Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga at the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report at Bomas of Kenya on October 26, 2020.
TRIO: Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga at the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report at Bomas of Kenya on October 26, 2020.
Image: PSCU

President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga have shaken Deputy President William Ruto’s perceived grip on the grassroots in a sweet victory for the Building Bridges Initiative team.

In what pro-Uhuru and Raila teams described as a yellow card to Ruto ahead of the 2022 presidential contest, 23 county assemblies unanimously approved the BBI Blll on Tuesday. Thirty-five counties have approved it so far.

Ruto and his allies have opposed the constitutional change, terming it retrogressive, unnecessary and expensive in an economy battered by Covid-19.

Seven counties in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Mt Kenya backyard voted almost to a man to endorse the constitutional change on a day Raila had branded “Super Tuesday”.

But even more surprising was the endorsement of the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020 in Bomet, Ruto’s political bedrock.

“I said it before, I’ll say it again, you can rent a Kikuyu, but you cannot buy a Kikuyu,” Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru said after her county approved the Bill, sentiments shared by political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi.

He claimed out of  550 Gema MCAs, only four voted against the BBI Bill.

“He [Ruto] needs to re-load,” he said.

In a statement to newsrooms, the former Prime Minister thanked MCAs and the governors who he said refused to give in to “mistrust, cynicism, brinkmanship and fearmongering.

“County assemblies have been able to push back on a year-long campaign of lies, misinformation and undue influence on a document whose centrepiece is ensuring prosperity and equitable sharing of the same,” Raila said in an apparent attack on the DP.

Raila said he has worked with Kenyans on reforms for a long time and is aware Kenyans are not slow learners when it comes to recognising and seizing moments of change.

“That faith stands reaffirmed and renewed,” he stated. “With the dramatic and strong conclusion of the exercise today, we are extremely close to giving our people the reforms they need to create a united, inclusive, stable and prosperous nation that also deals decisively with the crime of corruption.”

An additional 23 county assemblies flashed the ‘Yes’ card, pushing to 35 the total number of counties that have endorsed the Bill — and surpassing the magic 24 assemblies needed to for a referendum.

They are Embu, Nakuru, Narok, Nyamira, Meru, Taita Taveta, Lamu, Mombasa, Kirinyaga, Machakos, Marsabit, Makueni, Nyeri, Nyandarua, Bungoma, Kakamega, Kitui, Murang’a, Kiambu, Migori, Kwale, Tharaka Nithi and Bomet.

The vote, essentially, sends the country to a referendum after 11 years since the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.

“The BBI is the future of this country and unless the DP gets on board, he is going nowhere in 2022,” Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, a fierce critic of the DP, told the Star.

He said Ruto has been deceived by lthe arge crowds he pulls during his rallies in his whirlwind tours.

“The DP never had a grip on the county assemblies. During the Punguza Mizigo, he had indicated it should be passed. It collapsed at county assembly level. Now we have seen what has happened. He must stop thinking large crowds are a sign of support,” he said.

However Soy MP Caleb Kositany and his Nandi counterpart Samson Cherargei, both close allies of the DP, said Ruto was not in competition with BBI, insisting the MCAs were coerced and “bribed” to approve the bill.

“The DP, at the moment, is not competing for anything. We know what happened prior to the MCAs passing the BBI. There was intimidation, bribery and coercion,” Cherargei said.

The vocal legislator reiterated the Bill will meet its Waterloo at the people’s court, emphasising that the document is unpopular.

Kositany claimed MCAs were pushed and coerced by the state to approve the Bill.

“Clearly something is fishy in the manner in which the assemblies are passing the Bill. The presence of governors in the assembly chambers tells you the kind of coercion they are applying on MCAs,” Kositany said.

“The state may have had its say. Now the next stage is for Kenyans to have their way too. If they will speak in favour of the Bill, all of us, the supporters of the Deputy President, will abide by the position,” he added.

Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua accused the Jubilee administration of resorting to bribery and intimidation to push through the Bill.

“What has happened is shameful to our democracy. What we saw is a vote procured by bribery and intimidation. I don’t know how they will bribe Kenyans,” he told the Star on the phone.

Ruto has poked holes in the BBI, questioning reality of the some of the premises in the Bill. He termed it a plot to create jos for a few elite [dynasties] at the expense of poor Kenyans [hustlers].

At the very minimum, the DP has demanded a multiple choice referendum or a plebiscite conducted along with the general elections next year, ostensibly to save on the taxpayers’ money.

“Given the foregoing, it is legitimate to question the wisdom of expending Sh14 billion a year before an election that will cost another Sh42 billion when the referendum could be conducted as a seventh ballot in the general election,” Ruto said after closed-door meeting with more than 100 MPs at his Karen residence on February 2.

On Tuesday, Uhuru turned tables on his deputy in Mt.Kenya where the DP was perceived to have made substantial inroads and held in a  irm grip.

All the assemblies from the region gave thumbs up to the Bill,  exposing Ruto’s loss of influence and firming up the President’s hold on his vote-rich backyard.

In Nakuru, the county termed Jubilee’s birthplace, MCAs voted almost to a man -woman for the proposed constitutional changes. Only 11 out of the 73 wards voted against the Bill.

Governor Lee Kinyanjui, BBI coordinator in the county, commended the MCAs saying they exercised maturity during the debate and vote.

The situation was the same in Murang’a, Nyeri, Kiambu, Meru and Nyandarua where the DP suffered a staggering blow in his bid to block the referendum.

Murang’a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria keenly followed the mid-morning proceedings as the all 53 MCAs voted in support of the Bill.

“It is insincere for any leader from this region to oppose the Bill but we appeal to those who have not been supporting it to join us now,” he said, adding that it is a new economic beginning for the region.

Muranga and the Central Kenya region at large have been the centre of focus after the DP appeared to have marshalled a strong fan base to oppose the Bill.

In late December last year, Muranga Senator Irungu Kangata, in a highly publicised letter, said the BBI was unpopular in the county and region.

He cited opposition to the expanded Executive, the involvement of provincial administration and campaigns by former MPs as some of the issues working against the initiative.

The senator said the role of chiefs and county administrators — and other forms of hard tactics in BBI mobilisation — is a challenge in the region.

“Let us emphasise  the soft power and art of persuasion. In my humble view, the provincial administration in the BBI process should be invisible,” he told the President in the letter.

Kangata has since joined DP’s Tangatanga camp after he was unceremoniously kicked out of the Senate majority chief whip position on suspicion he was a spy for Ruto.

On January 28, a day before the President met Mt Kenya leaders at Sagana State Lodge to rally them to back the bill,  41 MPs allied to Ruto from the region wrote a stern letter to the President.

In the letter, the MPs decried the state of the economy, alleged betrayal of the DP, political “persecution”and Uhuru’s handshake with Odinga.

They said BBI was not a priority for the residents and asked him to focus on turning around the economy instead.