Raila, Ruto fresh battle lines drawn over BBI proposals route

While Raila's camp appears to prefer a referendum Ruto's side wants a parliamentary vote

In Summary
  • Raila warns against using MPs saying they would be compromised.
  • Uhuru says the BBI proposals must be owned by the grassroots.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and ODM Raila Odinga during the National Anti-Corruption Conference at Bomas on January 25, 2019.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and ODM Raila Odinga during the National Anti-Corruption Conference at Bomas on January 25, 2019.
Image: DPPS

Fresh battle lines have been drawn between Opposition chief Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto over the constitutional amendment route for the BBI proposals.

The leaders have sharply differed on whether to use a parliamentary initiate or a referendum to anchor selected Building Bridges Initiative recommendations in the Constitution.

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his allies are pushing for a public vote on the BBI proposals.


This has opened a fresh battlefront with Ruto's troops opposed to a referendum.

The DP's political lieutenants say they want the BBI recommendations taken through the parliamentary initiative route instead of a plebiscite, which they argue would be divisive and costly.

But Raila and his troops say BBI must be a people driven process.

“The process must be people owned, it must not be taken to Parliament. It is the people to own the document,”Raila on Thursday as he opened ODM party headquarters.

During the launch of the report on Wednesday at the Bomas of Kenya, Raila made it clear that he wants nothing short of a plebiscite.

President Kenyatta was present as the two contradicted each other.

“Let us not bring it (BBI) to Parliament where MPs only look at their own interests,” the Opposition leader declared, insisting that the report should be owned by the people.


“Let it be a people's document. The people should debate it and eventually the people should approve it so that we have a national consensus on how we want to move forward as the people of Kenya,” Raila said at the Bomas of Kenya.

Raila's position was Thursday backed by more than 25 MPs drawn from from Jubilee, ODM, Wiper, Amani National Congress, Kanu and Economic Freedom Party.

The Opposition leader warned against giving MPs the opportunity to implement the BBI report through a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament, saying selfish lawmakers would betray the course.

BBI wants to bar state officers from doing business from the state, it wants wealth declarations made public, it calls for the elimination of sitting allowances.

It even wants senior pubic officials to get treatment in public hospitals and their children to attend public schools.

These recommendations won't please parliamentarians.

However, the DP signalled a showdown by maintaining that he preferred a parliamentary approach as opposed to a referendum not only to save costs but also lower political temperatures.

“We now have a report which will be tabled in Parliament and our MPs, both in the National Assembly and Senate, know the role they have been given to ensure all proposals in this document are passed,” Ruto said.

On Friday, National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale, a key Ruto ally came out strongly to dismiss the referendum proponents.

According to Duale, Kenya is yet to enact any referendum law to govern the process and claimed the agitators had a hidden agenda.  

He termed the vote divisive, costly and said the entire report had nothing that made it mandatory for a public vote.

"Are those calling for a referendum aware of the polarisation referendum campaigns are likely to cause? Are those calling for a referendum aware of the effects such campaigns are likely to do to our economy through disruption of businesses?"Duale posed.

However, some observers see Ruto's parliamentary push suggestion as a plot to rally his troops in the Parliament to frustrate any amendments to the Constitution fronted by the handshake deal.

The DP is said to enjoy the support of a considerable size of MPs who pledge allegiance to him.

This would deny the National Assembly the 233-vote sweeping majority to pass a constitutional change.

“The surest way to kill BBI is through Parliament, which has never managed to raise two-thirds of members to make any constitutional changes. A referendum does not need to be expensive,” said ODM chairman John Mbadi.

Experts say while the report will be subjected to a national conversation before a final bill is written, the BBI proposals require both policy and legislative actions.

They argue that experts will sieve through and isolate issues that require fundamental legislative actions before a decision is made on whether a referendum would be inevitable.

“A delicate balancing act was done to avoid a referendum route. Now that concern has emerged, I don't think President Uhuru Kenyatta] would fear going to a referendum if the issues are so fundamental that they touch on the structure of the legislature, the executive and devolution,” Constitutional expert Felix Odhiambo told the Star.

He said after the document has been read, improved and a revised version produced, it will be reduced into a constitutional bill that will identify areas that require a constitutional amendment.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri said a parliamentary route would be the most ideal “shortcut because of how the economy is”.

“I don't see any contention that can lead to a divisive Parliament that will not garner a two-thirds majority,” Kiunjiri said, calling for dialogue among leaders to build consensus.

Nakuru Senator Susana Kihika warned that a referendum would be divisive for the country as well as costly at a time when the economy is struggling.

She said the BBI proposals will now go through Parliament as there had been no 'tsunami' as had been hyped by the opposition.

“I have unpacked the BBI report and am relieved there will be no referendum which would have led the country down a very divisive road, not to mention it would have cost the taxpayers over Sh20 billion. The proposals will go to Parliament,” she said.

Former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale, a key ally of the DP, expressed joy that the anxiety building in anticipation of a 'tsunami' had been defused.

“The so-called tsunami that we were threatened with wasn't coming. The divisive referendum was not there,” the Khalwale said, adding that the Majority leader had just been renamed the Prime Minister.

But Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, a key ally of the President and supporter of BBI, said they will oppose any attempt to take the BBI proposals to Parliament.

He warned that parliamentarians were prone to manipulation and would be influenced to reject the proposed amendments.

“Kenya first before I am MP. I also know what happens in this House. I and others who think like me will therefore strongly oppose any proposal to have Parliament be the one to make any changes to any part of our Constitution,” he said.

There is no legal framework on how to conduct referenda.

The National Assembly’s Constitutional Implementation and Oversight Committee early this month came up with the Referendum Bill, 2019 which is yet to be enacted.

On Wednesday, the president revealed that a national conference will be held early next year to review public views on the BBI proposals before a final document is drawn.

A committee of experts with then take over to formulate a constitutional bill that will be taken to Parliament for approval.