How referendum will shape 2022 presidential race

All presidential successions have been preceded by a constitutional amendment of some form

In Summary

• The BBI is proving to be more about the 2022 political alignment than it is about the constitutional review.

• Political players, with their eyes on 2022 polls, are striving to be on the right side of the referendum

Divisive referendum
Divisive referendum
Image: OZONE

With the prospects of the country going to a referendum increasing by the day, politicians are positioning themselves for the plebiscite and the subsequent 2022 polls.

 The political temperature is already high despite the election being two years away.

Political leaders are realigning themselves in readiness for the referendum; and political scene is set to have new formations that will shape the battle for the presidency at the 2022 General Election.


Though a referendum presents a somewhat different set of choices to the voter than does an election, the process tends to influence the forthcoming presidential poll.

Already, several leaders among them Deputy President William Ruto and ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi have raised issues in the Building Bridges Initiative report they want to be addressed before Kenyans can go to a referendum.

Should there be no consensus, an alliance may emerge to face off with President Uhuru Kenyatta, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka.

Ruto on Monday appeared to call for a review of the report to reflect the wishes of wananchi.

He wants proposals touching on the Judiciary, the IEBC, youth, women leadership, the police, county allocations and the role of senators to be reviewed.

Mudavadi, on the other hand, wants Uhuru to open another window that would allow proposals to be made on the contentious issues.

Political and communication strategist Advice Mundalo said a referendum in Kenya will always be a great influence to the outcome of the coming general election.


“It is the reason politicians treat it with absolute care knowing too well it not only shapes perception about the future but also creates alliances that most often walk into the general election as a pact,” he said.

Mundalo added that political players strive to be on the right side of the referendum and at the pivot of it to “avoid political tarmacking”

Political analyst Joseph Mutua said the upcoming referendum will certainly influence how the presidential campaigns and elections will turn out in 2022.

“If Uhuru and Raila win the referendum, those who will have opposed it will have a rough time in 2022 because the two will be having the goodwill of Kenyans,” he explained.

Mutua, however, said Ruto is trying to play safe by not appearing to be "so opposed" to the document.

Mundalo noted that the 2010 Constitution had political alignments with the coalition government led by former President Mwai Kibaki and Raila.

He said the referendum boosted leaders such as Ruto, who, despite losing, earned his place in national political discourse and affirmed his position as the Rift Valley kingpin.

 “In the formation of the 2013 General Election, William Ruto's name created during referendum earned him a place in the Uhuru Kenyatta-led campaign bandwagon as Deputy President,” Mundalo said.

 “Many politicians are very careful on which side of the BBI to be. They rarely would be informed by reason but more by the side of the bread that is buttered."

"Many have expressed reservation on some aspects of the BBI recommendations but are slow to outrightly come out and oppose the proposals,” he added.

 He said the BBI is proving to be more about the 2022 political alignment than it is about the constitutional review.

 Mutua pointed out that if Uhuru and Raila address the concerns raised by Ruto, the Deputy President would be a big winner.

 “In his campaigns ahead of the 2022 elections, he will remind Kenyans that he pushed to have their concerns addressed in the new law. This will be an advantage to him,” he stated.

He said if Uhuru and Raila succumb to demands of Ruto and address them, the Deputy President will become popular.

 “He will hijack the process and ran away with it. Kenyans will, however, not see it that way because they will consider Ruto as someone who changed the narrative,” he added.

He recalled that when Raila opposed the 2005 referendum and won, he emerged stronger in the runner up to the 2007 General Election.

“It means whoever wins in this referendum, they may end up stronger than they were before it,” Mutua added.

Ever since the country returned to multiparty elections, all presidential successions have been preceded by a constitutional amendment of some form.

The campaigns and lobbying around these amendments have had an influence on sides top politicians take in the succession race.

This was well demonstrated during the Orange versus Banana referendum in 2005. The Orange proponents opposed the draft, while the Banana supporters backed it.

The document was rejected and thereafter, then-President Mwai Kibaki fired all his Cabinet ministers who were on the Orange side.

Kibaki's administration pledged to give Kenyans a new constitution within the first 100 days of its term when it got to power in 2002.

Some 3.5 million people voted against the draft constitution, compared with 2.5 million in favour.

After the government, political temperature skyrocketed and the country remained in an election mood some two years to the General Election.

The ministers who opposed the draft included Raila (Roads), Kalonzo (Environment), Anyang' Nyong'o (Planning), Ochillo Ayacko (Sports), the late William ole Ntimama (Public Service), Najib Balala (National Heritage) and Linah Jebii Kilimo (Immigration).

Others were Uhuru and Ruto from  the Official Opposition, .

Smarting from the win and after being ejected from the Cabinet, the  NO brigade formed Orange Democratic Movement as a political party.

Despite splits, ODM remained strong going into the 2007 presidential election, but lost in controversial circumstances, resulting to the 2007-08 violence.

Even as leaders suggest amendments to the BBI report, very few have openly opposed it.

Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua has indicated she does not believe Kenya needs to amend the 2010 Constitution, as her tweets under #RejectBBI and opinion articles in leading dailies indicate.

 Though she has not declared that she will be on the opposing side at the referendum, Karua said it was time to implement the Constitution and not amend it.

'I am yet to be convinced that the Constitution of Kenya 2010 needs any rectification,” Karua, who served as Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister in the Kibaki administration, said.

She said the 2010 Constitution has not been properly implemented and is constantly disregarded by the ruling class.

 Kapsaret MP Oscar Sudi, who is a Ruto ally, has vowed to lead the NO camp that is opposing the implementation of the just-released BBI report.

He said his position would not change even if his leader — Ruto — announces his support for the document.

"I am not going to support a process that creates positions for politicians yet Kenyans do not have food,” he said.