A leaked terse letter to President Uhuru Kenyatta by Senate Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata warning of doomed prospects the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) proposed constitutional changes in his Mt Kenya backyard, sparked fierce reactions with some claiming he is a Tangatanga sympathiser.
Similarly, an opinion poll by Tifa research, conducted in December last year, indicates that most supporters of former Opposition head Raila Odinga’s ODM (66 per cent) would endorse BBI compared to Jubilee supporters allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta (36 per cent). This begs the question: Who between the Handshake partners, Uhuru and Raila, stands to lose the most if the referendum fails after investing heavily in the project?
Raila, for instance, has staked his future political fortunes on the success of BBI while Uhuru sees it as a major plank of his legacy besides Succession politics. What then would a defeat mean?
For Uhuru, the Big 4 Agenda is unlikely to be fulfilled by the time he leaves office due to political jostling sparked by Deputy President William Ruto’s early campaigns and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. It will thus be a double loss for the President on the legacy front.
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In recent months, President Uhuru’s position has been that the Big Four was not a project but a framework to build on Kenya Vision 2030 and previous blueprints, thus leaving BBI as the only realistic project he can deliver before he retires.
A ‘No’ win at the referendum will also weaken his ability to contain Ruto going into 2022 and constitutionally cannot sack him.
The Handshake deal brought Raila into government helped the President to cut Ruto from the centre of power, a process that was accomplished after he handed Interior CS Dr Fred Matiang’i powers to supervise the execution of national government projects and programmes through Executive Order No. 1 of 2019.
Though he has abandoned his fierce Opposition to the BBI proposals, key allies of the DP are still firmly in the ‘No’ camp. A ‘No’ win will thus likely boost his chances of victory in the 2022 contest.
Raila will simply kiss goodbye to any hopes of securing tenancy at the House on the Hill in 2022.
While he has for long held that BBI was not initiated to politically benefit either himself or Uhuru, Raila revealed during a tour of the Coast early this month that he still has presidential ambitions when he said “it is a tactical retreat before I advance. I have not surrendered.”
The BBI is key to his bid for State House. An expanded national executive and a window to pick Cabinet members from the National Assembly will allow for a wide coalition. That would simply be the bridge to propel him to victory after four failed presidential attempts in 1997, 2007, 2013 and 2017.
The BBI Constitutional Amendment Bill proposes the return of the post of Prime Minister and two deputies. There is also a proposal to return the Leader of Official Opposition role.
There are, however, those who think a defeat of the BBI referendum will be a collective loss to Uhuru and Raila, as well as other presidential hopefuls in the “Yes” side as the opportunity to win the presidency or be appointed to the proposed top offices and other roles, will pass them.
Prof Macharia Munene, who lectures history at USIU, says a defeat will reflect badly on both principals and their allies.
‘If it fails, it would be because of faulty strategy which would then reflect negatively on the Uhuru-Raila team,” he told The Nairobian.
Munene adds that while Kang’ata has been roundly criticised, including by Uhuru himself, the BBI team ought to take his message seriously.
Apart from Raila, others in the BBI train are former vice presidents Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, all of whom covet the State House.
“At the moment, they are working in unison and speaking as one,’ says media consultant Alfred Ochieng. “They are a force to reckon with and can easily vanquish Ruto. But if BBI is defeated, it would mean their hopes of getting a piece of the cake after the 2022 election will not be assured and they will likely go separate ways leaving Ruto in pole position for a win. They will all be losers, Uhuru included.”
Uhuru has often insisted he is not eyeing any role after he retires, but the possibility of a future political engagement cannot be ruled out.
But some critics aver that Uhuru does not stand to lose much since he is retiring from active politics.