Kenyatta not giving up on pushing constitutional changes before polls

Saturday July 24 2021
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta says law review is inevitable. PHOTO | FILE


President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga are still clinging to hope of successfully pushing the controversial constitutional changes, which are currently bogged down in the courts, through a referendum before the 2022 elections.

President Kenyatta, while giving out land title deeds in the Coast region on Thursday, appeared to suggest that the referendum was inevitable, saying the proposed constitutional changes popularly known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) would ensure devolution of more resources to the counties and fair representation in parliament.

It was the first time the president was publicly commenting on the BBI following his June 1 Madaraka Day speech in which he likened the High Court judgment that in May declared his legacy reforms agenda to the Supreme Court decision overturning his re-election victory in 2017.

Seven judges of the Court of Appeal are set to give their verdict on August 20 after the President and the referendum’s designated promoters challenged the High Court judgment.

In the event of an unfavourable decision at the appellate court, the BBI proponents are likely to still try for a path to the referendum through the Supreme Court where President Kenyatta appointed two new judges in May.

The legal setbacks have seen campaigning for the referendum ebb in the past two and a half months, with Mr Odinga, the co-architect of the reforms agenda, emerging as the lone voice urging his supporters that a referendum was still possible.


BBI proposes to increase the number of constituencies, which the proponents of the reforms say will see more resources sent to the grassroots to stimulate growth and promote equity.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) included supply of referendum materials in a recent advertisement.

However, IBEC say time is running out to conduct the referendum before the polls expected in August next year.

Mr Odinga stepped up his pro-referendum rhetoric this week during his tour of the coast region to re-energise a key support base ahead of the anticipated formal announcement of his presidential bid.

With slightly over 12 months to the 2022 elections, speculation is rife that President Kenyatta may have settled on Mr Odinga, his bitter rival in the last two polls, as his preferred successor.

If it comes, a public endorsement of Mr Odinga would see the President campaign against Deputy President William Ruto, who has fallen out with him and is building a new party called United Democratic Alliance (UDA) for his own presidential bid.

But the outgoing president’s succession plan, which was initially based on rallying the ruling party and a coalition of the major opposition parties in the 2017 National Super Alliance (Nasa) behind Mr Odinga’s candidature, has been upset by the derailment of BBI in the courts.

Expanded government

Without the expanded government, including the positions of a prime minister and two deputy prime ministers, under the power sharing arrangement proposed in BBI, the other party leaders see no incentive in the broad coalition being built by President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.

Former vice-presidents Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavaid and Senator Moses Wetangúla – the other Nasa leaders – also have differences with Mr Odinga’s ODM for allegedly shortchanging their parties in the sharing of money from the political parties fund.

The disgruntled trio have also cited mistrust for their reluctance to enter new coalition talks involving Mr Odinga, accusing him of reneging on a promise to forgo his presidential ambitions in 2022 and back one of them.

The coalition appeared to approach the breaking point this week when a committee set up by Musyoka, Mudavadi and Wetangúla recommended formal steps to dissolve it.

ODM has in the past talked of a plan B for the 2022 elections in case BBI is bogged down in the courts.

President Kenyatta’s and Mr Odinga’s dogged agitation for BBI suggests they haven’t quite found an alternative path to victory for their coalition yet.