BBI squabbles threaten Uhuru's agenda in Parliament

ODM alleges plot to sabotage Raila's 2022 presidential ambitions

In Summary

• Uhuru has been banking on ODM and other friendly opposition parties to push through his agenda in Parliament

•Political analyst Martin Andati said Uhuru cannot afford to alienate with Raila as doing so could bring the government to a standstill.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga during the handshake on March 9, 2018, at Harambee House, Nairobi.
SLIPPING: President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga during the handshake on March 9, 2018, at Harambee House, Nairobi.

The explosion of squabbling and mistrust among proponents of the handshake could threaten President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legislative agenda and other initiatives in Parliament.

Uhuru has been banking on ODM and other friendly opposition parties – Wiper, Kanu, ANC, Wiper and Ford Kenya – to push through his agenda after falling out with Deputy President  William Ruto.

Ruto has pulled more than 100 Jubilee MPs to his splinter Tangatanga faction in what pundits say left the President on shaky ground.

“The President was vulnerable. Were it not for the support of ODM, he would not be in control of Parliament because his deputy ran away with the majority of the Jubilee MPs,” political observer Elias Mutuma said.

However, last weekend, quarrels erupted in the handshake camp after close allies of ODM boss Raila Odinga, exposed a scheme by some of Uhuru’s men to sabotage the former Prime Minister.

Siaya Senator James Orengo, an influential figure in Raila’s inner circles, warned of a plot by individuals in the President’s office to block Uhuru’s handshake partner from ascending to the presidency in 2022.

“I want to warn some top civil servants paid by taxpayers’ money to stop meddling in the country’s political leadership,” Orengo said in Ugenya, Siaya, last Saturday.

The remarks triggered fierce reactions and Raila’s foot soldiers threatening to pull out of the handshake pact if the President does not rein in his lieutenants.

Uhuru and Raila, arch-rivals in the 2017 presidential polls, have been working harmoniously since they hammered out a truce on the steps of Harambee House on March 9, 2018, after the chaotic and violent 2017 General Election.

Since then, the duo has always rallied their troops and marshalled numbers to advance the President’s agenda in Parliament against spirited efforts by Ruto's men to defeat them.

In December last year, the handshake MPs joined forces to reverse the Covid-19 tax relief that had been introduced by the Treasury to cushion Kenyans against the economic effects of the pandemic.

The MPs also pushed through a number of supplementary budgets and approval of presidential nominees for various posts.

In October 2019, the legislators, both in the Senate and the National Assembly, joined forces to raise the debt ceiling to Sh9 trillion against a spirited fight by the DP’s allies.

Ruto has pulled at least 140 of the 205 Jubilee Party MPs and senators to his camp, leaving the President exposed.

In 2017, Jubilee won 140 out of 290 parliamentary seats, 25 out of 47 county woman representative seats and 24 out of the 47 senatorial seats.

Raila’s ODM has the second highest number of MPs — 74, with Kalonzo Musyoka's Wiper controlling 26 seats; ANC and Ford Kenya have 11 seats each.

“Uhuru had the majority before Raila came in through the handshake. But after frustrating his own members, he lost the majority and that is why he had to beg ODM,” Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei, a close DP ally, said.

Political analyst Martin Andati said Uhuru cannot afford to create troubles with Raila now as doing so would bring the government to a standstill.

“The President will not allow the quarrel to reach to a level where they fall out with Raila. He still needs those numbers in Parliament,” he said.

He added, “Already with an estranged deputy, he cannot afford to create troubles with Raila because it will actually be impossible for him to push through his agenda in Parliament and he can’t run government without Parliament.”

Ruto’s men – Cherargei and Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang'ata – said the President is currently at the mercy ODM to see through his legislative proposals.

“President Uhuru is on borrowed time. If the recent happening show turbulence in the handshake, then he will totally lose his grip on anything in Parliament, even passing a supplementary budget will be a problem,” Cherargei said. 

Kang'ata, who was recently kicked out as Senate Majority chief whip, said the collapse of handshake will be a big blow to the President.

“I think mistrust has already crippled him. It's likely ODM will fail to support government business in the house. An attack on PS [Karanja Kibicho] is an attack on the government,” he said.

The turbulence in the handshake accord comes at the time when two supplementary budgets of about Sh180 billion are before the National Assembly  to unlock cash for projects and programmes before the end of the fiscal year.

The MPs are also expected to start considering the 2021-22 budget, which, among others, allocates money to the President’s Big Four legacy programmes.

The Treasury is also expected to seek the legislators’ approval to raise the debt ceiling from the current Sh9 trillion to about Sh12 trillion to increase headroom for more borrowing to plug budget deficits.

In addition, Parliament is currently considering the BBI Bill that seeks to amend the Constitution and entrench the aspirations of the handshake partners.

However, Uhuru and Raila allies sought to allay any fears of a falling out, insisting the ‘misunderstanding’ triggered by Orengo’s remarks have been resolved.

“People seem to be operating on the assumptions that the squabbles will continue while every indication is that they have ended,” Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, an ally of the President, said.

Wambugu said  Orengo, who brought up the issue, has since restated the continuing firmness of the handshake.

After the by-elections last week, Orengo said cabal of powerful civil servants are trying to sabotage both the handshake and BBI.

“Any disagreements that might have been there have been sorted and it was actually based on misunderstanding caused by the recent by-elections,” he said.

He added, “We do not expect and we do not see any possibility of people not working together in Parliament so far. There is no tangible evidence that there is a problem in the handshake."

National Assembly Majority leader Amos Kimunya said people “unhappy with the overwhelming support BBI got in county assemblies” were behind the attempts to scuttle the truce between the two leaders.

“There are people who got shocked, who thought BBI is not going anywhere. They are now planting insinuations to rub ODM the wrong way. Unfortunately, some people within ODM may have swallowed the bait,” Kimunya said.

The Kipipiri MP added that the goal of  the detractors — whom he said are allied to the Tangatanga faction — is to frustrate the handshake so BBI does not get traction going forward.

Gem MP Elisha Odhiambo reiterated the handshake was intact, contrary to perceptions of trouble.

“Let Kenyans rest be assured that all is well. We are focused on passing BBI in Parliament before we hit the road for referendum,” he said.