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Constitution changes face myriad challenges

By Alberto Leny
Tuesday, December 15th, 2020
ODM leader Raila Odinga looks on as Kigumo MP Wangari Mwaniki signs the BBI form. Police officer in Bomet County has been arrested for tearing BBI signature booklet into pieces. Photo/PD/Rebeccah Wangari
In summary

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s speech on Jamhuri Day marked a turning point for a nation facing some of the most critical challenges in its history since independence 57 years ago.

The search for unity to consolidate nationhood remains elusive, with the President relying on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) constitutional amendment to deliver a political solution to the perennial divisions often violent manifested every election cycle.

Yet the Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2020 has come at a time when the nation is grappling with an unprecedented public health crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic that has destroyed lives and livelihoods across the globe.

As Kenyans and the rest of humanity contend with the devastation caused by the coronavirus, alarming forecasts paint a bleak picture on economies worldwide, with those in developing countries such as Kenya worst hit. 

The IMF projects Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy to contract by 3.2 per cent in 2020, double the forecast earlier this year at the onset of the pandemic, from the 3.1 per cent growth of 2019.

With Africa facing its first recession in three decades, Kenya is among the many heavily indebted African economies with limited fiscal capacity to absorb the economic shocks caused by the pandemic. Tough times lie ahead.

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani admits Covid-19 has wiped out revenue sources as the government seeks to plug a Sh841 billion financial hole by borrowing. Kenya’s public debt stands at Sh7.2 trillion.

Questions have been raised on the wisdom of conducting monumental constitutional changes at a time when the Covid-19 crisis has stretched our fragile health system to the limit and the economy is on its knees. 

Frontline healthcare workers are protesting lack of personal protective equipment and have other grievances related to alleged corruption revolving around the Ministry of Health and the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa).

At least 32 doctors, 28 nurses and 12 clinical officers have died from the coronavirus, with more than 2,900 healthcare workers infected since the pandemic struck Kenya in March.

The BBI’s initiators believe that despite the pain Covid-19 has inflicted, the constitutional amendment is the bitter pill citizens have to swallow to cure the ailment of negative ethnicity that has imperilled national cohesion.

Riding on a wave of populism, the BBI has surmounted the first hurdle after the submission of over four million signatures to the IEBC, but there are headwinds ahead. 

First call is the county assemblies, then the National Assembly and the Senate, where the intense cross-party lobbying and the grassroots campaigns will most likely defy Covid-19 protocols and pockets of opposition for a decisive win at the referendum. 

Then there are the eight cases against the referendum drive, including one filed by Kericho and Nandi county assemblies and another by Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, a constitutional lawyer, seeking an advisory opinion at the Supreme Court.

The rest are at the High Court where those challenging the Constitutional Amendment Bill include Linda Katiba Movement’s NARC-Kenya leader Martha Karua and economist David Ndii.

But BBI joint secretary Paul Mwangi says they have opened a new legal battlefront because they have realised that there is little they can do to stop the BBI at the county assemblies and Parliament.

All indications are that 2021 will be a critical year for the Executive, the Legislature, the Judiciary, and the people. [email protected]

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