Kenya's top court to rule on contested constitutional reforms

Thursday March 31 2022
Daniel Musinga

Court of Appeal President Daniel Musinga during the BBI appeal ruling on August 20, 2021 in Nairobi. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG


Kenya's top court will on Thursday rule on constitutional changes proposed by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his allies ahead of crucial elections in August.

The reforms -- popularly known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) -- aim to expand the executive and would be the biggest change to Kenya's political system since the introduction of a new constitution in 2010.

A seven-judge bench at the Supreme Court will weigh the legality of the wide-ranging proposals following their rejection last year by the High Court and Court of Appeal, which said Kenyatta could even be sued in a civil court for launching the process. 

Kenyatta had argued that the initiative -- a hot-button issue that has divided the political elite -- would make politics more inclusive and help end repeated cycles of election violence in the East African nation.

In addition to creating new posts in the executive, the sweeping changes would increase the number of parliamentarians from 290 to 360.

BBI's detractors -- including Kenyatta's deputy William Ruto -- see it as a little more than a naked grab for power by a two-term president who cannot run a third time.


The timing of the reforms has spurred speculation in recent years that Kenyatta is seeking to remain in power by establishing the post of prime minister as part of the BBI.

'Political capital' 

Ruto, 54, was initially anointed by Kenyatta as his successor but found himself marginalised after a shock 2018 pact between the president and his former foe Raila Odinga, who have a long history of opposing each other at the ballot box.

The pair's spirited pursuit of the BBI since 2018 sparked speculation that Kenyatta may assume the new position of prime minister in a power-sharing arrangement if Odinga, 77, wins the presidency.

Earlier this month, Kenyatta, 60, endorsed Odinga, who will compete with Ruto for the country's top job.

Analysts argue that Thursday's court decision will jolt political alignments among smaller parties, which are weighing their options ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections barely four months away. 

Already, fresh alliances are being created with a view to dividing the spoils come election time. 

If the court -- led by Kenya's first female chief justice Martha Koome -- rules in favour of the BBI, Kenyatta and Odinga will likely attempt to change the constitution after the August polls, constitutional lawyer Charles Kanjama told AFP.

"The constitution is unlikely to be amended before the election because there is not enough time, but the question of whether it can be amended together with the general election or soon after... (becomes) open," he said.

But "if (the court) rejects the proposals in part or in whole, then it will give further political capital to those who opposed the process", he added.