Why Mount Kenya leaders are fighting to lead BBI campaigns

Tuesday, January 5th, 2021 00:00 |
ODM leader Raila Odinga displays a copy of the BBI report at Kinoru stadium accompanied by Central Kenya governors. Photo/PD/FILE

Eric Wainaina @EWainaina

Claims of competition for control of Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) campaign funds and alleged high-handedness by some unnamed top officials at Harambee House have been cited as some of the issues causing political ripples in Mt Kenya region.

The alleged handpicking of some leaders perceived to be close to high-ranking State officials as ambassadors of the constitutional reform project has fuelled the infighting in the region, with some leaders now claiming to have been sidelined.

Those who feel left out also claim the poor packaging of the BBI campaign message could be one of the reasons that threaten to derail the reform train in the populous region that is home of President Uhuru Kenyatta. 

Allegations of a section of Ministry of Interior officials at the headquarters sidelining some elected leaders by handpicking a few of them to lead the plebiscite campaign are rife in the region.

Yesterday, while some pro-BBI leaders expressed reservations with Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata’s approach in informing the President of the political challenges in his backyard, there was consensus that those charged with the responsibility of leading the project had failed and may be setting the stage for the reform agenda’s rejection. 

Nyeri Deputy Governor Caroline Karugu said some self-centred leaders, who she said do not have solid ground base, had taken over the project and were using their perceived closeness to the President and his confidants to intimidate and force out colleagues from the campaign with the hope that it would resuscitate their diminishing political careers.

“The character of the people selling BBI will be considered as good as the document! In Nyeri County, for instance, I have only seen two politicians at the forefront of selling BBI.

The risk is that these two are not popular on the ground and their hang ups are beginning to reflect on the already sluggish uptake of the BBI,” she stated.

Karugu added: “It is as if their plan is to use BBI as a platform to gain relevance and intimidate people with their imagined closeness to the deep State. If these folks continue to be the face, BBI will fail in Mount Kenya.”

Interestingly, in a move, which highlighted the infighting among the pro-BBI leaders in the region, while Karugu was supportive of Kang’ata’s language and even gave a deeper insight, her boss, Governor Mutahi Kahiga, signed a joint statement with nine governors from the region rubbishing the senator’s sentiments.  

“Kangata’s statement should be deemed as personal and based on personal prejudice. The central Kenya region has a unique political behaviour driven by unique interests and not hysterical emotions,” read the governors’ statement.

Though she did not indicate it in her statement, Karugu, a proponent of BBI, was referring to Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu and his Kieni counterpart Kanini Kega, who are among the few MPs who have been leading the campaign under the BBI Express that also includes Kiambu Woman Rep Gathoni wa Muchomba, Cate Waruguru (Laikipia), Paul Koinage (Kiambaa), Peter Mwathi (Limuru) and Mary Wamaua (Mathioya).

“If you want to sell propaganda regarding a certain issue, you can pick the noisy and controversial leaders but if you want to sell something that requires critical thinking and ideology, you have to go for leaders who will help the people understand the real issues and people who have not antagonised their ground. But what we have is the opposite,” an MP allied to BBI who sought anonymity said.

Critics claim that the handpicked leaders have subsequently projected themselves as President Uhuru’s “favoured lot” while those not dancing to the tune of unnamed Harambee House officials are blackmailed as Tanga Tanga sympathisers.

The “favoured” group, according to some local leaders, had created resistance for the project whose aim is constitutional and political reforms, forcing their colleagues, including governors, senators as well as Members of Parliament supportive of BBI to take a back seat after being technically edged out.

Shaky grounds

Sources revealed that some officials from the Office of the President at Harambee House mandated to lead the project had handpicked selected leaders, who have assumed the role of undertaking the campaign amid fears that some of them have shaky grounds to champion the initiative that has been facing resistance from Deputy President William Ruto’s supporters.

Further, instead of educating the electorate on the importance of the project that is a product of the March 9, 2018 Handshake between Uluru and ODM leader Raila Odinga, the leaders, who have been accused of creating a buffer zone between the officials leading the project and other politicians, have embarked on political rhetoric that only serves to tire the masses.

In his letter to the President, Kang’ata said government-supporting legislators in the region had been edged out of BBI programmes in favour of their local political competitors and cited the case of Kangema MP Muturi Kigano, whose political rival is spearheading BBI in the constituency

The money factor has also emerged, with some of the leaders lamenting that the resources allocated for programmes was not going to the deserving people and the move by some of them to lock out others was to ensure they continue enjoying the resources.

For instance, there was disquiet among members of the regional secretariats who were picked jointly by governors and county commissioners to lead in the collection of BBI signatures as they are yet to be paid despite working, sometimes past midnight, to meet the set deadlines.

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