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Faith Nyasuguta 

Kenya’s Supreme Court on Tuesday commenced the hearing of a legal bid to rejuvenate government plans to shake up the nation’s political system, just months before the general elections.

The ruling by the Supreme Court on the proposed constitutional changes, expected after three days of hearings this week, could heavily impact the August 9 presidential and parliamentary polls.

The government seeks to reverse court rulings that had dealt a blow to President Uhuru Kenyatta and his allies by turning down the reforms and their entire introduction as unconstitutional. 

Dubbed the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), the scheme aims at expanding the executive and reversing the winner-takes-all electoral system blamed for several explosions of poll-related violence in Kenya.

However, Kenyatta’s disparagers view it as just another grab for power by a two-term president who cannot vie a third time, with the BBI potentially allowing him to assume a fresh post of prime minister.


Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta (Left) alongside Opposition leader Raila Odinga (Right) /Courtesy/

BBI was born following a harmonization between Kenyatta and his one-time opponent Raila Odinga and a popular handshake between the two men after a 2017 post-election fighting that left scores of people dead.

In May 2021, Kenya’s legislature gave a nod to the proposed amendments to the 2010 constitution and were then due to be put to a referendum.

However, the Nairobi High Court ruled days later that they were illegal as the head of state lacked the right to initiate the process.

In August, Kenya’s Court of Appeal upheld the view and said Kenyatta could even be sued in a civil court for launching the process. 

At Tuesday’s hearing, Kenyatta’s lawyer Karori Kamau emphasized that the law gives the president immunity from prosecution or civil action while holding office.

“It is necessary that the president has decisional freedom, to make decisions that are key and important to safeguard the interest of the country,” he added.

Experts however believe that even if the Supreme Court’s seven-member panel sides with the government and allows the proposals to be put to a public vote, there will probably be no time to hold a referendum before the August election.


Voter registration is underway in Kenya 🇰🇪 /Courtesy/

On Monday, the East African economic powerhouse began a second round of voter registration, in a bid to attract six million new voters, after a similar exercise late last year was blighted by apathy.

According to BBI supporters, the project would give fairness a shot in the arm and help curb unrest during and after elections. However, critics caution that it could downgrade the country’s democratic institutions while creating more opportunities for patronage and corruption.

The BBI reforms seek to create the posts of prime minister and two deputies, as well as an official opposition leader, and further expand parliament with 70 new constituencies.

“If the Supreme Court overturns the lower courts on (an) expanded executive, top job promises will take centre stage as campaign strategies and might affect the vote outcome,” Nairobi-based US International University lecturer Macharia Munene told AFP.

Raila Odinga, 77, who has been the face of Kenya’s opposition for decades, revealed in December that he would make his fifth run for the presidency.

The veteran politician’s campaign was boosted on Monday when he won the endorsement of at least 30 of Kenya’s 47 county governors — compared to 10 for his rival, Deputy President William Ruto.

At the moment, the presidential poll is widely viewed as a two-horse race between Odinga and Ruto, whom Kenyatta had previously endorsed as his successor.

However Ruto, 55, has been frozen out since Odinga’s 2018 pact with Kenyatta, and he is vehemently opposed to the BBI.

Presidential aspirant Raila Odinga, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Chief Justice Martha Koome /Courtesy/
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Faith Nyasuguta