How Referendum Could be Used to Finish Ruto
When the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) task force report was released in November last year, I said in several media interviews that it was not the actual report. Many people disagreed with me, with some going to the extent of insulting me. But sure enough, a few weeks later, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga came up with a steering committee to validate the task force report. The committee has now finished its work and the report is finally ready.
In the next few months, depending on how the coronavirus situation plays out, we should have a referendum on the recommendations of the committee report. But this could be a mock referendum since the real issues that President Kenyatta and Raila wanted to address in line with their March 9, 2018 handshake agreement are not contained in the report.
The way I see it, the referendum is meant to trick Deputy President William Ruto and his Tangatanga team while the handshake duo strategises how to finish him politically after the 2022 elections. With Mr Ruto out of the way after the elections, Uhuru and Raila can have a field day implementing any changes they want. It is highly probable that is when the real referendum could take place.
Since the launch of the BBI report last year, Uhuru and Raila have been trying to read the mood of the country. They are wondering what would happen if they came out clearly and stated exactly what they want.
You may recall that when the report came out, people who were initially opposed to the BBI expressed satisfaction with its content. The Kieleweke group were even quoted saying: “Kama ni hii, basi leteni tupitishe kesho (If this is the report, we will pass it [in Parliament] tomorrow).” What they had feared would appear in the report did not feature – the introduction of the position of a powerful prime minister, which would in a sense take care of Uhuru after his term expires in 2022.
They also feared the BBI team would introduce a third-tier of government to take care of governors who would have finished their two terms by 2022. The governors would make very good partners in the BBI project.
The third issue was the cost of running government, including the many constitutional bodies that exist such as Parliament. This would mean changing the structure of Parliament by making the Senate an upper House and reducing the number of Members of Parliament.
Uhuru and Raila know very well that if they create a real Executive that encompasses power sharing between a prime minister and a president (which is really what they might want), they would be playing into Ruto’s hands.
These three things never featured in the initial BBI report and they are not going to feature in the task force committee report. (Some of these issues were addressed by politician and former presidential candidate Ekuru Aukot in his Punguza Mizigo Bill, which flopped after failing to get approval from at least 25 counties as required by the law. He was even bold enough to propose the ideal number of MPs and also addressed the controversial issue of the two-thirds gender rule.)
The BBI report never touched on things that would have amounted to a serious constitutional change. Neither will the coming report bring those issues out. Why? Because the timing is not right. The public (mood) is still hostile. Generally, people are not very happy with BBI. And it would be very difficult for Uhuru and Raila to introduce radical changes such as the restructuring of devolution and the Executive, and reducing the number of MPs, in the current atmosphere.
The real issues they must address in order to actualise the handshake deal will come after 2022, when the real referendum will take place. Two reasons compel me to say this: One, after 2022, Ruto will be rendered irrelevant in Kenyan politics for a long time. And since he is the only person right now who can offer any semblance of opposition, the handshake duo can expect to have a field day for the next 10 years should they win. That is when they will try and implement whatever they really wanted to implement.
Two, it is not by accident that Uhuru’s and Raila’s teams on constitutional reforms have settled on a hybrid system of governance, with a non-executive prime minster elected by MPs. The two know very well that if they create a real Executive that encompasses power sharing between a prime minister and a president (which is really what they might want), they would be playing into Ruto’s hands.
Ruto would then be able to lure the Luhya community by giving the post of a powerful prime minister to Musalia Mudavadi. That is why Uhuru and Raila would want the coming referendum to be a useless tool – so that Ruto does not use the changes as bait to build a strong team. If you have a functional prime minister’s office created via the constitution, then it would be very easy for Ruto and Mudavadi to team up. That would work against the handshake team.
So then, the plan is to pass lukewarm constitutional changes and then as soon as Ruto is defeated in 2022, if all goes according to plan, conduct a real referendum with the changes desired. And that is when we will their true colours.