By Kenya Confidential Political Desk Editor, January 2, 2021
Senate Majority Leader Irungu Kang’ata has taken unprecedented move to write a devastating letter dated December 30, 2020, to President Uhuru Kenyatta in which he minces no words about the bleak future the controversial Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) faces in Central Kenya.
Herebelow is the letter attributed to Kangata. He declined to confirm or deny whether he penned the letter that appeared to be a breach of protocols expected of a Leader of Majority when communicating to the the President and his party leader as well as the timing itself. The letter leaves no doubt that BBI is destined to fail during the referendum mainly driven by opposition doyen Raila Amolo Odinga.
30th December 2020
His Excellency Party Leader, Jubilee Party,
Jubilee Headquarters, Nairobi.
The Secretary General,
Hon Raphael Tuju, Jubilee Party,
REF: BBI IN MT. KENYA: PROSPECTS AND CHALLENGES
I take this opportunity to thank you for the support rendered to Senate leadership last year. As a result, Senate has passed several key matters of public importance to the credit of the Government due to this renewed synergy. They include your timely intervention on county revenue sharing stalemate.
Kindly allow me to address myself to matters BBI which will dominate public debate in 2021. I will confine myself to matters relevant to greater Mt. Kenya region. This is because as an elected leader from the region, I often interact with its residents more in comparative terms. I also have a good rapport with regional leaders who unreservedly express local sentiments.
I do so with deep conviction and faith that I have in this administration .Having been entrusted with party leadership in Senate, I owe the party a duty to be truthful in reporting on matters relevant to my mandate.
In this letter, reference to ‘BBI’ includes the Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2020 which is slated for referendum in June 2021.
By virtue of the good development work done by your administration, BBI ought to have a smooth sailing in the region .These works include the many newly paved roads and water projects implemented by your good administration. On a personal level, my very own rural village of Gathinja in Kahuhia (Kiharu) now has electricity in addition to an ongoing tarmac road project that will terminate into neighboring Gacharaigu village in Kangema constituency. This experience is true for many Mt. Kenya residents. It would therefore be assumed that BBI, being a document propagated by a government that has done so much good for its people, should have an easy sailing in the region.
BBI contains many benefits for the region which if it fails may be lost forever. There is no guarantee a new regime where ‘our son’ is not on the driving seat will offer these benefits to the region. They include creation of new constituencies, embedding in the Constitution ’one man one shilling one vote’ principle (proposed new article 203) and more resources to the counties.
Kang’ata: Raising the red flag on BBI
I foresee a legal crisis of great proportion that impacts the region negatively in the unlikely event of BBI’s failure particularly on two issues. Firstly, small constituencies like Mukurweini, Othaya and Mathioya will be scrapped by IEBC because they offend population quotas set by Article 89 of the Constitution. Secondly, the new third generation counties revenue sharing formula which is positive for the region as it grants fair weight to population will be negated because it was predicated on increment of devolved funds. Whereas a policy of lifting the floor under Article 203 (2) of the Constitution can be used to remedy this, it’s far much better for counties where there is a constitutional compulsionfor devolving more money than a policy whim.
Better resourced counties with a just and fair constitutional revenue sharing formula are a better insurance for the welfare of the Mt. Kenya region in the period post your good regime. Other key benefits that ought to be selling BBI in the region include ward development fund proposal which yours truly championed in the Legislature. Importantly, Mt. Kenya’s diaspora has been the political punch bag since 1991. BBI intends to remedy this by embedding consociational democracy which other ethnically divided societies have employed to curb successfully electoral ethnic conflict, including Switzerland, Belgium and UK’s Northern Ireland.
Notwithstanding the above which should ideally be rallying the region strongly behind BBI, based on a survey I conducted during this December holidays, I have come to the conclusion BBI is unpopular in Mt. Kenya. I admit my survey was not very scientific. May be a more structured survey seeking to ascertain BBI ratings in Mt. Kenya needs to be undertaken, in terms of proper identification of respondents, scientific sampling procedures, employment of good research tools and questionnaires.
I am also aware your other sources of information can corroborate or counter my conclusion. My sources are regionally skewed with most were from Muranga, my home county. But my sample size is big enough for one to make a logical inference. I had also triangulated my tentative findings with select sources beyond Muranga hence I am fairly confident that my findings are reflective of the regional sentiment.
By illustration, out of every 10 persons I picked randomly, 6 oppose BBI, 2 support and 2 are indifferent .Women and youths form the bulk of the 6 that oppose .Men beyond the age of 50 form the bulk of the few BBI supporters .There is no correlation of BBI support with educational level. There appears to be some correlation of BBI ratings with urban /rural configurations, with BBI support sinking more in rural areas.
Your Excellency, I concede, I may be wrong. In fact I wish I was wrong and that my views are mere pessimistic view of things. However, if I am right and we do not take urgent remedial measures, I will pin myself permanently in the pillar of the shame of spectacular defeat. The revenue sharing debate in the Senate proved the importance of flagging matters beforehand. I had raised red flags one month before the stalemate ensued but my concerns took time to be remedied. The same happened in Gaturi by-election .
