Does Raila need BBI as badly as people think?

To a large extent, the success of BBI is more crucial to Uhuru than it is to Raila

In Summary

• The conventional wisdom is that Raila needs BBI so badly that if it fails, he would face political doom in 2022. Nothing could be further from the truth.

• Raila’s biggest needs lie in electoral reforms, and he should spend more time pursuing IEBC changes, rather than being twisted over BBI, which he can do without.


ODM leader Raila Odinga leads Kenyans in collection of signatures for the BBI process during the launch at KICC in Nairobi on Wednesday, November 25, 2020
ODM leader Raila Odinga leads Kenyans in collection of signatures for the BBI process during the launch at KICC in Nairobi on Wednesday, November 25, 2020

As soon as the BBI Secretariat announced a last-minute postponement of signature collection last week, excited newspaper and TV editors ran to their newsrooms, falling over themselves to come up with the most catchy 'Reggae has stopped' headline.

It was rather comical when just three days later, they had to run 'Reggae is back on' headlines. This level of summersault journalism should be laughable, if we didn’t live in such strange times. It shows a disturbing affinity to fall for easy narratives, without any attempt to go behind the scenes to establish the unsaid words and actions  to build a credible story.

It is inconceivable the entire Kenyan media fraternity assumed the reported meeting between the President and his deputy was the reason the signature collection was shelved — unless, of course, a shadowy force made sure to lead all of them along this line!

Across town in Tangatangaland, the joy was over the moon! On their social media handles, DP William Ruto followers found their long-lost voices, thanking the President for 'taking charge of the process',  and supposedly, for putting ODM leader Raila Odinga in his place.

As if on cue, the Tangatanga brigade suddenly found out that Covid-19 was ravaging the country and BBI should take a break. Never mind the fact that these are the folks who have spent the last seven years campaigning for an election that is a lifetime away in 2022.

By the time a new date for signature collection was announced three days later, your guess is as good as mine that they had lost their voices again.

Within ODM and its Handshake circles, the response to the cancellation was quite muted, apart from the now- predictable panic among its followers. Lately, they think  Armageddon has come whenever the President and his deputy meet, or as much as smile at each other.

It is easy to understand the ODM people’s choice to walk on eggshells in this process. They are in a marathon political seduction game where the potential bride’s changing moods have to be delicately massaged if a wedding is ever going to happen.

And herein lies the problem. The conventional wisdom in Kenyan political circles is that Raila needs BBI so badly that if the process fails, he would face political doom in 2022.

I submit that nothing could be further from the truth. I have examined the BBI report with a fine-tooth comb, and can’t find the supposed magic wand that is supposed to usher Raila into the presidency like a saviour entering Jerusalem in glory.

Raila has already run two colourful campaigns within the purview of the 2010 Constitution, and if he intends to run for President again, there are not any huge changes proposed in BBI that he desperately needs. I dare say, to his supporters, Raila as President within the framework of the 2010 Constitution isn’t a bad idea at all.

On the other hand, let us briefly join the speculation bandwagon and examine what perceived benefits Uhuru would accrue from the passage of BBI. Out on the streets, word is that Uhuru, or someone close enough to safeguard his interests in the next dispensation, will be angling for the Prime Minister’s position in the next government.

Uhuru is also keen to protect his legacy, as well as what we in politics call "safety of the wealth", after he leaves power.

By and large, BBI is not as much a 'change the Constitution' document as it is a peace pact, an attempt to heal old tribal and family wounds. And if you ask the people who know things, it is one final venture in making an old enemy acceptable to a certain tribe in our country.

To a large extent, the success of BBI is more crucial to Uhuru than it is to Raila. Yet while Raila’s core base has faithfully and enthusiastically embraced the process and the document, Uhuru hasn’t quite come to the table with his base. Unwittingly, this allows the narrative to run that only one region is really interested in the process.

That would be forgivable if Uhuru didn’t let the perception run that he leads Raila on, letting him make announcements assumed to be in concurrence with the President's views.

Then a cancellation is attributed to State House. The ODM people may not say it, but when the report was ready, it took weeks as their side waited for State House to give a date for the Bomas launch.

Any delay or cancellation attributable to State House only feeds the belief in Raila’s base that the President is only in halfheartedly, and fuels the taunts of impending betrayal from opponents. One can dismiss these as mundane concerns, but Raila has come this far purely by being in sync with the pulse of his political base.

It is not enough that in the unofficial project to tame  Ruto, the President has left the heavy lifting to Raila’s side. This creates the intriguing scenario whereby Ruto’s own followers have to train their guns on Raila, rather than Uhuru, who basically holds their destiny in his hands.

It is not so improbable that the President enjoys this war away from his own side, which in a way probably allows him to plan his succession as the two biggest protagonists engage each other in incessant brickbats.

On the basis of recent events, I am persuaded that Raila and his strategists should respond to lukewarm support for BBI from their partners with their own lukewarm show.

Raila being the most experienced of the presidential contenders, and the one who came closest in the past, the perception that BBI is somehow a tool for paving his smooth entry into the presidency, creates unnecessary room for soft blackmail from his partners. At the same time, it unites his enemies in a common front against him.

I submit that Raila’s biggest needs lie in the area of electoral reforms, and he should spend more time pursuing changes in the IEBC, rather than allow himself to be turned and twisted over BBI, which he can actually do without.

For in the final analysis, if there are critical constitutional changes that Kenyans want, they will find, in the fullness of time, their own way to initiate them. In my humble view, the BBI process is not a life-and-death thing for Raila and does not define his ambitions and strategy in any way.

It’s time for his partners to pull their weight, or drop it altogether!