How Uhuru, Raila outsmarted Ruto in BBI tussle

Thursday, February 25th, 2021 09:54 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga arrive for a BBI meeting with Parliamentarians from both the Senate and the National Assembly in Naivasha last week. Photo/PD/File

Direct engagement with counties’ leadership and various heads of political parties may have been the trick that handed President Uhuru Kenyatta and Handshake partner Raila Odinga resounding victory in the first phase of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

That direct interaction, coupled with a recommendation by the BBI document to create a Ward Development Fund, is said to have won the hearts of Members of County Assembly (MCAs) countrywide.

“The MCAs look at the creation of the ward fund as disengaging them from always being at the mercy of governors. Which person in his right sense would reject a recommendation that empowers them with more resources?” Dr Fred Jonyo, the chairman of University of Nairobi’s Department of Political Science posed yesterday.

At least 40 county assemblies have already passed the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment Bill 2020), surpassing the 24 assemblies constitutional threshold and handing the two leaders keys to the muchanticipated referendum.

BI Secretariat

And now with their eyes trained on having the referendum by at least June, the BBI secretariat yesterday announced plans to embark on campaigns to popularise the document as it implored the courts to “read the mood” of Kenyans and expedite the cases standing in the way of the law change process.

“To our courts, before which legal challenges against the BBI process stand, we beseech; read the mood of the people. The BBI spirit, with its message of unity, inclusivity and more resources to counties, has ignited patriotism and hope in the country, of brighter days ahead,” the secretariat said in a statement.

With the document now headed to the Senate and National Assembly, the secretariat also urged legislators to ignore alleged propaganda being spread by those opposed to the document and instead “emulate the MCAs in amplifying the voice of the people”.

“The ringing endorsement of the BBI witnessed across the counties is an indication that the people of Kenya have spoken emphatically and in one voice,” said the secretariat.

With accurate foresight, Raila had on Saturday predicted that several county assemblies would overwhelmingly pass the document on “Super Tuesday”.

True to his prophecy, a record 26 counties endorsed the document on the day to join 12 other regional Houses that had already sanctioned it and thereby paving the way for amendments to the 2010 Constitution.

Political scientists and politicians now believe that the last minute change of tact by President Kenyatta and Raila, and the tactical retreat by Deputy President William Ruto, who is the de facto leader of the opponents of BBI, were the secret weapons to the resounding support from the MCAs.

Sensing possible trouble in the hands of Ruto, who had been traversing the country calling for rejection of the BBI, Uhuru and Raila are said to have opened direct engagements with governors and assemblies’ leadership.

The two leaders are said to have held several closed-door meetings with counties’ leadership where they took time to explain and convince them about the merits of the document.

“Rather than holding public rallies, the President and Raila decided to engage directly with the governors and the counties leadership to ensure they made an informed decision when the right moment came,” National Assembly Minority leader John Mbadi told People Daily yesterday.

To avoid the acrimony and political supremacies that had initially characterised the BBI campaigns, each governor was bestowed with the mandate to coordinate and oversee campaigns in their regions. Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho is said to have been given a bigger role to coordinate all BBI activities in the Coast region, where Ruto had previously made some inroads and managed to sway some MPs and leaders such as Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya.

Governors’ roles

The secretariat appeared to allude to the role played by the governors yesterday in its statement as it showered praises on the county chiefs.

“We wish to thank the governors of the 38 counties for allowing the voice of the people to prevail, their political affi liations, notwithstanding. We in particular wish to recognise the roles the governors played in facilitating public participation and for supporting the distribution of copies of BBI to Kenyans,” the secretariat stated.

Besides the Ward Development Fund, the MCAs and governors were also promised a Sh2 million car grant and increase of revenue allocation to counties from the current 15 per cent to 35 per cent.

“The promise of more resources to both the MCAs and counties was the icing on the cake. It wrapped up the whole campaign,” Dr Jonyo, the political scientist, said yesterday.

With governors and MCAs in their corner, Uhuru and Raila moved to consolidate their backyards, with the President retreating for a four-day engagement with key leaders from the Mount Kenya region at Sagana State Lodge in Nyeri County, as the opposition chief met his ODM brigade in Nairobi and Kisumu.

“The Sagana State Lodge meeting turned the tide. The President used the opportunity to explain to his people the benefi ts they would get from BBI. To me that seemed to be the turning point of everything in Central about the document,” says Dr Oscar Otele, of the University of Nairobi.

Prior to the meetings, the BBI secretariat had reportedly divided the country into three zones: Green (areas where BBI was popular), Orange (regions with moderate support) and Red (to denote lukewarm or hostile reception).

They had decided to concentrate their efforts in the Green and Orange zones. With the overwhelming support that the document received in Mt Kenya, BBI proponents are now challenging former Jubilee Chief Whip Irungu Kang’ata to come clean over his earlier claims based on a certain research that the region would reject the document.

“Does that mean that the research by Hon Kang’ata did not involve MCAs? These was propaganda from the Tanga Tanga group to hoodwink Kenyans. As you can see, no county in Mt Kenya region has rejected the document,” Mbadi said yesterday.

Nyeri County Assembly Speaker John Kaguchia said President Kenyatta’s personal engagement with local leaders from Mt Kenya was a game changer that opened their eyes over BBI and the Handshake.

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