The Kenyan Court of Appeal maintained a judgement that barred President Uhuru Kenyatta from making substantial constitutional changes, restricting his ability to block his estranged deputy from succeeding him next year.
The proposed revisions, known colloquially as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), would have been the most significant change to governance since the adoption of a new constitution in 2010.
The court maintained a May High Court judgement that found the proposed reforms unconstitutional on the grounds that Kenyatta behaved unconstitutionally.
“The days of (an) unaccountable presidency are long gone,” said Patrick Kiage, one of the appellate judges, rejecting the government’s appeal.
The BBI has served as a lightning rod for the rhetoric of politicians jostling ahead of a general election due in August 2022. Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have fallen out and they and their supporters are at odds over the proposals.
“I don’t see the need to change the constitution,” said Mwangi Kiunjuri, a Ruto backer who was sacked from the Cabinet by Kenyatta early last year.
Kenyatta argued that the constitutional overhaul would promote power sharing among competing ethnic groups and was not intended to deny anyone the presidency.
The proposed amendments would have created 70 new constituencies and establish several powerful new posts: a prime minister, two deputies and an official leader of the parliamentary opposition.
Ruto’s Kalenjin ethnic community teamed up with Kenyatta’s Kikuyu in the last two elections to defeat former Prime Minister Raila Odinga from the Luo, another large ethnic group.
The amendments are partly designed to tame Ruto’s political ambitions to succeed Kenyatta by making it possible to weave an alliance against him, according to anti-graft campaigner John Githongo.
Ruto has been aggressively pushing to inherit Kenyatta’s Kikuyu voting bloc in the central region, and some of his supporters have accepted his message.
“We don’t want BBI… This is about politicians and their quest for power,” said Beatrice Kagure, a college student in Nyeri, the country’s capital.
Kenyatta proposes more than doubling county governments’ allocation to 35 percent of the budget in order to provide more resources to the grassroots. According to some opponents, the administration has difficulty to disburse the current 15% county financial allocation on time.