Inundated with an avalanche of demands by politicians whose support is key to the success of their handshake project, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga are opting for targeted meetings to enlist the support for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), as signature collection kicks off in the coming week.
Tomorrow, Mr Odinga is scheduled to meet with 11 governors from Western and Nyanza regions in Kisumu to “brainstorm on how to mobilise and coordinate the BBI campaigns at the grassroots level,” according to a well-placed source.
Interior Cabinet Secretary, Dr Fred Matiang’i, is expected at the meeting, as President Uhuru Kenyatta’s representative. MPs and their counterparts from the county assemblies are also expected to attend.
A highly placed source privy to the details told the Saturday Nation that governors Wycliffe Wangamati (Bungoma), Patrick Khaemba (Trans Nzoia), Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Dr Wilberforce Ottichilo (Vihiga), Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia), James Ongwae (Kisii), Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu), John Nyagarama (Nyamira), Okoth Obado (Migori), Cyprian Awiti (Homa Bay) and Cornel Rasanga (Siaya) will be present.
The church leaders are calling for a reduction of elected representatives and proposing a National Delegates Conference to resolve the contentious issues in the BBI report.
But yesterday, while announcing the imminent start of collection of a million signatures to start the journey to the referendum, Mr Odinga seemed to suggest that there was little wiggle room.
“People had an opportunity to talk about these issues as far as two years ago. The clergy themselves had the opportunity to express their views on these issues,” he said.
The other headache is Mr Kenyatta’s own Mt Kenya backyard, which has not quite warmed up to the push to amend the constitution. A meeting by the pro-BBI Mt Kenya MPs initially slated for today in Karatina was called off under unclear circumstances. But it is not a secret that the “ground” is hostile.
Central Kenya appears to be leaning towards deputy president William Ruto, who has continually found fault with the report, saying it has not prioritised the needs and challenges of the masses.
In his State of the Nation address on Thursday, President Kenyatta pleaded with lawmakers to pass the BBI-related laws to make its implementation faster.
“This is our meeting with destiny,” he said. “Let those who come long after we are gone say we made the right decision.”
Getting enough support for the document in the county assemblies is crucial, as the window of opportunity is fast closing, because the 2022 campaigns are beginning in earnest, with the attendant risks of it being hijacked.
We have learnt that President Kenyatta, has a number of activities lined up to sell BBI to the masses. The plan entails even making phone calls to targeted groups, opinion leaders as well as meeting them. This will be running concurrently with the push to achieve a non-contested referendum through winning over the dissenting voices.
“The Sunday meeting will basically look into the overall infrastructure of co-ordinating BBI campaigns in the region, how to work together, what structures to build and how to involve all leaders in the region, including senators, MPs, woman reps and MCAs,” said a source familiar with the details of tomorrow’s Kisumu meeting.
While the BBI is largely welcome in the larger western Kenya, the meeting there is the first of the regional mobilisations to be held countrywide. It comes just a few days after the President and Mr Odinga who were expected at the Naivasha forum to discuss contents of the BBI with governors earlier in the week failed to show up.
The Saturday Nation later learnt that they were avoiding falling into the trap of the politicians who had lined up a number of demands for consideration before they can support the BBI. MCAs and governors are rooting for retirement benefits which, if granted, would see the wage bill grow exponentially.
Governors want the Senate to be strengthened in a way that gives it the veto powers on all Bills.
To overcome the hurdles, the Uhuru-Raila strategy team has clustered the country into regions, with more focus on areas likely to tilt the scale to see the report passed in the county assemblies.
Friendly politicians have been charged with leading various teams to sell the referendum agenda. The meetings will culminate in the creation of co-ordination structures in the counties that will work across the board with MPs and MCAs.
While Mr Oparanya works as the link between the handshake duo and the county governments, Dr Matiang’i co-ordinates national government’s agenda.
A governor from Nyanza told the Saturday Nation that the three are key in the regions and countrywide BBI conversations.
“Matiang’i and Oparanya have been co-chairing the collaboration between the national government and devolved units on Covid-19, so the BBI meetings will just be a continuation of a lot of work jointly done,” he said.
“We want that exercise to be done as soon as possible so that the matter can be handed over to the electoral commission so that we move to the next step,” the ODM leader said.
The co-principals say that much as people are still reacting to the report, the changes in the document will only be editorial and no substantive issues will be added.
“There are certain issues that have already been mentioned but were not captured, they are the ones that will be added. So you cannot bring in new issues, those being added had been said but not put in the draft – that is what we mean by editorial changes,” Mr Odinga said.
Lieutenants of both the President and ODM boss yesterday told the Saturday Nation that in case the duo gives audience to the groups that have come up with new ideas, it will attract more demands, derailing the process.
ODM chairman John Mbadi said: “New ideas cannot be entertained now, on what basis? Steering committee had validated the report and this was after consulting, you cannot just come up with an idea from nowhere to be contained in the report.”
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu said that both the Head of State and former PM are not ready to engage in a conversation on how to open up the BBI process again. “The duo does not want to meet interest groups to discuss how to open up the BBI process for additional ideas and suggestions, this is what the governors wanted,” said Mr Wambugu.
Kanu secretary-general Nick Salat, an ally of Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, said time is of essence, if we do not follow time, they might take advantage of that to delay this process a.
But according to Senate Majority Whip and also Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, the Head of State is keenly listening to the different views on the document and will make a decision that will augur well with both sides.
“On the BBI dissenters, the President is a listening and caring leader. He respects freedom of speech and expression of thoughts,” said Mr Kang’ata.
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