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Uhuru’s successor and not the Big Four Agenda will define his legacy

Sunday September 29 2019

BBI REPORT

The Building Bridges Imitative Task Force holds a consultative forum with the Ethiopian Federal Reconciliation Commission at Intercontinental Hotel on June 13, 2019. President Uhuru Kenyatta's legacy may be shaped more by what follows the BBI report than by the much-hyped Big Four. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

KWENDO OPANGA
By KWENDO OPANGA
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As the good ship MV Kenya attacks the final stretch of the calm seas of 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta, as helmsman, may want to prepare the crew and passengers for choppy waters in 2020.

The 2018 rapprochement between the President and his past nemesis Raila Odinga ended investment and confidence-limiting political uncertainty and focused attention on productive activities, which renewed hope, belief and optimism.

The so-called war on graft has helped the President and Mr Odinga rally the populace around a development agenda.

This has freed up space and time for the President to concentrate on his legacy-bound agenda of development of healthcare, housing, manufacturing and infrastructure.

The fly in the ointment has been the portrayal of the war as weaponised by the President and Mr Odinga in their desire to jettison Deputy President William Ruto from the presidential succession. But all is about to change.

BBI REPORT

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Campaigners for government-backed change of the Constitution, such as Mr Odinga and organised labour boss Francis Atwoli, say a referendum is a foregone conclusion. When it will happen is the missing link. There's the rub.

There will be no referendum early next year because Mr Kenyatta's and Mr Odinga's change-the-constitution instrument, Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), is yet to publish its report that is expected to change the politics of the land.

If the report expected next month proposes a referendum, it could take place in the second half of 2020.

That does not appear important until you link the referendum to the 2022 General Election and especially the presidential race or, put another way, the Kenyatta II succession.

A referendum will be a dress rehearsal for the General Election and presidential poll about 18 months away.

President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga know this, having been passionately involved in the 2005 plebiscite on the Constitution.

MOU IGNORED

Their Orange side beat President Kibaki's Banana team. The Orange side, and Mr Odinga in particular, attempted, unsuccessfully, to use the result to force President Kibaki's political hand.

Mr Kibaki responded by sacking his entire Cabinet. Then he brought back his lieutenants, but left Mr Odinga and his associates in the doldrums.

That escalated the animosity that had been building up between the two men post the 2002 General Election.

Mr Kibaki ignored a seat-sharing MoU with Mr Odinga when he named his Cabinet in 2003.

This silent war was carried into the referendum and the post-plebiscite period and ultimately into the 2007 General Election.

If in 2022 Dr Ruto will battle Mr Odinga, or Dr Ruto fights Dr Fred Matiang'i, the de facto premier, for the top job, history will presage the 2020 referendum.

And the plebiscite will mark the run-up to the General Election with foreboding.

What this means is that if there is a referendum next year, the winning side will want to build on that momentum going into the 2022 General Election.

KIBRA POLLS

It further means that the referendum will be hard fought and increasingly divisive.

A foretaste of this may be seen in the ongoing campaigns for the by-election of Nairobi's Kibra constituency.

Dr Ruto is running football legend McDonald Mariga as the candidate of the governing Jubilee Party principally as a shot across Mr Odinga's bow: I will fight you anywhere.

A referendum next year will serve as the starters gun for a two-year-long race to the General Election in general, and to State House in particular. So much for those, such as the President, Mr Odinga and Mr Atwoli, who say 2022 is a long way away.

Boosters of President Kenyatta, such as Nominated MP Maina Kamanda, have proffered that a referendum will unite the country.

Don't you believe them. As I have shown several times before, elections and a referendum is one; they do not unite; they divide.

CORRUPTION

Two, the divisions that will emerge in the lead up to the referendum, during and after, will colour the 2022 campaigns for the presidency, National Assembly, Senate, governorships and county assemblies throughout Kenya.

Indeed, the language which is being used now, and which targets Dr Ruto as chief priest in the temple of graft, will be carried into the referendum should he oppose it.

The word mwizi, so beloved of the DP's opponents, will be the currency of the referendum and the General Election.

President Kenyatta's legacy may be shaped more by what follows the BBI report than by the much-hyped Big Four. That is why I argue that the President's legacy will be his successor.

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