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Raila says BBI ‘reggae’ on track, quiets critics

Former prime minister H.E. Raila Odinga with President Uhuru Kenyatta received the BBI report at State Lodge Kisii. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) appears to be back on track following days of speculation over the fate of the process.

Recent days have seen subtle political moves by allies of both President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga that appeared to suggest they were approaching the process with caution.

Statements made by ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya and secretary general Edwin Sifuna on Tuesday appeared to fan the flames of a fire lit earlier by other Raila allies indicating all was not well in the unity pact.

But after weeks of speculation that the Handshake was shaky and BBI could fail, Raila yesterday issued a statement confirming ODM’s commitment to the Handshake with President Kenyatta and continued support for the BBI process.

The statement was issued soon after a meeting between Raila and ODM leadership at his Karen home.

Among those that attended the meeting were Siaya Senator and Senate Minority Leader James Orengo, ODM chair  John Mbadi, National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed, Sifuna, ODM treasurer Timothy Bosire and Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga. The statement now neutralises the ODM hardliners who have insisted on getting equal treatment and called out One Kenya Alliance members for trying to reap where they did not sow.

The alliance comprises NASA partners led by Musalia Mudavadi (Amani National Congress), Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka and Ford-Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula. Kanu chairman Gideon Moi is also part of the newly formed coalition.

A statement by the BBI secretariat co-chaired by Junet and Dennis Waweru (Jubilee) affirming that the BBI process was still on course, however, did not have Junet’s signature.

When asked why this was the case, Junet said there was nothing out of the ordinary about the omission. “It is okay because I gave him (Waweru) approval to sign in my absence.”

The letter by Waweru sought to reassure Kenyans that everything related to BBI was still on course, even as it was claimed that the secretariat’s operations along Dennis Pritt Road had been relocated to the Office of the President (OP) at Harambee House.

Public appearance

Raila’s hours-long engagement with the party’s National Central Management Committee was his first public appearance since he tested positive for Covid-19.

Phillip Etale, the ODM director of communications, said Raila had since tested negative for the virus.

“GOD IS GOOD:@RailaOdinga has tested NEGATIVE after a third test. We thank God for this. Prayers work. Glory be to God the Almighty. Just spoken with him and he is in high spirits. He will soon bounce back. We shall rejoice together,” tweeted Etale.

Raila yesterday appealed to MPs to fast-track debate so that the BBI Bill can proceed to a referendum.

“In the spirit of the Handshake and the wider goals of the BBI Amendment Bill, we agreed on the need for Parliament to fast-track the process and release the document to the public to enable the people of Kenya to have a final say on the envisaged changes to the constitution via a referendum,” he said.

His statement came a day after his lieutenants indicated that they were throwing in the towel on the process whose referendum date is yet to be fixed. 

Mbadi also confirmed that the BBI process was unstoppable, saying that once the joint Justice and Legal Affairs Committee writes its reports, the bicameral House will convene for a special sitting to deliberate on the matter this month.

“There is no stepping back. We are for the fast-tracking of the process in Parliament. We are aware of the legal challenges with the cases in court but the committee will continue with its work and table a report.

“They will hold virtual meetings and if need be, physical meeting observing social distancing. Once ready, with consultation with Majority Leader Amos Kimunya, we will request for a special sitting,” said Mbadi.

The Suba South MP argued that those that have aired divergent views about the BBI process are expressing their personal opinions, ‘which is in order since it is their democratic right’.

“We are reaffirming our position. Those are not party positions and there was no consultation on the same,” he said.

On Tuesday, Raila’s confidants led by Oparanya and Sifuna sent a message that all was not well with the initiative that the outfit has championed for the last three years.

The two, in separate events, said that priority should be placed on fighting Covid-19 pandemic rather than the BBI.

Sifuna said President Kenyatta should focus on containing Covid-19 so that Kenyans can return to their normal lives.

“If you don’t have original ideas just copy what the other countries are doing. Focus on giving people support and ramp up vaccination, but if there’s a single shilling that was going to BBI we can now use it to buy vaccine,” he saidin a TV interview.

Sifuna said he supported the break until May by the Senate and National Assembly “so as to focus on more important current issues especially the third wave of Covid-19.”

But Oparanya was more categorical that the country did not have the capacity to conduct a referendum and General Election in a span of one year and called for the suspension of the process.

The journey of the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020, popularly known as BBI Bill, is nearly complete after a task force led by the late Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji collected and validated views.

On March 4, the BBI Bill was introduced into the National Assembly and the Senate after 43 county assemblies passed it.  

Avoid referendum

But the request by President Kenyatta for the suspension of parliamentary operations days before a report on the Bill’s public participation by a joint parliamentary committee on Justice was tabled has left a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the process.

During the 15th address on coronavirus pandemic last Friday, President Kenyatta directed that with the concurrence of the parliamentary leadership of both houses of Parliament, and with the concurrence of county leadership; the ordinary sessions of the August Houses including those of their committees, and the ordinary sessions of the county assemblies of Nairobi, Machakos, Kajiado, Kiambu and Nakuru be suspended until further notice.

There is an argument that a group of politicians and strategists around the president believe that the referendum should be avoided, and some of the bills passed by Parliament and signed by Uhuru as law. 

The reasoning is informed by the fact that the country has been ravaged economically by the Covid-19 pandemic and distracted by the 2022 succession politics.

“The group believes that even if the referendum is won, the turnout will be very low thus likely to embarrass the proponents,” said a top Jubilee party official.

The directive to halt parliamentary operations jolted the joint committee that was on the verge of completing a report on public participation ahead of tabling it in both the National Assembly and Senate.

The decision by MPs to suspend sittings for a month due to  Covid-19 infections has dashed hopes of holding a referendum by June. National Assembly and Senate on Tuesday night resolved to suspend their regular sessions till May 4 and May 11, respectively.

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