Operating a book balance of not more than Sh10 million per year, there are already serious doubts on the capability of Thirdway Alliance to bankroll the Punguza Mizigo referendum on its own.
The situation has seen a number of names, including that of Deputy President William Ruto, dropped as possible financiers of the initiative that has so far shaken the country’s politics, even prompting Opposition chief Raila Odinga to ask his troops to ignore it, and instead wait for the recommendations of the Building Bridges task force created by him and President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“Wachaneni na hii ingine inaitwa Punguza Gunia (ignore the other push to amend the laws),” Mr Odinga said at the requiem mass of the late Kibra MP Ken Okoth on Thursday.
Leading a successful referendum would no doubt require a sizeable war chest to propel it and the goodwill of the political class to endear it to the masses.
Many observers reckon that Dr Ekuru Aukot may have the brains but not the political influence.
A search at the Registrar of Political Parties on Friday showed that not long ago, Thirdway Alliance was among the political parties in the red.
It had not met all the requirements, having fallen short of the minimum 1,000 members in at least 24 counties as required by the Political Parties Act.
The party was among those notified by the registrar in February that they risked deregistration if they did not comply within 90 days.
It is interesting to see a party that was on the brink of extinction six months ago today setting the political agenda with a real possibility of changing the country’s legal framework forever.
“They were compliant as of May. Suffices to clarify that this does not just apply to Thirdway since only 10 parties were compliant by February.
“We have issued a fresh notice to all the parties whose compliance status is in doubt to make amends within 30 days,” Registrar of Political Parties Anne Nderitu told the Sunday Nation.
Party Chairman Miruru Waweru admits that Thirdway Alliance does not have resources to popularise the initiative in all the 47 counties.
“But we have been receiving support from Kenyans and party members, and we have also been raising funds from the public through our paybill. Our partners are ordinary Kenyans and they are increasing in numbers every day,” he said.
Mr Waweru said their party members and officials only see DP Ruto on TV and newspapers. “He is neither a member of the party and he will never be a member of this party during our lifetime,” he sought to reassure the members.
This was the second time the officials were coming out to deny any links with DP Ruto, who has in the past said he would not support any move to amend the laws for the benefit of a few individuals.
In February, Secretary-General Fred Okango was forced to issue a statement decrying actions of a “propaganda machine” to discredit it. This time around, he was accusing political strategist Mutahi Ngunyi of being used to shoot it down.
“Thirdway Alliance Kenya is not, and has never been, an appendage of the Deputy President or any other person and does not involve itself in Jubilee’s internal fights or petty politics of succession. We demand the implementation of political promises foremost and propose better solutions for all Kenyans. No cheap propaganda can stop the Punguza Mizigo Bill 2019 project,” he said.
There are also strong indications that after the party obtained the nod of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to go ahead and convince county assemblies and Parliament to take it to the next level, a number of civil society groups have since lent them a hand, financing most of its activities to the tune of millions.
AUKOT VS ODM
The thinking in Mr Odinga’s camp is that DP Ruto would want to support Punguza Mizigo not so it can succeed but to cause confusion so that if the BBI were to recommend a referendum, the environment would already be poisoned for possible rejection by the public.
Practically, Thirdway Alliance is not expected to come out and admit DP Ruto’s hand even if he were in an actual sense involved with them.
Such a move would be tantamount to shooting themselves in the foot. DP Ruto’s handlers distanced him from Punguza Mizigo, saying he had better things to do.
The conflict between Thirdway Alliance and the Opposition, specifically Mr Odinga, did not begin yesterday.
At the height of the clamour to boycott the repeat presidential election after the Supreme Court voided the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017, Nasa, the coalition that had sponsored Mr Odinga’s presidential ambition, reached out to Mr Aukot to give the repeat poll a wide berth to no avail.
At the time, the Opposition wanted to rally it on its side to deny Mr Kenyatta legitimacy after the second round of polls that Mr Odinga’s alliance boycott.
Mr Odinga has never forgiven Dr Aukot since he went ahead and took part in the polls.
Mr Odinga is aware that if the public warmly receives Punguza Mizigo, there would be little or no room for another clamour to alter the laws of the land if BBI makes such a plea in its final submissions.
On Friday, Dr Aukot was in Garissa to drum up support for the push. “We have explained the 16 issues in the bill. We have debunked the lies out there. Aden Duale must read the Constitution properly on the functions of the county assemblies and Parliament as regards the referendum.
“His intimidation of the [county] assembly of Garissa is criminal. The Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti should have summoned him by now,” he said in reference to recent utterances by Mr Duale when he asked the assembly not to ratify the bill.
Mr Aukot also took on Mr Odinga head-on. “I want to ask President Kenyatta to pass this message to his brother Raila Amollo Odinga who has come out to oppose the Bill for frivolous politics. He should be relieved of his duties as AU (African Union) envoy on infrastructure. He should stop playing politics with people’s lives,” he said.
Ekuru, which means the one who was born during the rains in Turkana, was born in 1972 in Kapedo, Turkana County – the cradle of mankind – to a polygamous family.
His father, Aukot, which means a cliff, was a nomadic pastoralist and polygamous with four wives and 27 children.
He joined Kabarnet Boys High School in 1988 for his secondary education. He was admitted to the University of Nairobi to study law in 1993.
While at the Kenya School of Law, Mr Aukot worked as a research assistant with the forced migration programme of Oxford University.
He was awarded the Chevening scholarship for his postgraduate studies at the University of Warwick in the UK in 1999 to further his knowledge on issues regarding forced migration, graduating in 2000.
He did his PhD at the same university, graduating in 2006, aged 32 with a degree in International Refugee Law.
He was then appointed Director of the Committee of Experts (CoE) on the constitutional review to gather views from the public, deliberate on contentious issues and come up with a draft of the new constitution.
Until proposals by the Punguza Mizigo came out, it was widely rumoured that Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga were behind it.
But when it became apparent that aspects such as expanding the executive to create positions such as that of the prime minister have not been factored in, something widely believed to be favoured by the duo, it has become clear that they have nothing to do with it.
At a meeting with senators on Thursday, Mr Odinga asked them to go to the grassroots and educate ward reps on BBI to deflate attention from Punguza Mizigo, something that has irked Dr Aukot, adding salt to injury after the High Court stopped the 47 county assemblies from debating and approving the Bill.
Justice James Makau also barred the party from presenting the bill to the Speaker of the National Assembly, pending a case filed in court against it.
The petition filed by a Mr David Kamau Ngari and International Economic Law Centre has named the IEBC, the speakers of National Assembly and Senate, Thirdway Alliance and 47 Speakers of the county assemblies as interested parties.