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The making of ‘third force’ against Uhuru-Raila Building Bridges pact

Sunday July 05 2020
RAO

ODM leader Raila Odinga and Mount Kenya leaders during a Building Bridges Initiative rally at Kinoru Stadium in Meru on February 29, 2020. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By NYAMBEGA GISESA

A group of civil society institutions and activists have been holding discussions aimed at creating what they call a “coalition of the unlikely”, which has indicated it is open to working with Deputy President William Ruto.

The civil society groups have been operating under the auspices of the Open Governorship Partnership, a global initiative that former US President Barack Obama launched in 2011 at the United Nations headquarters to mobilise civil society to push for openness and accountability.

According to our sources, Dr Korir Sing’oei, the Head of Law and Policy at the Office of the Deputy President, has been tasked to whip various leading civil society groups to oppose President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), with the final plan being joining forces to shoot it down if it gets to a referendum.

Both President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga’s allies have been open to the idea of expanding the Executive, a position the DP has often criticised.

ENOUGH REFORMS

According to our enquiries, Dr Sing’oei is using the Open Government Partnership to mobilise friendly civil society organisations for William Ruto 2022 presidential bid.

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However, Dr Sing’oei said the Open Government Partnership was based at the Office of the Deputy President following the need for better coordination across various government bodies and other stakeholders.

“I cannot speak about the issue of the DP and the civil society but if there will be a convergence I don’t think it should be surprising. Some of the issues being articulated by various civil society groups are as a result of their studies and polls,” he said.

“It’s a multi-sector partnership that brings together various sectors together. It’s a useful platform in advancing accountability and openness in government. It’s not about politics.”

Members of the Open Government Partnership include prominent civil society groups. Some of the institutions have been donating funds covertly in pushing for that agenda, multiple sources said.

DP Ruto chairs the Open Government Partnership while Dr Sing’oei is the convener.

SUFFERED SETBACK

While most of the members of the Open Government Partnership are opposed to BBI, mostly because they feel the current Constitution has enough reforms proposed in it, the Deputy President is using it as a platform to reach out and socialise them with his agenda.

Towards the end of 2018, the DP suffered a setback after he was invited to an Open Government Partnership meeting that was being held in Canada but he was denied clearance for unknown reasons.

The Open Government Partnership has been operating from the Office of the Deputy President after efforts to gazette its operations failed for unknown reasons, which some blame on objections from intelligence officials.

Documents in our possession indicate that the first effort to gazette it was made on March 31, 2016, when Dr Sing’oei wrote to the Information and Technology PS to urgently gazette the steering committee.

The emotive 2017 General Election is also said to have complicated efforts to gazette the steering committee with the Jubilee coalition accusing the civil society of being an “evil society” after several of its members were seen to side with the Odinga-led coalition.

Further, a number of the civil society organisations also played a role in the disputed August 2017 presidential General Election petition in which they claimed that the poll was marred with irregularities and illegalities.

About a year after being branded as “evil society”, the groups quietly found solace at the Office of the Deputy President, where they have been operating quasi-legally outside of government structures.

Whereas several associations have denied working directly to support Dr Ruto’s presidential ambitions, they have said that there was nothing wrong with working from the office of the country’s second in command.

“Across the globe, it is common to have member states of the OGP house the initiative at the Presidency level (President or Vice/Deputy President) for easier co-ordination, as the implementation process covers many government agencies.

POLITICAL MUSCLE

“Locally, since its inception, it has been hosted at different ministries and agencies depending on the government structure, with the current co-ordination being done at the Office of the Deputy President,” Caroline Gaita, Executive Director for Mzalendo Trust, said.

Ms Gaita gave examples of South Africa, Sierra Leone, Malawi and Ghana as countries where the Open Government Partnership is housed in the deputy or vice president’s office.

Dr Abraham Rugo, the Country Manager for the International Budget Partnership, said although it was first housed under the ICT ministry, the need for political muscle saw it moved to the Presidency.

“I attended OGP meetings alongside 15 other organisations in that respect. SID, Amnesty or I have never worked from the DP’s office. As you can expect of me and Amnesty, we will remain completely non-partisan and independent of political class contestations,” Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director Irungu Houghton told the Sunday Nation.

Our enquiries indicated Open Government Partnership meets at the Office of the President, at various top hotels in Nairobi and two meetings have been held on Zoom this year following the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, the Open Government Partnership steering committee held at least four meetings while the technical committee has been holding more frequent meetings.

In May, the group pushed for the election of Dr Ruto in the steering committee of the Open Government Partnership for three years.

“Given Kenya’s devolution experience, the DP’s dual stewardship of OGP and the Inter-governmental Budget and Economic Council chair will see more county governments join the OGP initiative, thus promoting good governance necessary for effective service delivery,” Dr Sing’oei stated after the election.

As part of their progress, Dr Sing’oei has mobilised former Raila ally Prof Yash Pal Ghai to lead the intellectual debate against the BBI report.

Prof Ghai was Dr Sing’oei’s boss at Katiba Institute before he was hired to work at the DP’s office.

Commentaries by Prof Ghai have already irked Paul Mwangi, Mr Odinga’s legal adviser who is also a joint secretary in the BBI committee.

“In April 2004, I called out Yash Pal Ghai, in an article in the Sunday Nation, for taking on intellectual positions depending on the goal he wanted to achieve. I said he was guilty of intellectual infidelity. He’s doing the same thing today regarding BBI,” Mr Mwangi tweeted on June 27.

PERSUATIONS

On Saturday, Prof Ghai said although he has similar persuasions on the Constitution as the DP, he was not collaborating with Dr Ruto “for many reasons”, including his own record and motivations now.

“I think civil society groups would have done more to question the bona fide politicians. I do not think that there are fundamental problems with the Constitution.

“These politicians have now decided that they need to change the structure of the Executive by four new positions – which makes little sense, but they are to satisfy leaders of key tribes. This is both wicked and a waste of time and resources. I think it is nonsense – tailored to satisfy a few tribal leaders,” Prof Ghai told the Sunday Nation.

The constitutional scholar also added that President Kenyatta was being misled.

“There is no constitutional moment. I don’t think that Uhuru understands what he means by it – but mentioning an American scholar (of great eminence and a good friend of mine) who coined this term. I don’t think that he would agree one bit with Uhuru’s statement,” he said.

John Githongo, the CEO of Inuka, said the talk of alignments with the DP or other politicians was coming from the idea that members of the civil society were sharing the same thinking as that of Dr Ruto.

“Politicians change sides all the time but the civil society has held the same position as far as the Constitution is concerned,” he said.

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