Kenya’s top court to issue final ruling on president’s constitutional changes

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta gives a statement on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination, during a European Union – African Union summit, in Brussels, Belgium February 18, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool/File Photo

By Reuters

Kenya’s Supreme Court is scheduled on Thursday to rule on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s bid to make sweeping constitutional changes, which critics have seized and turned into a top issue for a presidential election this August.

Last year, the High Court and the Court of Appeal struck down the proposed amendments popularly known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), prompting the government to appeal.

The Supreme Court, whose ruling is final, will settle seven questions raised by appellants, including whether the president acted illegally by initiating the amendments to the constitution.

If the court clears the changes, the ruling could lead to the creation of 70 new parliamentary constituencies and establish several powerful new posts: a prime minister, two deputies and an official leader of the parliamentary opposition.

The amendments became a lightning rod for politicians jostling ahead of the general election scheduled for August 9. Kenyatta and his deputy president, William Ruto, have publicly clashed over the proposals.

Ruto is running for the presidency in the August presidential poll; he opposes the changes. But Kenyatta is backing his former foe, veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, who favours the amendments.

“They have told us they will bring back the BBI monster because they want to create an imperial presidency,” Ruto told his party’s delegates earlier this month.

The constitutional changes will create an all powerful presidency by giving him control of the judiciary through a proposed office of a judicial ombudsman, Ruto said. It will also put the legislature under the president’s thumb because he will control the appointment to the new posts to be created, including the prime minister, he said.

Kenyatta argues the constitutional overhaul promotes power sharing among competing ethnic groups, a position vehemently dismissed by Ruto’s camp.

“I reject the suggestion that a united country is one that has no political competition or opposition,” Ruto told his party’s delegates, adding that a democratically elected government policed by a robust opposition was the answer.