The differences between politicians allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga on one hand, and those supporting Deputy President William Ruto over the Building Bridges Initiative report played out openly during two separate public events Friday.
At the two functions, one in Kirinyaga and the other in Narok, the opposing sides clashed openly, with leaders allied to the President and Mr Odinga pushing for the report to be subjected to a referendum while Dr Ruto’s camp maintained it should be taken to Parliament for debate and adoption or rejection.
At the Narok function, presided over by the DP, his allies maintained only Parliament could make a determination on the report, flatly rejecting any proposals that it be subjected to a referendum.
Dr Ruto appeared to take a middle ground, stating that the report should be subjected to a referendum, but only “if necessary”.
Addressing Ewaso Ng’iro residents, Dr Ruto said: “And, if necessary, the people will implement the sections of the report through a referendum if there is a need for such a move … let us not threaten one another.”
He cautioned against an us-versus-them kind of debate, asking leaders to shun divisive politics.
He further cautioned leaders against issuing threats over the BBI report, terming bravado, intimidation and blackmail as unnecessary.
“Many institutions will participate in actualising what Kenyans said in the BBI report. We must show fidelity to the rule of law. If we don’t respect the law, then we are headed in the wrong direction,” the DP said.
But in Kirinyaga County, at a fundraiser at Gathuthini Secondary School presided over by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and his Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho, President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga’s allies called for a referendum.
In an apparent show of might, Dr Matiang'i led a huge delegation of national government officials to Dr Kibicho’s hometown, setting the stage for BBI politics.
Some 11 principal secretaries, all eight regional commissioners and about 15 parastatal heads were present.
Also in attendance were seven pro-handshake governors, half a dozen senators and close to 20 members of Parliament.
Mr Odinga has been categorical that the BBI report should not be taken to Parliament.
However, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria said the report should be tabled in Parliament.
“Too much money was spent collecting views from the people and now you want to take it back to the same people. Bring it to Parliament and we will approve it within 15 minutes,” Mr Kuria said.
Kiambu Woman Representative Gathoni wa Muchomba dismissed that assertion, insisting the report should not be entrusted to MPs.
“The people want to know if the BBI favours them. I know these MPs and they cannot be entrusted with the decision. They are known to share money in toilets,” Ms Wa Muchomba said.
Suna East MP Junet Mohamed defended calls for a referendum, arguing the funds for the exercise would be available.
Most of the governors present backed the referendum call. Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho told off MPs calling for a parliamentary process.
“The problem with our country is that leaders think that they can fix everything instantly. It is not about our leaders but the kind of system in place. Do not listen to us but read and decide for yourself," Mr Joho said.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, who asked Kenyans to read and interpret the report for themselves.
Nominated MP Maina Kamanda came under fire and was heckled off the stage for omitting the name of Dr Ruto from a hypothetical list of potential successors to the presidency.
Mr Kamanda was forced to cut short his speech, with Dr Kibicho intervening.
A majority of the Cabinet secretaries opted to keep off the BBI talk. Dr Matiang'i said the final decision lies with the people.
“We are a democracy. Having differences in opinion is perfect. The people will have the final say,” he said.
The CS hit out at politicians, accusing Dr Kibicho of frustrating them, telling them to keep off the Interior ministry.
This comes after a section of politicians allied to the DP accused the Interior PS of frustrating them.
“Kibicho and I work together. This is my principal secretary. Ukigusa yeye umenigusa pia (if you touch him, you’ll be messing with me too),” he said.
In Narok, leaders allied to the DP trashed the referendum call. Nyandarua woman rep Faith Gitau said: “The BBI is good and we support it 100 per cent. However, referendum talks are not necessary.”
Legislators Kimani Ngunjiri and Ken Aramat expressed similar sentiments. “They have now changed tune after realising that we are wholly supporting the BBI despite our earlier reservations,” said Mr Aramat.
Mr Ngunjiri said they are ready to pass the report in Parliament, arguing it was not necessary to subject it to a costly and divisive referendum.