amendments. If we cannot enrich the document, then we would end up with a bad Constitution because its work was entirely unprofessional,” he said.

For the country to rally behind BBI, the DP said, there is an urgent need to improve its presentation and content.

“If we are trying to sort out the problem of divisive elections leading to a divided country via BBI, why then are we after a divisive referendum that will end up tearing the country apart,” posed Ruto.

He said there should be no rush in the process “if we are serious and mean well for this country”.

“Could we be after a different outcome from the BBI other than the cohesiveness of our country?”

Ruto said by the look of things, it was clear some quarters were pushing for a ‘Yes-No’ referendum for political reasons that target the 2022 elections.

“Kenyans should not participate in this constricted agenda. Why should we railroad people go to the presumed ‘No’ camp when we can all engage and have a consensus,” he posed.

With the coronavirus intensely destroying livelihoods and taking away lives, Ruto said it was time the country’s leadership was united and mobilised resources towards confronting the outbreak rather than campaign for BBI, which could be put on hold.

Mr Gabane and Mr Hussein said the Wajir County Assembly would not support a BBI that does not give prominence to the needs of the people.

“We will ask the people to reject it from the onset unless our views are factored in the report. We cannot move the country forward by creating positions for a few leaders when a majority of Kenyans are suffering,” said Rashid Karshey, the Wagberi Ward MCA.

However, Egara Kabaji opined that Ruto was only playing politics and that it was time he led the ‘No’ camp and campaigned against the proposed referendum. “He raised issues but did not offer solutions. BBI taskforce has been collecting views for two years. If he didn’t present his views during this period, then you can see that he was not interested in the process at all,” Prof Kabaji, who teaches at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, said.

However, Ruto allies said they would not oppose the report but instead call on Kenyans to reject it.

Soy MP Caleb Kositany said there was no plan for the Ruto camp to launch a ‘No’ campaign against the BBI report.

Instead, Mr Kositany said, they would let the matter be prosecuted in the court of public opinion.

He was reacting to Raila’s announcement that the BBI team would proceed with its plans to collect a million signatures for the referendum and ruled out any further talks on reopening the document for discussion.

“Raila is looking for a contested referendum and wants us to take the ‘No’ side. We shall not conduct any anti-BBI campaign,” said Kositany.

He added that they would continue to stand with groups not opposing the BBI report but calling for inclusivity.

“Whatever Raila says is not final, and will not make us change our position. We have our party leader, the President, who has indicated that he is for inclusivity. We shall only act according to his stand,” he said.

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei said there were great hopes for a non-contested referendum, adding that this was the wish for most Kenyans.

Mr Cherargei said if the report is subjected to a referendum in its original form, Kenyans would independently lead a ‘No’ campaign.

“There is a lot of dissatisfaction among Kenyans as seen with the churches, pastoralists, medical officers among other groups. It is not us who shall lead a ‘No’ campaign if any, but the general public in their respective sectors,” said Cherargei.

Jubilee Party nominated MP David ole Sankok, however, took a firm stand, saying he was ready to lead the ‘No’ campaign.

“Even if I’m left alone ranger, I will lead the rest of the country in the anti-BBI campaign. This is a doctored document. It didn’t capture any issue we submitted on behalf of the disabled or pastoralist communities,” said Sankok.

Meru Senator Mithika Linturi and Baringo North MP William Cheptumo labelled BBI as a two people’s political project and not about inclusivity and unity of the country.

“The most logical thing to consider is how to accommodate the views raised by various stakeholders. It now appears that BBI process was all about the politics of two people. If there is no room to accommodate new views then why do you tell Kenyans to read,” posed Cheptumo.

To oppose

Although Cheptumo declined to state whether he would oppose the document at the referendum, he said the process had not been about Kenyans but to block the DP from becoming president.

“It was not necessary to cheat Kenyans with a ‘Handshake’ and then the BBI process. What would have been a national concern has now been reduced to two people. There is mischief in the whole process,” said Cheptumo.

Mugirango South MP Silvanus Osoro said the BBI report was divisive.

“We won’t oppose the document, neither will we support it. Let him run his thing his way. We will, however, continue being the voice of reason on what is currently affecting the common citizen. We have left rhetorical politics to them,” said Osoro.

[Protus Onyango, Rawlings Otieno and Kennedy Gachuhi]