Bid to Amend Kenya Constitution Seen as Key to Succession Battle

Many Kenyans view proposed constitutional amendments that are being driven by President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga as an attempt to influence who’ll become the nation’s next leader, a survey found.

The so-called Building Bridges Initiative, or BBI, envisions reintroducing the role of prime minister and two deputies, creating an official post for the main opposition leader and increasing the 47 counties’ share of the budget. Plans to hold a referendum that would smooth the way for its adoption were dealt a setback in May, when the High Court ruled that Kenyatta acted illegally in initiating the sweeping reforms -- a ruling the government is appealing.

Of 1,500 people canvassed June 24 to June 28 by TIFA Research, 43% perceived the push for the BBI “as related to efforts to influence the outcome of the next election,” Maggie Ireri, the Nairobi-based company’s chief executive officer, said Thursday in an emailed statement.

Kenyatta is due to step down next year after serving two terms, with his deputy William Ruto and Odinga among the frontrunners to succeed him. Ruto’s supporters allege that the BBI constitutes an attempt to derail his efforts to secure the top job.

Kenyatta and Odinga, who reconciled after a bitterly contested presidential vote in 2017, say the BBI will help curb ethnic tensions and election-related violence. But the plan’s critics say it will undermine the judiciary’s independence, sideline sparsely populated areas and increase the size of the government at a time when the treasury is struggling to reduce costs and narrow the budget deficit.

Just 19% of respondents in the TIFA survey said they would vote in favor of the proposed amendments, down from 29% in December, while 31% said they would oppose them, down from 32%. A quarter of those surveyed were undecided as to if or how they would vote and 18% stated they wouldn’t participate in a referendum. Almost half the respondents said they knew “nothing” about the proposed reforms.

An appellate court may conclude hearing a petition on Friday challenging the High Court judgment that Kenyatta acted illegally in promoting the BBI. Its decision could in turn be challenged in the Supreme Court.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.