REPORT RESISTANCE

BBI vs wheelbarrows: Where the rubber meets the road

A large percentage see BBI as Raila’s 2022 campaign with Uhuru’s support.

In Summary

• Whereas Raila’s backyard will be backing this project to the last man, Uhuru’s Central Kenya backyard hasn’t shown enthusiasm matching his public stand on the same.

• There are sections of this country whose only problem with BBI will be that Kisumu appeared to love it too much.

President Uhuru Kenyatta acknowledges greetings from Kisumu residents on October 22, 2020
President Uhuru Kenyatta acknowledges greetings from Kisumu residents on October 22, 2020
Image: FAITH MATETE

Let’s face it. A trip to Kisumu, on friendly terms, is one of the most therapeutic undertakings for any top politician.

And it was for President Uhuru Kenyatta on the first stop of the BBI caravan that is expected to invade the country like locusts in the coming weeks and months.

The carnival atmosphere and the adoration appeared to move Uhuru, whose security detail dropped the speed and the no-access principle around the presidential motorcade, allowing Uhuru to temporarily become a Raila; mingling with crowds and soaking in the Reggae vibe.

The BBI brigade could not have picked a better point to start their tours.

Even though Covid-19 restrictions were thrown out of the window — it is impossible to control a Kisumu population that has been starved of real political action for months — the validation and ecstatic reception was exactly what the doctor ordered for the BBI document.

 

While its journey across the country will come up against serious turbulence in certain areas, in the interim period, that is as far as the “easy news” goes.

As soon as the Kisumu dust of excitement settled, it must have been clear to BBI strategists that the absence of the wheelbarrow movement, if I may call it that, at the launch in Kisii and the lakeside city, could be a pointer that Kisumu’s absolute loyalty would be hard to replicate in other places.

They don’t discuss this in BBI circles, but whereas Raila’s backyard will be backing this project to the last man, Uhuru’s Central Kenya backyard hasn’t shown enthusiasm matching his public stand on the same. And therein lies problem number one.

There are sections of this country whose only problem with BBI will be that Kisumu appeared to love it too much.

Then there is obviously the larger percentage who see this as Raila’s 2022 campaign already hitting the ground, with Uhuru’s support.

It is hard to begrudge them this view, especially those who ask why exactly Uhuru is so passionate about the document, yet he is retiring.

In a recent TV interview, ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi made the interesting observation that all these reforms and constitutional moments only appear to be unveiled when the incumbent President is doing his last term and/or is a short while away from leaving office.

This holds true right from the 1997 IPPG deal, the 2010 Constitution and now, the BBI. The import of it is that most of the divisive issues in this country, ranging from the so-called imperial presidency to the winner-take-all electoral format, only bother the sitting president when it is time to hand over the baton to the next baton!

If indeed the wheelbarrow movement treats BBI as Raila’s 2022 campaign and Uhuru as an enabler of the same, there is little in the form of reconciliation that the BBI team can achieve with DP Ruto’s fan club.

 

Already, the open attacks on the DP during the inaugural BBI rallies, right in the presence of the President, are a pointer that door has long been shut.

We can now fasten our seatbelts in the knowledge that from now on, with the BBI rallies, the anticipated referendum, and 2022 campaigns, we will be in heated campaign mode until 2022.

And there is no guarantee the election will be an end in itself, for the campaigns for 2027 will most likely begin the day after the inauguration in 2022, when the losers launch an illegitimacy project against the winner.

If you are worried about the economy, good governance and security, let’s just say you may probably have to put that in the back burner as power politics reigns.

I have heard Kenyans being asked to read the document and make an informed choice. This ivory tower instruction is laughable.

This is the same country where we joke that if you want to hide anything, hide it in books because our relationship with books and other printed matter is very complicated.

As a small test, I have this week randomly informed some people that “allocation to counties will be increased from the current 15% to 35%” and noticed that most people can’t tell the difference between this sentence and a roadside signpost.

It is incumbent upon the BBI salesmen, knowing that it is largely a transitional and reconciliation document, to narrow down the conversation to the typical Kenyan core issues.

Like why do we have to dispense with BBI before 2022 if it has nothing to do with the succession, why can’t we achieve gender parity without increasing the number of elective offices and thus budgetary allocations, what is the recourse for those who agree with half of the proposals but find the other half totally unacceptable, how do we pacify the fearful sections of the population that see BBI as a coronation of one presidential candidate against all others?

It is on these core issues that the wheelbarrow movement seeks to delegitimise the process, and in the fight for the soul of the country, once these are married to the already prevailing us versus them mentality, you have problems on your hands.

Back to the Kisumu carnival, it can’t have escaped the President’s and the intelligence community’s minds that this warm reception was coming exactly 51 years since his father visited Kisumu to open the “Russia” hospital, a visit that ended in violence and bloodshed.

That this same community was chanting his name and dancing reggae with him, on the exact same streets where October 1969 delivered violence and death, was testimony to the forgiving nature of the local population.

It is also a great case study for the President to work with as he seeks to unite the nation on his exit.

For a man whose biggest desire is to chart a legacy, the Kisumu political template and mentality offer a brilliant curriculum he can sell in his backyard for posterity.

President Mwai Kibaki received a near-similar reception in 2010, during the turbulent period of the coalition government and uttered the famous words that “change has always come to our country when our two communities work together”.

President Kenyatta, like Kibaki before him, knows well there are sharks and cartels in their backyard who hate that rapprochement, but there is no denying easy politics without grudges that is practised in the lakeside is one that appeals to a president trying to leave behind a united country.

Uhuru does not need to find “someone” in Kisumu for him to go back. It is good for his peace of mind, and a dose of political therapy, if he can visit the town more regularly, to partake of the adoration and supportive chants, to enjoy the remaining two years in office!

Collins Ajuok comments on politics