Building Bridges for National Unity Advisory Task Force Chairman Yusuf Haji speaks to the media about why they delayed handing their report over to the President and Mr Odinga, on November 22, 2019.
The task force was gazetted on May 24, 2018 following the March 8 unity pact between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga after the bitter political falling-out during the 2017 poll. Politicians allied to Mr Ruto maintained their stance that they will shoot down the BBI report if it does not bring any tangible benefits to the common citizen.
For a month, the ‘handshake’ report has been one of the lingering mysteries of 2019 as anxiety mounted over the recommendations of the task force. The mandate of the Building Bridges for National Unity Advisory Task Force expired on October 23 but its members had not been able to hand in their report to the principals, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga.
Finally, after slightly more than a month, the team on Friday met with President Uhuru Kenyatta and secured an appointment to hand in their report on Tuesday next week. Both the President and the team’s chairman, Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji, have confirmed the Tuesday date.
“I have told them that they are free to bring it (the report) to me on Tuesday and I assure you that as soon as I receive it, I will personally go through it and, at the same time, hand it to all Kenyans,” President Kenyatta said as he presided over Kibabii University’s fourth graduation ceremony in Bungoma County on Friday.
In Nairobi, Mr Haji said the team had secured an appointment with the President and Mr Odinga on Tuesday, November 26. “It is now our privilege to inform the public that an appointment to hand in the report to the President has been arranged for Tuesday, November 26, 2019,” Mr Haji said at a press conference.
But the lingering question remains: what caused the delay in handing in the report?
There has been no plausible explanation for the delay, though members of the task force have often insisted that they had finalised the report and were ready to hand it in anytime the principals were ready.
One of the team’s joint secretaries, Martin Kimani, on Friday told the Saturday Nation that the delay was caused by President Kenyatta’s packed schedule.
“Getting hold of a President is never an easy thing and we appreciate that the Head of State has been dealing with a very busy schedule. We also appreciate the desire to make sure everything, from the time it is received to getting it to Kenyans, is smooth and quick,” said Mr Kimani.
But other sources intimated to the Saturday Nation that the delay could have been caused by the rush to harmonise and incorporate the recommendations of President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga’s teams after they reviewed the draft copies of the report.
While details of the issues President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga wanted to see reviewed before accepting the report remain scanty, the Saturday Nation has learnt that given the political temperatures in the country and fearing that a referendum will crowd out the Big Four Agenda, President Kenyatta wanted to avoid it.
A source familiar with the goings-on said that there has been a desire “to ensure this thing is sitting properly”. When he met Mt Kenya leaders on November 15, President Kenyatta announced that the report would be printed in bulk and distributed to Kenyans so they can read and understand the team’s findings and recommendations. And while in Bungoma County, President Kenyatta urged Kenyans to read the report once it is released.
“Let us take time to go through this report together and come out with good things that can make our country even better and more united; that can make our institutions more inclusive, and that can make our country better managed through better governance structure,” he said.
“My only prayer, especially to the political class, because I know that Kenyans have no problem with the BBI report, is kindly let us read this report because this is an opportunity to engage in meaningful and peaceful discourse. We don’t want to divide this country,” he added.
The task force was gazetted on May 24, 2018 following the March 8 unity pact between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga after the bitter political falling-out during the August 2017 General Election.
The membership of the team consists of Mr Haji, as the chairman, Prof Adams Oloo, Busia Senator Amos Wako, joint secretaries Martin Kimani and lawyer Paul Mwangi, Agnes Kavindu, Florence Omose, Prof Saeed Mwanguni, James Matundura, Major (rtd) John Seii, Bishop Lawi Imathiu and former MP Maison Leshomo.
The unity pact, the two had said, was meant to unite the country. However, the handshake and the subsequent formation of the task force has caused tension within the Jubilee Party as two sides — Kieleweke, which supports President Kenyatta, and Tangatanga, which is allied to Deputy President William Ruto — go at each other over the perceived intention of the task force.
Those allied to the Deputy President have been vocally opposed to the handshake and the task force, which they say are meant to dim DP Ruto’s presidential ambitions in 2022.
But President Kenyatta sought to allay those fears during the Sagana meeting. He told Mt Kenya leaders that his political truce with Mr Odinga should not be seen as an endorsement for the 2022 presidential race but was limited to the country’s peace.
As a result of the division over the task force, the BBI has become the subject of speculation as political temperatures rise. On Friday, the team talked of “the flood of false reports that are circulating on social media claiming to be from BBI”.
“The misrepresentations are designed to sow confusion and division among Kenyans at a time when there is a strong national consensus on the need for cohesion, honesty and ambition to change our country for the better,” said Mr Haji.
At Kibabii, President Kenyatta also spoke of the BBI’s detractors. “There is no need for insults when it comes to this report. There are people who have been rejecting the BBI report yet they don’t know its contents. We are asking people to read it first,” said the President.
The President said there are issues that need to be addressed and that can only be achieved through sober discussions “as adults, as civilised human beings”.
In coming up with their report, Senator Haji said they interacted with at least 7,000 Kenyans, visited all 47 counties, and heard from more than 400 current and former elected leaders and 123 people representing major institutions, including constitutional bodies.
The team also received 261 emailed and 755 handwritten submissions.
But speaking in Nairobi during a thanksgiving party for Kibra Jubilee candidate McDonald Mariga, politicians allied to Mr Ruto maintained their stance that they will shoot down the BBI report if it does not bring any tangible benefits to the common citizens.
DP Ruto, however, warned ODM to denounce violence if they want Jubilee to engage them in any process of bringing peace in the country going forward. “ODM must renounce violence to stand a chance of further engagement with Jubilee. Let them not hide behind the BBI or handshake to continue to perpetuate violence during elections,” the DP said.
Nevertheless, National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale went straight to the point, warning that lawmakers will shoot down the report in Parliament if it is seen as a vehicle for benefiting only some leaders who want to ascend to power.
“Former premier Raila Odinga told us that BBI will bring a tsunami. We are waiting for that tsunami. However, the BBI, the way President Kenyatta has said, will be brought to you but if it does not have any benefits to the common mwananchi then it will not pass in Parliament,” the Garissa Town MP said.
South Mugirango MP Sylvanus Osoro urged the President to make public the report on Tuesday so that they can go through it with supporters before taking a stand, warning that if it is about giving certain individuals jobs, they will oppose it.