Uhuru's two tribes comment undermines his BBI 'manifesto'

BBI was to “build bridges to a united Kenya: from a nation of blood ties to a nation of ideals”.

Welcome to the second edition of the Weekly Perspective in 2021 where today we seek to give context to two issues that happened in Kenya in the last week. The first is the comments made by President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday, January 9, 2021, while attending the burial of the mother to Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi. The second is the quest by the National Government to take over the Nairobi County outside the realms of the Constitution.

I have heard people saying that some families should not lead this country. I can also stand here and say that two tribes have led this country since independence and so maybe it is time for other Kenyan tribes to lead. Kenya has many tribes. - Uhuru Kenyatta, January 9, 2021

On Saturday, the President made the comments to the effect that because people have been saying there was a need to ensure certain families - popularly referred to as the dynasties in the political circles - do not continue ruling the country, he too had a suggestion. His suggestion was that because Kenya’s previous three presidents plus himself had come from two specific communities, other communities should take over now. While like any other Kenyan, Uhuru has the right to express his opinion on the future of the country, his comments, taken in the context of Kenya’s democracy could easily be said to be impolitic. In addition, it could undermine the quest for a united country that he has championed under the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

Kenya is a democracy where depending on who conveniences the rest to follow them, Kenyans at the ballot through a majority vote decide who to elect. It is therefore ingenious for the President to suggest that two of the most populace communities should be locked out of the presidency because they have had a chance to lead the country previously. This is even more questionable because when he was preparing to run for President, Uhuru chose a running mate from the second community which he now says should not be part of the running. As the Head of State who is on his way out, and though he has a right to an opinion, the President should be careful not to suggest to Kenyans that some are more deserving than others in leading the country. Instead, he should be encouraging Kenyans to look at the track record of those who want to run for President and judge them on a higher standard than which communities they come from.

If the President was to do the above, he would help the country embrace the building bridges initiative that he has touted as a journey to ensure that the country has lasting unity. But with the comments made on Saturday, one would be forgiven to conclude that the President is preaching water while drinking wine when asking Kenyans to support the initiative. According to the cover of the BBI report that he launched last year, the premise of the BBI process is to build bridges to a united Kenya: from a nation of blood ties to a nation of ideals”. It, therefore, goes against the spirit of BBI for the President to preach blood ties while he should be fostering thinking on ideals aimed at shared prosperity for all Kenyans. One would therefore hope that the President would move into the path of uniting Kenyans and not making comments that result in further divisions.

Eyes on MCAs in the latest episode of City Hall ‘coup’

Moving on to Nairobi County, the National Government has attempted to do what one can call undermining devolution. It started with the formation of the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) which took over four key functions from City Hall then led by Governor Mike Sonko. Then there came a suggestion in the initial BBI report that Nairobi should be given a special status being the seat of the government. In the initial BBI Constitutional Amendment Bill, there was also an attempt to put Nairobi under the armpit of the National Government by ensuring that the NMS was now a Constitutionally recognised body. While it makes sense to have the Capital get a special status, the suggestions made by the National Government do not augur well for the future of devolution in the country. What will stop the National Government from taking over the functions of Mombasa County or Lamu County with the pretext that it is securing the interests of the country’s ports?

The National Government has not stopped in trying to take control of Nairobi even after the BBI suggestions were shelved. We understand that the impeachment of Governor Sonko was engineered to unlock the funding to NMS which he had blocked asking the County Assembly to revise the budget. And immediately he was removed from office, the acting Governor, Speaker Benson Mutura’s first order of business was to sign the warrant authorising the withdrawal of money from the County Revenue Funds.

But it is what has happened after the Governor’s seat was declared vacant and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) set a by-election date that is more worrying. There is a clear plot by the ‘system’ to ensure that there is no by-election Nairobi next month. One of the key reasons for this is that it would be embarrassing for the President to lose a seat that his party won in 2017 especially if the winner was aligned to his deputy William Ruto. The ‘system’ was, of course, embarrassed by Raila Odinga’s ODM defeat in Msambweni in December in a by-election that was won by a Ruto man. It may be for this reason that ODM has left it to Jubilee to choose the candidate and they select who should be the deputy governor.

With the by-election now hanging in the balance, eyes are trailed at the courts and the county assembly. A ‘Nairobi voter’ by the name Peter Odhiambo Agoro had successfully blocked Sonko’s nomination for governor following the resignation of Polycarp Igathe in January 2018. Sonko had on January 9, 2020, nominated Anne Mwenda Kananu who was then a Chief Officer in his administration but her vetting was blocked by the courts by the strength of Agoro’s petition. It was therefore curious that Agoro withdrew his petition last week at a time when talk was rife that the government was not keen on having a by-election in Nairobi. And immediately the court allowed for the withdrawal on January 7, 2020, the Nairobi County Assembly put out an advert notifying the public that the suspended vetting of Kananu would now take place on Friday, January 15, 2020. Sonko who had filed a petition seeking to block the vetting on Saturday said that he would withdrawal it and all the other cases challenging his ouster.

It is clear that all these machinations are aimed at installing Kananu as the Governor of Nairobi to avoid a by-election. While some may welcome this move given the tight financial hole that the country finds itself in, the legal soundness of the move is in question. The reason why the Speaker took over as Acting Governor was that Article 182(4) of the Constitution dictates that this should happen if there is a vacancy and the “deputy governor is unable to act”. Nairobi did not have a deputy governor as Kananu had not been vetted by the Assembly and therefore the suggestion being made to act retrogressively has no legal legs. One would, however, argue that it was the courts that took long to make a determination on the Angoro petition but this cannot be used to subvert the will of the people.

In the coming week, all eyes will be trailed on City Members of the County Assembly who we understand are under instructions to approve Kananu as deputy governor. It is still unclear about what will happen after that.