Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta used his State of the Nation Address on Thursday to rally support for the report of the constitutional reforms taskforce amid mounting pressure to have some of its proposals revised.
The president said that the changes proposed by the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) taskforce last month will help defuse volatile ethnic politics, spur equitable development and fight corruption in the country.
“As we progress to the next phase of implementing the recommendations from the (BBI) taskforce, I urge all Kenyans to, constructively and objectively, consider the recommendations therein,” he said.
The president, who compared his role of leading the reforms campaign with that of the biblical Moses, has made BBI part of second-term legacy agenda along with ambitious programmes under the Big 4 Agenda — affordable housing, universal healthcare coverage, manufacturing and food security.
With the Covid-19 pandemic having further diminished his chances of meeting the Big Four Agenda targets ahead of his exit in 2022, the constitutional reforms appear to represent his best shot at delivering on any of the major promises he made at the beginning of his final term in office.
The highlights of the BBI report are proposals aimed at accommodating more of the country’s ethnic political elites in power and to significantly increase the share of national revenue allocated to the devolved governments.
A constitutional amendment Bill, recommending among others the creation of the posts of the prime minister and the leader of official opposition in parliament, is to be debated in the local and national legislatures in the coming months ahead of a referendum before August 2021.
President Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga have in recent weeks stepped up mobilisation for key support, holding meetings with county governors, Members of Parliament and a lobby for pastoralist counties.
The pastoralists lobby is among the interest groups, including churches and civil society organisations, which have come out to demand changes to the BBI document before it can be subjected to a referendum.
RETIREMENT NEST EGGS
The lobby has particularly taken issue with proposals that put much weight on population in the sharing of devolved funds and the delayed disbursement of monies from the affirmative action-style Equalisation Fund meant to benefit the historically marginalised counties.
Mr Odinga, who met a section of the pastoralist Leaders Forum on November 9, suggested that the window could yet be opened to accommodate the lobby’s demands before tweeting the next day that only editorial changes will be made to the report.
A pushback by the group will evoke anxiety among BBI proponents about a prolonged deadlock similar to the one witnessed in the Senate in July and August over a disputed government-backed county revenue sharing formula.
Although sparsely populated, the pastoralist counties could still decide the fate of the referendum Bill, which requires the support of 24 out of Kenya’s 47 county assemblies to pass.
The first two weeks of canvassing around the BBI report have seen other interest groups holding out for sweet deals before they can support the referendum.
The Council of Governors, the lobby for the country’s 47 county governments and governors, is pushing for heftier perks, including retirement benefits, for its members to match those currently lavished on Members of Parliament.
Meanwhile members of the County Assemblies are demanding that at least 30 percent of the money allocated to the devolved governments be sent to the electoral areas they represent.
Signs are, more demands will pour in before the BBI lobbying window is shut, and one can understand why proponents are reluctant to give in to even what can be considered credible and needed changes.
BBI REPORT 2020 MANDATE
Before the Steering Committee were:
COVID-19: The pandemic has led to extraordinary changes to the global health, economic and trading systems. Check the damage to economic livelihoods, effect of unemployment and destroyed wealth and suggest changes.
COMPETENCE: They observed and borrowed global best practices from successful countries whose institutions and processes consistently produce competence in planning and implementation.
EQUITY AND EQUALITY: If the object of politics is ‘who gets what, when, how’, Kenyans must embrace legal and political systems that carefully balance between these to eliminate victimisation.
EQUAL OPPORTUNITY: It was critical to focus on equalisation of opportunity for all, no matter the age, ethnicity, religion, or gender, as the primary aim of economic policy.
REFORM: The Kenyan ethos of working hard to mediate conflicts for peace and stability must remain a prerequisite for a successful Kenya.