KENYA. Nairobi: In a sharp turn of events, the High Court in Nairobi Thursday delivered a surprise judgment that declared the referendum push led by President Uhuru Kenyatta unconstitutional, null, and void.
The five-judge bench that sat at the High Court in Nairobi delivered the ruling in a televised feed late in the evening Thursday.
Building Bridges Initiative or BBI, as it is commonly referred to in Kenya now is a call for an amendment of the 2010 constitution.
The bench, constituting of Justices Joel Ngugi, George Odunga, Jairus Ngaah, Teresia Matheka and Chacha Mwita, in their ruling stated that “popular initiative to amend the constitution can only be started by the people, and not by the government”.
The call for a referendum was initiated by President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, a former Prime Minister and leader of the opposition. This was after a now-infamous handshake where they agreed to work together.
The long-time political enemies had agreed to cut a truce after the 2017 contested presidential elections that saw President Kenyatta re-elected for the second term as president.
Kenya’s Deputy President William Rutto led a brigade against the BBI, saying that there was a need to amend sections of the document before it was presented to the citizens to vote it in or out in a referendum.
After the court ruling was delivered, Mr. Rutto tweeted that there is God in heaven who loves Kenya Immeasurably.
The Kenyan Constitution was promulgated in 2010 by the then-President Mwai Kibaki, after the country’s more than three decades search for a new constitution.
However, many politicians and common citizens feel that the current constitution is a good document that should only be given time to fully operate, while amendments are don on the way.
In February, the High Court had issued a temporary conservatory order that sought to restrain the country’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) from sending the BBI Bill to a referendum.
BBI has also been seen as a strategy used by Kenya’s political dynasties to reward themselves seats in the 2022 general elections.
This has led to a divided political class, with those from humble backgrounds, led by Mr. Rutto joining forces against those from the political elite.
The decision by the High Court has been termed as a landmark ruling by Kenya’s judiciary after the former Chief Justice, David Maraga, nullified the presidential election, leading to a re-run in 2017.
Those in the BBI camp have however promised to go back to court and appeal and get a favourable ruling within a week.
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, who is an ardent supporter of the Bill said that the ruling would be appealed and overturned by the court.
“Yesterday’s decision will only make this weekend a very active one politically. BBI has not stopped moving forward and in the next few days we will learn exactly what the judges were trying to do and what they hoped to achieve,” said the MP.