Kenyan Court Backs Ruling Against Plan to Reshape Government

Kenya’s Court of Appeal scuppered President Uhuru Kenyatta’s plan to overhaul the structure of the government, making a proposed referendum on the matter unlikely ahead of next year’s general election.

A seven-judge bench upheld the High Court’s judgment in May that among other issues faulted the role of the president in calling for constitutional changes through the Building Bridges Initiative, but set aside a ruling that he acted illegally. The program, known as BBI, envisaged creating new roles at the head of government and allowing the nation’s counties greater financial autonomy.

“The Constitution of Kenya Amendment Bill 2020 is unconstitutional and a usurpation of the people’s exercise of sovereign power,” Judge Daniel Musinga said Friday in the capital, Nairobi. The president has no authority to initiate constitutional changes, he said.

Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga promoted the BBI as a mechanism to end ethnic violence that has marred previous elections in Kenya. They argued that restructuring the executive to create room for more positions including that of prime minister would share power more equitably among the country’s more than 40 ethnic groups.

Deputy President William Ruto, whose relationship with Kenyatta has soured as ties between the president and Odinga have strengthened, opposed the plan. Ruto’s supporters argued its implementation would derail his bid to become president at elections in August 2022.

Local media has speculated that Kenyatta might support Odinga in next year’s race for the presidency. Ruto, who campaigned with Kenyatta in the past two elections, has signaled he might break away from the ruling Jubilee Party to run on his own ticket for the top office.

Friday’s decision can be appealed in the Supreme Court.

Disputed Elections

Elections in Kenya have been marred by ethnic violence since the return of multi-party democracy in 1992, hitting a crescendo in 2008 when more than 1,300 people died in clashes sparked by a disputed vote. The candidate who wins the support of three of the five biggest ethnic groups -- Kenyatta’s Kikuyu, Ruto’s Kalenjin, Odinga’s Luo, the Luhya and the Kamba -- is usually guaranteed to win the presidency.

Kenyatta and Odinga have said the BBI would make the government more inclusive. They’ve argued that proposals to double the amount of money allocated to the counties and creating the position of official opposition leader for the runner-up presidential candidate would help end the winner-takes-all electoral system.

Ruto said the ruling meant the “mighty and the powerful” had been stopped from “destroying our constitution,” in a statement posted on Twitter.

The push to reshape the state has been seen as Kenyatta’s attempt to influence the choice of who’ll succeed him when he steps down after his two-five year terms expire next year, according to a survey published by Nairobi-based TIFA Research in July. Just 19% of the respondents said they would vote in favor of the amendments.

“It is likely that this is not the end of the conversation and the parties involved will each make their own decisions on how to proceed from the decision that has been delivered today,” Odinga said in a statement. “But we feel that we have to move on.”

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