Why BBI could make or break Raila and Ruto

Upcoming contested referendum gives winner an advantage to succeed President Kenyatta

In Summary

• DP William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga are touted as the main antagonists in the 2022 general election.

• They have taken extreme, opposite positions on the push to amend the 2010 Constitution, adding fireworks to the race ahead of the polls.

Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga during the funeral service of the Matungu MP Justus Murunga on December 5, 2020.
Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga during the funeral service of the Matungu MP Justus Murunga on December 5, 2020.
Image: DPPS

Deputy President William Ruto and ODM boss Raila Odinga are locked in a ferocious war over proposed constitutional changes that will shape the 2022 presidential contest.

And their futures.

The BBI referendum is tentatively scheduled for June, about 13 months to the general election, and is turning out to be a double-edged sword that will make or break careers.

Whoever carries the day in the high-stakes referendum will likely have the upper hand and the much-needed momentum going into the campaigns for 2022.

“The results of what happens in the midterm definitely affects what happens in the full term. Anyone who wins a referendum in 2021 will have a greater chance going into 2022,” political analyst Mark Bichachi said.

Raila and his handshake partner President Uhuru Kenyatta are the principals driving the push for constitutional change.

Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga at a past event.
Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga at a past event.
Image: FILE

On their side for change are Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka, Gideon Moi and Moses Wetang'ula.

In addition, nearly all governors except Makueni’s Kivutha Kibwana are supporting the plebiscite.

However, Ruto and his foot soldiers have opposed the changes, saying a referendum is an unnecessary and expensive affair when the economy is on its knees.

Ruto has managed to galvanise his Rift Valley backyard against BBI.

Analysts also say the DP has turned Uhuru’s own Central Kenya backyard into a swing vote region - a major litmus test for the President as he begins his tour of the region tomorrow.  

Ruto’s stand has poisoned his relationship with Uhuru and redefined the Jubilee succession matrix.

The President now says it’s time for a non-Kalenjin, non-Kikuyu president, a declaration that has smashed what remained of the brittle to a nonexistent working relationship with Ruto.

Soy MP Caleb Kositany, a close Ruto ally, on Wednesday told the Star Kenyans are not interested in BBI and will roundly reject it in a public vote.

He was non-committal, however, on whether they will mobilise county assemblies to reject the bill.

“BBI is coming at the wrong time when we have serious economic issues. There is nothing so urgent in BBI that cannot wait. Kenyans do not want it. If they push it to a referendum, then that is where Kenyans will express their feelings,” Kositany told the Star.

Ruto has over the last few weeks been meeting MCAs from across the country in what insiders say is a strategy is to marshal their support to kill the referendum drive. 

An analysis by the Star shows about 21 counties would easily pass the Bill. These are counties that largely voted for Nasa in 2017.

They include Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale, Lamu, Tana River, Taita Taveta, Makueni, Kitui, Machakos, Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay, Migori, Kisii and Nyamira

Others are Busia, Bungoma, Kakamega, Vihiga, Nairobi and Isiolo.

However, the Bill could be rejected in Kalenjin-controlled counties of Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Kericho, Bomet, Baringo, Turkana and Elgeyo Marakwet.

Most of the other counties, including Uhuru's Central Kenya backyard, are divided and could be swing votes. 

Analysts say the plebiscite will trigger realignments.

Losers will have an uphill task rebuilding their teams and crafting a working strategy to sway voters a few months to the general elections.

“Unavoidably, the referendum outcome will lead to a certain level of realignment and a new battle formation. For Raila and Ruto, it will greatly inform their strategy for the general election,” Javas Bigambo, a political pundit, observed.

This has been the case in the past where winners of plebiscites come out stronger and with formidable formations for the general elections.

In 2005, the ‘NO’ camp christened ‘Orange’ won the referendum to change the Constitution against the ‘Yes’ or ‘Banana’ side.

Orange, which was then headed by Raila, birthed the Orange Democratic Movement – a lethal political machine that nearly vanquished then-President Mwai Kibaki from power.


ODM leader Raila Odinga and retired President Mwai Kibaki at his Muthaiga home on July 2. Looking on is Jimmy Kibaki.
GREETINGS: ODM leader Raila Odinga and retired President Mwai Kibaki at his Muthaiga home on July 2. Looking on is Jimmy Kibaki.

Kibaki who led the ‘Yes’ camp was controversially declared the winner of the 2007 polls, triggering massive protests and chaos.

More than 1,300 people were killed and about 600,000 others displaced from their homes as supporters of the opposition protested the results of the elections.

On Tuesday, the IEBC sent the BBI Bill to all the 47 county assemblies – making the regional legislatures the new battleground for the constitutional changes.

The political battle has begun with rallies being rolled out. 

Raila has embarked on meet-the-people tours, town hall meetings and media interviews as he markets the document that he says carries the hopes and aspirations of Kenyans.

In the past two weeks, the former Prime Minister has toured various parts of Nairobi, met youths and other groups and given an interview to a Kikuyu vernacular TV station.

He disclosed in one meeting that the BBI secretariat was already printing summarised books of the BBI Bill to help Kenyans read and understand the document.

On Wednesday, Raila marketed the document in Roysambu and Githurai.

His party, meanwhile, said it will on Tuesday meet more than 500 MCAs to encourage them to support the Bill when it comes up for debate in their assemblies.

“We have invited experts who will explain everything to them. We want them to debate the Bill from an informed standpoint," ODM secretary-general Edwin Sifuna said.

He added, “We want to do it the way the Thirdway Alliance party did it. They moved across the county assemblies educating them about the Punguza Mizigo Bill and then ask the ward representative to support it.”

The Bill, however, flopped after it failed to get the approval of at least 24 of the 47 counties to move through to the next stage.

President Uhuru, whose Mt Kenya backyard has been the centre of attention, has sent a battery of top government officials to prepare the ground for BBI.

The head of state is to meet leaders from the expansive vote-rich region at Sagana State Lodge. The session is termed as an effort to ward off the DP's growing influence in the region.

On Wednesday, Cabinet secretaries held a closed-door meeting with leaders in Nyeri where they drew up a roadmap to market the document.

“On average, we are targeting between 70 and 90 per cent support for BBI in Mt Kenya. We now have the Bill and we are going to tell the people how this Bill stands to benefit them,” Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu said.

Former Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru.
WAWERU: Former Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru.
Image: FILE

BBI secretariat co-chairman Dennis Waweru said they have started printing summaries of the BBI booklets as they prepare to hit the ground to debunk the ‘lies’ propagated against the drive.

Ruto has strategically picked point men from Central Kenya who have been credited for his penetration of the region.

Like Raila, the DP has launched massive campaigns against the drive and intensified boardroom meetings with MCAs from various assemblies, ostensibly to persuade them to reject the document.

Last week, he met MCAs from Kajiado and Mandera as well as senators and members of the National Assembly at his Karen residence.

His handlers disclosed that more meetings are lined up for this week and MCAs from Murang'a, Nyeri and Kirinyaga are expected to visit him.


(Edited by V. Graham)