Kenyan Court Scuppers President’s Plan to Reshape Government

Kenya’s High Court shot down a plan aimed at restructuring the government to make it more inclusive and avert political violence, and found President Uhuru Kenyatta had acted illegally by driving the initiative.

The so-called Building Bridges Initiative, which was drawn up by Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga and has already been approved by parliament, proposed reintroducing the role of prime minister and two deputies. Its other provisions included allocating a greater share of the budget to the 47 counties and the appointment of an ombudsman to oversee the judiciary.

The entire process promoted by the BBI was “unconstitutional, null and void,” the five-member bench said in a judgment handed down on Thursday. It also declared the steering committee appointed by Kenyatta to implement the changes “an unlawful entity,” and that the president violated the constitution.

The judgment is a major setback for Kenyatta, who is due to step down in August next year and is unlikely to have sufficient time to revive the initiative should an appeal fail. The ruling could bolster Deputy President William Ruto’s political fortunes -- his supporters argued that the BBI was aimed at derailing his efforts to secure the top job and he refused to openly support it.

‘Illegitimate Purpose’

Instituting the initiative will entail changes to the constitution that can only be effected after an informed and participatory process that wasn’t followed, the court said. It found that the BBI was the president’s initiative rather than the people’s, and that he shouldn’t have promoted the constitutional amendments.

“Considering the illegitimate purpose for which the BBI steering committee was conceived, nothing legitimate can come out of that outfit,” the court ruled. “Whatever it may want to consider as its achievement, including the Constitution Amendment Bill, is of no legal consequence.”

The BBI’s critics argued that it would 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 rein in the budget deficit.

The court’s ruling may be challenged in the Court of Appeal. Kenya’s solicitor-general, Kennedy Ogeto, told the court the government intends to file an appeal.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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