A national referendum to change the Constitution is now a matter of when, not if, as key political parties and leaders in the country have started working on a rare unity pact that analysts say will form the basis of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s succession politics.
President Kenyatta’s wing in Jubilee Party, Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Democratic Movement, Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress, Moses Wetang’ula’s Ford-Kenya, and Gideon Moi’s Kanu are already reading from the same script and are pledging support for the Building Bridges Initiative, which many see as the vehicle to the referendum.
A united front bringing together these key political parties could start a wave that eventually installs a leader at State House in 2022.
The clearest indication yet of how the referendum question could read was revealed last week when women leaders under the Embrace movement, a pillar in the Kieleweke formation of the President Kenyatta-aligned Jubilee camp, said the Executive needs to be expanded to include the position of a prime minister and two deputies.
Leaders with insider information on the plans to change the Constitution told the Nation that six parties, among them Jubilee and ODM, are plotting to use the huge following they enjoy in the country to marshal support for the referendum, expected early next year.
President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga have already been briefed by joint secretaries of the BBI team, which is next month expected to hand over to them a report compiled from presentations by various stakeholders around the country.
The two political bigwigs will then ask Kenyans to endorse the BBI report, sources close to the Presidency said.
“The plan by the two was to have all political players and leaders join hands and back the referendum so that Kenyans could have constitutional change via consensus, but the reality is that Deputy President William Ruto’s allies have shown lukewarm support for the BBI and could lead opposition to it,” a source close President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga said.
He added: “The political class was to take the BBI referendum push jointly to the people for ratification. Mr Kenyatta’s and Mr Odinga’s advisers felt that if the two worked together the other political class would play ball.”
Mr Ruto is on record telling the pro-BBI team and the Ekuru Aukot-led Punguza Mizigo to agree on the changes they want before he can take a stand on the referendum.
It is not clear whether the Deputy President will back the BBI recommendations or launch an onslaught against them.
Should he go against the proposals, he will create a counter-wave against his boss President Kenyatta, as well as against his political nemesis Raila Odinga.
Political observers believe the unity between the pro-Kenyatta wing of Jubilee, ODM, Kanu, Wiper, Ford-Kenya and ANC could produce a new political momentum akin to the crowd-pulling Orange movement of the 2005 referendum.
The six parties are united by the argument that the current purely presidential system is not the best for a country as ethnically divided as Kenya, and that there is need to tinker with the Executive’s structure.
The Uhuru-Raila team also wants a system that could address the two-third gender rule and also allow the appointment of Members of Parliament to the Cabinet.
Their push got a boost last week after Chama Cha Mashinani leader Isaac Ruto, who boasts huge grassroots mobilisation skills, indicated he could join the movement.
The CCM boss and Mr Moi are Mr Ruto’s key political nightmares in the Rift Valley, and their joining forces could greatly decimate the DP’s base.
In 2005, a section of Narc and Kanu politicians successfully campaigned against changes to the Constitution through a referendum, and their victory birthed the Orange Democratic Movement.
Mr Odinga rode that wave to garner more than 100 positions in Parliament in the following General Election, held in 2007.
Most critically, he used his pole position to give Mr Mwai Kibaki a scare at the presidential ballot.
Mr Kibaki was declared winner, leading to protests from the Odinga camp that grew into a bloody confrontation.
After months of political turmoil, the two formed the Grand Coalition Government, with Mr Odinga as the Prime Minister.
Mr Odinga is now confident the country will hold a referendum next year under the BBI. “We don’t want to conduct a constitutional change just for the sake of it,” he said.
“The BBI-backed referendum will be a product of public participation through which Kenyans have given their input on how they want to be ruled.”
Mr Musyoka has equally made it public that his party is behind the BBI, and terms the Punguza Mizigo initiative as “poison offered in a golden chalice”.
Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula have equally criticised Mr Aukot’s drive, with the former terming its suggestions “impractical” while the latter argues it is pursuing a “narrow agenda only focusing on elective positions”.
Jubilee Party secretary-general Raphael Tuju said the party is fully behind the BBI, which he noted is an initiative of the Government, “so it’s a little bit stretching for us to have an initiative by the government and our party leader and be preoccupied in any way with a parallel initiative”. He was referring to the Punguza Mizigo bid.
ODM secretary-general Edwin Sifuna said it was only by coincidence that other parties were sharing similar views on the looming referendum, “so the support is not choreographed”; while Ford-Kenya’s Eseli Simiyu said “there was more tranquillity and unity in the country during the Grand Coalition regime of Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga because everybody felt involved in the government”.
“A parliamentary system is a better solution than this purely presidential one,” he added. “If that will mean a convergence of views with all these political formations, so be it.”
Kanu secretary-general Nick Salat said the party does not want the push for a referendum to lead to acrimony in the country.
“We’ve massacred each other at every election, isn’t that reason enough to find a lasting solution on how we can stop these massacres?” he posed.
“We want inclusivity. No Kenyan should be left out. We want a Kenya that belongs to every community. We want communities to feel part of the system. This is what will address what has been ailing us as a nation,” he added.