President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga on Sunday gave the clearest indication yet that Kenyans should prepare for a referendum to amend the Constitution through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
Speaking during the Mashujaa Day celebrations at the Mama Ngina Waterfront in Mombasa, they made their positions on the BBI known as speculation mounts on the contents of the report by the 14-member team gazetted in May last year.
Commenting on his ‘handshake’ with Mr Odinga last year, President Kenyatta said: “Heroism, patriotism and love for our country exhibited by our independence era evaders persist to this day as embodied in the historic handshake through which political divides were breached for the sake of peace and a better Kenya.”
Mr Odinga said the handshake was meant to improve the country’s leadership by bringing unity, fighting corruption, ethnicity and political division.
“It is for that reason that the BBI is coming. How many of us are supporting it?” Mr Odinga posed amid cheers from the expectant crowd.
He defended his directive stopping the dredging at the port to allow for the recovery of a car that had plunged into the Indian Ocean with a mother and her daughter inside, saying he issued the order “as a Kenyan”.
He was responding to Deputy President William Ruto’s allies, who had claimed he lacked powers to issue such an order.
As the President and Mr Odinga embraced the BBI, Dr Ruto gave it a wide berth even after being prompted by Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho to support it as he invited him to the podium.
Dr Ruto avoided the topic and instead urged Kenyans to remain united and shun divisive politics.
“I want to ask all of us to refuse to be drawn into politics of ethnicity, hatred, division and political deceit. We should stand firm behind Uhuru Kenyatta to unify this country and concentrate on the transformation of Kenya,” said Dr Ruto.
Dr Ruto recently said via his Twitter account that the outcome of the BBI must be subjected to public participation.
Meanwhile, BBI’s joint secretaries Paul Mwangi and Martin Kimani have dismissed a document doing the rounds on social media being passed off as a product of the team.
“That’s speculation as nobody knows the contents of the report,” Mr Mwangi said, while Mr Kimani termed the document and the attendant newspaper stories as “fake news”.
It was widely believed that the document was to be launched on Mashujaa Day. The team is still working on the report, said Mr Mwangi. “We are awaiting to be advised on the delivery protocols,” he said.
The document shared on social media claims that the team wants a powerful prime minister, a seven-year single term for the president as well as a reduction in the number of constituencies and counties.
Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati claimed the document was the work of individuals opposed to the BBI.
“We know them. They want to give the BBI team a bad name in advance so as to prepare the minds of Kenyans to reject the document over claims that it will reduce the number of MPs and counties. They will not succeed,” Mr Arati said.
The Punguza Mizigo initiative, which sought to reduce the number of constituencies from 290 to 94, flopped after it was rejected at the counties.
Nominated MP Maina Kamanda said he was happy the President and Mr Odinga had come out strongly to support the BBI.
Speaking in Kibra where he drummed up support for ODM candidate Imran Okoth in the forthcoming parliamentary by-election, Mr Kamanda said there was anxiety among Kenyans about the report.
“Those opposed to the BBI are doomed to fail. The team went round all the counties collecting views and received presentations from various groups,” Mr Kamanda said.
Speaking at the Kajiunduthi grounds in Maara Constituency, Tharaka-Nithi Governor Muthomi Njuki said he was ready to follow President Kenyatta’s advice on the BBI report and urged other leaders to follow suit.
Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi said governors would support the BBI document if it advocates for more resources to counties.
He said he was impressed by the BBI bid to enhance cohesion and inclusivity. “I thank the Meru County Assembly, led by the Speaker, for rejecting the Punguza Mizigo initiative. That was an abstract academic idea that was not properly thought-out and would have brought more problems,” he said.
“As for the BBI, we are going to read it very keenly but we will look whether it will bring money to the grassroots, and if it doesn’t we will reject it just like Punguza Mizigo was trashed,” Mr Murungi added.
Speaking at Mwangala Primary School in Likoni during the groundbreaking ceremony for Dogo Kundu Road two days earlier, the President reiterated his support for the BBI.
“The BBI road that Raila and I set shall be completed,” the President said as he denied claims that he was under political pressure, and criticised opponents of the initiative as petty.
The mandate of the BBI team was to evaluate national challenges as outlined in the joint statement issued by the President and Mr Odinga on March 9 last year at Harambee House as they buried their long -standing political differences.
The differences reached unprecedented levels during the divisive August 8, 2017, presidential election that was nullified by the Supreme Court.
The court ordered that a fresh presidential election be held on October 26, 2017, but Mr Odinga boycotted it, claiming the electoral agency was not committed to a free and fair process as the country fell into near-anarchy, with the two opposing sides holding firm positions.
Other than building lasting unity, the BBI team was also tasked with outlining policy, administrative reform proposals and the implementation of each challenge.