Deputy President Ruto’s new gospel on BBI report

Thursday, November 19th, 2020 00:00 |
Deputy President William Ruto. Photo/COURTESY

Emeka-Mayaka Gekara

Deputy President William Ruto appears to have made a major about-turn after declaring he was not keen to lead a No campaign against the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report in a referendum.

The DP made the surprise announcement in a tweet just before heading to a meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi, yesterday. 

The meeting came ahead of the expected launch of collection of one million signatures by the President and his Handshake partner Raila Odinga in Nairobi today, an event that has been postponed to a later date.

Ruto has all along expressed reservations about the BBI report, which proposes radical constitutional changes and instead called for consensus over what he describes as contentious issues even as Uhuru and Raila appear keen to move on with the process undeterred.

An impression had been created that Ruto was dusting up his boots and rallying troops for a No campaign, which would have served as a major testing ground for his 2022 presidential contest.

But in a series of tweets, Ruto has declared that he is unwilling to wage war against the BBI report, saying there was a strong opportunity for consensus building.

“I love this country enough not to be part of any war. Not when there is a real possibility for a win-win consensus beckoning.

An US versus Them, Yes/No contest that will lead to a lose-lose outcome which is unnecessary and unwarranted.

A non-contested referendum is possible. Inawezekana,” the DP tweeted yesterday, discrediting perceptions that he was preparing his troops for a referendum battle.

The DP has been tweeting regularly to support demands by various groups for amendments to the BBI report, a position rejected by Uhuru and Raila

Ruto’s allies, who spoke to People Daily yesterday, accused unnamed forces of trying to push the DP to a No corner in order to create a confrontation with President Kenyatta.

“So it’s not enough that you are forcing BBI referendum on Kenyans, now you are forcing on them the “NO” leader just to ensure that you get a money making contest?

How about DP Ruto leading YES together with you & leave the NO leadership to me,” said Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, a Ruto ally.

Ruto’s handlers could not divulge the nature of the talks at State House yesterday but confirmed the DP had spent most of the afternoon with his boss.

“As we speak he is still there.  He went there at 2pm. I am not aware of the deliberations. You might want to ask State House,” said Emmanuel Talam, Ruto’s deputy spokesman.

University of Nairobi political scholar Karuti Kanyinga reckons Ruto might still campaign against the document, but through proxies.

If he does, this will be the second time he will be opposing constitutional changes in a referendum. He led the No campaign during the 2010 plebiscite.

Ruto has argued that the BBI proposals have not sufficiently addressed the 9-point agenda items identified by Uhuru and Raila in their March 2018 Handshake.

“The DP may not be keen to directly wage a No campaign but might prefer to sit in the tent and use his allies who might not leave anything to chance.

He knows that the country is divided and there is a 50-50 chance for both sides. He doesn’t want something that will look like a personal loss,” said Prof Kanyinga. 

“But even if he decides to support the BBI he is unlikely to do it with passion. He will be a watermelon.  He can only lead opposition to the BBI if push comes to shove.”

Ruto’s seeming withdrawal from his earlier push to stop the passage of the BBI report now puts to rest speculation that the DP was all out to take on his boss head-on.

Tactical retreat

His apparent tactical retreat may not be received with applause in the President Kenyatta and Raila camp which, according to sources, had planned to use the referendum contest against the DP as a precursor to the 2022 duel.

Sources say the Kieleweke camp, which is allied to the President, was reportedly seeking to test Raila’s political prowess and assess whether he has the numbers to propel him to the presidency in 2022.

The team is also said to have been keen to push Ruto to the corner so that he could unleash his machinery and resources in the campaigns against the BBI referendum. This, the team reckoned, would deplete his finances before 2022.

“We had envisaged him to be in the contest so that he spends part of the money we have been told he has been amassing for the 2022 presidential race.

This would have been one way of draining him ahead of the main race,” said a source close to the Uhuru-Raila camp.

But ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna discounted the claims, insisting nobody has attempted to force Ruto into supporting either side.

“These claims are unfounded since there is no evidence to substantiate them. How can anyone push Ruto to choose sides?

And Raila was not the organiser of the Naivasha retreats,” Sifuna said in reference to talks last week with various groups to seek a deal on the various contentious issues attended by Uhuru and Raila.

At the same time, sources indicated that individuals and lobby groups opposed to the BBI report may face financial constraints as the government is yet to authorise foreign funding for civic education.

The government usually grants authorisation to international financial partners such as the United Nations Development Programme and the United States Agency for International Development to finance civic education months to an election.

But North Mugirango MP Joash Nyamoko maintains Ruto’s position on the BBI report has not changed.

“The DP was clear from the onset that he was for consensus. He is not interested in leading a No campaign.

He has been asking for a non-contested referendum. He wants a situation where people would sit and talk and iron out issues,” Nyamoko told People Daily

“Indeed, a number of players including senators have proposed   key changes to the BBI document.

We desire a situation where people agree on the many issues and vote only on the contentious ones,” he added.

Uhuru and Raila were scheduled to officially launch the collection of signatures at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) today, but the function has been postponed to a later date.

Last week, while slamming the door on the push for amendments to the BBI document, Raila announced the start of collection of signatures, with a referendum tentatively set for April next year. 

Signature collection

“We will be doing the launch of the signature collection sometimes next week. We want that exercise to be done as soon as possible so that the matter can be handed over to the electoral commission, and then we can move towards the next phase of a referendum,” Raila stated.

Various interest groups have been calling for a review of the report before it is subjected to a referendum.

The Council of Governors last week recommended some changes to the report, including the introduction of deputy minister positions. MCAs have also proposed a raft of changes, though the chances of being heard appear slim.

Evangelical church leaders led by Bishop Mark Kariuki had also claimed the BBI taskforce had ignored their proposals.

After launching the signature drive, Uhuru and Raila are scheduled to unveil the BBI draft bill and a technical committee expected to drive the process following the expiry of the life of the Yusuf Haji-led taskforce that shepherded the process.

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