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Debate on BBI ahead of referendum is healthy

By Alberto Leny
Tuesday, February 9th, 2021
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In summary

The Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020 proposed in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) has provoked intense debate countrywide.

As the BBI process races towards a referendum, with the Bill now before county assemblies, it has opened a Pandora’s box of domestic issues, posing a dilemma for its proponents and opponents alike. 

While it is almost certain that the Bill will muster the constitutional threshold of endorsement by 24 county assemblies, it faces another legislative hurdle in the National Assembly and the Senate.

But with BBI principals President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga marshaling their forces in county assemblies and both Houses of Parliament, the legislators are bound to give the Bill a resounding ratification.

That will set the stage for a bruising campaign egged on by the major fallout in the ruling Jubilee Party and the decision by Deputy President  (DP) William Ruto and his allies to champion a loud opposition to the BBI proposals.

This has angered the two principals, who have in turn mounted a tactical offensive to build momentum on the ground countering the anti-BBI political and socio-economic narrative that has raised a storm.

It remains to be seen, what will emerge in the coming weeks, but a healthy debate provoked by the two opposing camps, has raised some fundamental issues directly affecting the citizens of Kenya.  

The debate has so far exposed the major challenges facing Kenyans, which the proponents of the BBI will have to address urgently, as they drive the proposed constitutional amendment.

The dire state of the economy, worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic-that has not only generated a public health crisis but has also destroyed livelihoods, have complicated matters. 

Highly speculative

With public debt nearly hitting the ceiling and a huge budget deficit, the government has been forced to plead for debt rescheduling with major lenders, including the Bretton Woods institutions and China.

But the respite will last for only six months, and then back to square one. The unemployment situation long passed the crisis point and is the theme of the current heated debate between proponents and opponents of BBI. 

While the DP and his allies in their new vehicle United Democratic Alliance are agitating the controversial and divisive “hustlers versus dynasties” narrative, they have not sounded convincing on how their wheelbarrow sloganeering will help resolve unemployment crisis.

It is clear this narrative is intended to milk political mileage ahead of the referendum and the 2022 succession race, especially among its major target; restless unemployed youth. 

Anti-BBI crusaders have so far not demonstrated how the wheelbarrow will transform the economic fortunes of unemployed youth, whose main source of income is currently boda boda transport.

The government for its part, is saddled with a huge public debt and a lethargic economy, hampered by Covid-19 and industrial action by medics. 

County governments face major difficulties getting funds from the Treasury and the Big Four agenda, which offers the best hope in helping solve the critical youth unemployment, is equally under-funded.

While betting on the constitutional amendment to resolve the national political and electoral conundrum, which at this moment is highly speculative, the BBI proponents must act fast to turn around the economy and build back better post-Covid-19 and before and after the referendum.

Above all, the BBI proposals need to ensure that the citizens’ human rights and justice guarantees enshrined in the Constitution are strengthened in the current amendment Bill. [email protected]