Why BBI reggae paused at the eleventh hour

ODM leader Raila Odinga (left) chats with County Assembly Forum (CAF) Chairman and Nyandarua Speaker Ndegwa Wahome(centre) after BBI report meeting at Crown Plaza Hotel in Nairobi on Tuesday 17/11/2020. Looking on are Nyando MP. Jared Okello (2nd right) and National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed (2nd left). [Boniface Okendo,Standard]

The suspension of official signature drive by the handshake principals through their joint secretaries – Dennis Waweru and Junet Mohamed – is said to have caught many unawares.

It was precipitated by the haggled conclusion of editorial changes which ran late into the D-day, an impatient side that had unilaterally issued a launch date and an overly cautious side which felt it was being rushed.

Add this to a flurry of last-minute dashes to State House by ODM leader Raila Odinga, Deputy President William Ruto as well as women leaders, and the picture of why the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) reggae paused a few hours later begins to emerge.

Besides disrupting political plans for some, the reggae pause also seems to have given a lifeline to others as the high stakes referendum drive gathers steam. “You do not rush the Head of State in such serious processes as the one we are undertaking,” a source in the know of the happenings of Wednesday told The Standard.

A meeting said to have been held at a Runda residence of one of the BBI proponents is said to have failed to reach a consensus on some of the editorial changes ahead of the D-day. President Uhuru Kenyatta is said to also have consented to some three changes in the report.

Sources privy to the latest development told The Standard that Raila’s representatives at the Runda meeting, Junet, and ODM’s Executive Director Oduor Ong’wen were opposed to any changes to the BBI document. Others who attended the meeting were Waweru and former Uhuru adviser Nancy Gitau.

Yesterday, Waweru dismissed this theory, saying it was all a figment of people’s imaginations. In any case, he added, everything was now ready and all that was pending was a date from the president and Raila.

“This is propaganda. There was no meeting at all. The Bill is ready, let us not speculate. The schedule of the leaders was very tight and you all saw that. The printing was completed last night (Wednesday),” confirmed Waweru.

Junet, too, confirmed that everything was now ready.

“They dispensed with that (printing) last night and we should be taking the next practical steps sometimes soon, most likely next week,” he said.

The pair warned media against propaganda being spewed around to distort the true picture. They said the statement they issued on Wednesday evening sufficed.

Ruto’s allies have alluded that the president’s meeting with their man was a last-minute attempt to strike consensus with him.

“The president is keen to have the deputy on board the BBI train. The Catholic Church’s Tuesday meeting with the president voiced concern on leaving out key stakeholders and boxing Kenyans to support the BBI process without listening to their divergent views,” said a Ruto ally.

The impromptu State House meeting, which lasted three hours, is reported to have discussed ‘how other things can be addressed first’ before the BBI process continues.

Earlier in the day before the Uhuru and Ruto meeting, the DP had tweeted that it would be prudent to have consensus on the document for a win-win situation.

During the launch of the BBI report at the Bomas of Kenya, Ruto picked on six issues that he believed needed to be addressed in the document before being subjected to a plebiscite.

These were the proposed establishment of a Police Council to be headed by the minister of Interior, Judiciary Ombudsman and the nomination of IEBC commissioners by political parties, which could have led to calls for a review of the Constitution Amendment Bill, 2020.

Others were the whittling down of the Senate functions, failure by the document to address the winner-takes-all complaint and the BBI report’s inability to address issues of farmers.

The continued calls for dialogue by the Ruto camp, a large section of leaders, governors, members of county assembly and clerics seemed to have jolted the president, according to Belgut MP Nelson Koech.

Tharaka-Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki argued that the meeting between Uhuru and Ruto could have resulted in the postponement of the BBI signature collection launch.

“I don’t know what the two discussed and agreed. Respectfully, I remain of the steadfast and firm view that the BBI process has at least 20 flaws, which I made public,” said Kindiki.

President Kenyatta’s about-turn has confounded Raila’s side given that Uhuru had clearly stated to MPs who attended the Naivasha parliamentary retreat that he would not back down on the issues raised in the report.

Uhuru had indicated that he was keen on having the issue of the Police Council in the report.

He told the PG meeting that the DP, who is opposing the Police Council, knew the challenges they had with the command and had been properly briefed at the Cabinet.

No change

Secondly, he affirmed he would not change his mind on the issue of the judicial ombudsman, stressing that corruption allegations have been levelled against judicial officials.

The president explained that the ombudsman will be competitively recruited by the Public Service Commission and a selection panel will include all stakeholders.

Immediately after it emerged that the signature collection launch had been halted, Elgeyo-Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, who is a close ally of Ruto, wasted no time in lauding the president for the move.

“This is the president I knew. Let’s now have a meaningful engagement for Win-Win RESULT. We only have one Kenya, let’s listen to all voices,” he said in a tweet.

Soy MP Caleb Kositany said the president has taken full charge of the BBI process.

But BBI steering committee joint secretary Paul Mwangi dismissed the assertions for consensus from Ruto’s wing as the reason for the postponement of collection of signatures.

Yesterday, Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja insisted that the issue of Nairobi City County (NCC) getting ‘special status’ could be excluded from the final Bill following concerns from leaders and experts.

Sakaja had raised the same issue at the Senate on Tuesday, indicating that the new report will have a number of changes, including that of NCC.

Download the BBI Judgement by all seven Judges - Civil Appeal No. E291 of 2021