This does not necessarily mean BBI will fail nationally .These findings do not suggest BBI ratings cannot shift noting politics is always on a flux .May be there will be a shift once regional county assemblies endorse the document (I suspect they will) as this may create the ‘BBI inexorableness’ sentiment . However, with due respect let me not overemphasize the political consequences of a No vote in our home region. I pray we make urgent remedial efforts to avoid such an outcome.
Several factors seems to be driving this No-to-BBI momentum;
BBI is being framed as a jubilee factional agenda. Our internal Jubilee problems have been weaponized and are being used to deflect our people from the benefits of BBI. The notion that BBI will expand government (read parliament) has been echoed with great effect. (On a personal level, I understand what led to this proposal. It was the need to accommodate women’s lobby concerns, which had judicial endorsement. However, I hold the view that the drafters should have been more imaginative in trying to weigh these two conflicting goals of a trim government and accommodating women.)
The role of provincial administration (and other forms of hard tactics) in BBI mobilization is being framed as an example of Government using its hard power to force its citizens to endorse BBI.
Government supporting legislators in the region have been edged out of BBI programs in favour of their local political competitors. I will cite the example of MP. Kangema, Hon.Muturi Kigano, who has been steadfastly supporting government since 2017. He chairs the strategic committee of Justice and Legal Affairs of the National Assembly.
Notwithstanding this, his political rival is spearheading BBI in Kangema to Kigano’s exclusion. This grievance is silently brewing among MPs in the National Assembly. A number of them are ‘komerera’ (political double agents) who are bidding their time before they bolt out. In the Senate, by virtue of age, personal resources and political experience of most elected Senators, this is not a major issue. I have personally made efforts to intervene on their behalf to relevant authorities to no avail.
President Uhuru Kenyatta: Nothing to smile about
There is a general feeling of economic deprivation at household levels in the region .The political actors who are selling this narrative are employing the ‘common-man’ language. In comparison, government’s narrative in the region including BBi is being sold by civil servants with limited political skills .This is having a negative knock on effect on BBI. It appears households incomes have either stagnated or plummeted. Many have blamed the stagnating of tea, coffee and milk prices on the government and thus argue BBI is less of their concern.
Recommendations and Conclusion
On the issue of Jubilee factionalism and its impact on BBI, I propose we bend backwards. Efforts need to be made to rally regionally all members of parliament irrespective of their political factions behind this cause. Your personal intervention would help at this juncture with BBI ratings being on a downward spiral.
It has been suggested BBI referendum be combined with elections of 2022 .This may be impractical taking into account some BBI reforms legally need to be in place prior to 2022, for example, new constituencies and addressing the issue of gender representation in parliament. However, the suggestion for multi-choice referendum if considered may insure against possible total rejection of BBI.
On the issue of provincial administration and use of hard tactics, I propose when one is strong he or she must act weak, and when one is weak he or she must act strong. Government has an iron fist. I propose we find ways Government wears velvet gloves. This is important because, as a Kikuyu saying goes, he who is sent away with justice never returns. Let us emphasize on the soft power and art of persuasion. In my humble view, Provincial administration in BBI process should be invisible.
On the issue of the role of MPs’ in BBI, I propose a parallel BBI supporting structure headed by a quasi- politician be established to manage MPs. May be a well-resourced office of the Secretary General can suffice. This office should be doing the ‘selling’ of government agenda in the region including BBI, which for now seems to be uncoordinated. Alternatively, you can take personal charge of the process in the region.
On the issue of economic deprivation, it is good the Government is now making efforts to resuscitate agriculture, starting with recently enacted Tea Bill. These reforms should be widened to include other sectors that impact on Mt. Kenya’s economy, particularly coffee. Undoubtedly, there is need to explain to the region Covid impacted the economy negatively. A rejuvenated office of SG could possibly do this explaining. Whereas ongoing infrastructural programs must be completed, I politely propose the philosophy underpinning the Government’s last budget in 2021/2022 FY can be recasted to tilt to some degree, towards income boosting measures (like widening welfarism including cash transfer programs.)
I will conclude with one seemingly unrelated issue which has some connection with 2021 Government’s political trajectory. This is the Nairobi race. A possible loss by our party’s candidate will have ‘not-so-good’ political consequences that will permeate into BBI and possibly torpedo it.
Further, it will percolate into Parliament and impede our ability to push Government’s legislative agenda. Whereas I cannot dismiss the candidates who have offered themselves to stand with our party, my hunch feeling (and I could be wrong) tells me competitors on offer have a better trajectory going into the race. There are many reasons for this but they include some competitors have better gift of the gab and slum- penetrating tactics.
In conclusion, I have set out BBI’s prospects and challenges in Mt. Kenya region.
I have additionally made recommendations on the way forward to remedy the seemingly negative BBI prospects in the region. Being your firm supporter, I will endeavour to do my best to ensure your legacy of being one the best president ever for the region is upheld.
Hon.Senator Irungu Kang’ata, CBS, PHD
Cc: 1. Majority Leader, Senate.
2. Chairman, Jubilee Party, Nairobi.
3. National Executive Committee, Jubilee Party ,