Push to change Kenya's constitution still on

Monday December 20 2021
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said constitutional changes are ‘a dream deferred’. PHOTO | PSCU


The push to salvage Kenya’s stalled constitutional referendum has found its way to the 2022 election campaign platform ahead of the Supreme Court hearing of suits seeking to revive it next month.

Judges of the country’s top court will between January 18 and 20 hear the petitions filed by Attorney-General Paul Kihara and the electoral commission, setting the stage for a political year in which Kenyans will vote in a transition election for the third time in the past 20 years.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who had made the reforms popularly known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) his key political legacy agenda, set the tone during his address, on Kenya’s Jamhuri Day celebrations on December 12, terming it “a dream deferred”.

The president’s passionate call for BBI followed similar public statements by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga suggesting that they were seeing a way back to the reforms in some form or the other.

The two leaders have sold the BBI as the antidote to the do-or-die competition for power among the country’s ethnic elite that has been blamed for violence, political instability and massive economic losses every election cycle in the past three decades, except in 2002.

The worst of the election-related violence happened in 2007 and 2008 when more than 1,100 people were killed and about 650,000 displaced from their homes.


The outcome of each of the past two presidential elections has been disputed at the Supreme Court.

Initiative origin

BBI has its origins in the March 2018 truce declared by the former fierce political rivals following months of political tension in the country arising from the nullification of President Kenyatta’s re-election victory in September 2017. The repeat election was boycotted by Mr Odinga in October 2017, and the mock swearing-in of the prime minister as “the people’s president” was held on January 30, 2018.

It seeks to expand the power structure by creating the positions of prime minister and two deputy prime ministers, and have Cabinet ministers appointed from parliament to accommodate the interests of many of the ethnic elite in government.

As part of its win-win election experiment, BBI also proposes a return to the Westminster-style parliamentary democracy where the losing major party’s boss will occupy the office of the leader of official opposition.

But President Kenyatta’s critics, including Deputy President William Ruto, have accused him of trying to change the Constitution to manage his succession and eventually install Mr Odinga as the next president.

Mr Ruto, who was sidelined from power for opposing the President’s co-operation deal with Mr Odinga, sees BBI as a ploy to enable his chief rival in the succession race build a strong coalition against him by enticing other party leaders with positions in government and regional voting blocs with additional constituencies.

The constitutional amendment Bill creates and allocates 70 additional constituencies.