Africa, Headlines, Human Rights, Migration & Refugees | Analysis

POLITICS-KENYA: Annan&#39s Weighty Terms of Engagement

Analysis by Najum Mushtaq

NAIROBI, Jan 14 2008 (IPS) - Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan has his work cut out for him as Kenya &#39s tenth parliament is due to convene Tuesday amid calls from the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) for a 3-day mass protest beginning Wednesday.

Annan accepted an invitation from Ghana&#39s President John Kufuor – in his capacity as the current Chairman of the African Union (AU) – to head a team of mediators to help broker peace in Kenya.

However, the terms of his engagement in Kenya are shrouded in semantic confusion. The ODM welcomes international &#39mediation&#39 to resolve the crisis; the Kibaki government, on the other hand, wants no foreign diplomat doing more than &#39facilitate a dialogue&#39.

"We want Annan to mediate with full knowledge of the magnitude of the problem," ODM secretary-general Anyang Nyong&#39o said in a statement read before the party&#39s members of parliament (MPs).

Kibaki&#39s ministers refuse to accept any reference to mediation. Given their strident tone, they may even be attempting to keep Annan&#39s team away.

"If Kofi Annan is coming, he is not coming at our invitation," Roads and Public Works Minister John Michuki, a member of Kibaki&#39s new cabinet, told the press. "We won the elections so we do not see the point for anyone coming to mediate power-sharing."

The battle-line is clearly drawn once again as Kenya braces for another wave of unrest and violence.

The Orange House – ODM&#39s headquarters in Nairobi&#39s Kilimani area – is full of resentful party workers, and abuzz with protest plans, in spite of protests having been declared illegal by the government.

Two high-profile mediation missions to resolve Kenya&#39s poll-rigging crisis failed last week. Both U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer and Kufuor returned home frustrated.

Kofi Annan will start a third round of negotiations Tuesday at the head of a 3-member AU team. The other members of the team are Nelson Mandela&#39s wife Graca Machel and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa.

What hope does Annan have to bring the controversially re-elected president Mwai Kibaki and his rival Railia Odinga to the table when Kufuor and, more tellingly, Frazer could not? The situation is grim and prospects for success slim.

The disgruntled ODM has upped the ante by asking international donors to freeze aid to pressure the Kibaki government into accepting international mediation. "It is patently obvious that we do not have a partner to negotiate with," says a senior member of ODM, referring to Kibaki&#39s refusal to even acknowledge the foreign diplomatic intervention as &#39mediation&#39. "How can donors trust a government that steals votes?"

Kibaki sponsored a full-page ad in Sunday&#39s newspapers alleging ODM responsibility for sabotaging Kufuor&#39s bid to "facilitate dialogue". The government&#39s statement called ODM&#39s stance as "a blanket case of deceit".

A Machiavellian pattern is emerging in Kenya&#39s troubled post-election political milieu. Every time an international mediator arrives, the controversially re-elected Kibaki moves the goalposts and changes the parameters of possible negotiations.

Frazer hurried to Nairobi as violence began to escalate in the wake of Kibaki&#39s disputed victory in the Dec. 27 elections, but Kibaki had already been sworn in as president before Frazer&#39s intervention. Then, when Kufuor came to Nairobi last week to try and broker a deal, a new cabinet was announced though the ministers had yet to take oaths as members of parliament – a constitutional prerequisite to becoming cabinet members.

Annan&#39s arrival Tuesday will coincide with the convening of the new parliament and a series of protest rallies the ODM has called on the occasion. The 100-strong contingent of ODM MPs plans to occupy government benches in defiance of Kibaki&#39s actions.

In order to bridge the gulf between the two sides, Annan will have to press home two points. First, Kenya&#39s political crisis cannot be seen in isolation from its tragic humanitarian dimension. Second, the international disrepute Kenya has recently earned after years of being perceived as an oasis of stability may result in severe economic hardships for a country reliant on tourists and foreign aid.

On the first point, the initial spurt of violence may have receded, but violence has not stopped. In fact it seems likely that hostilities will re-emerge with a vengeance. It will take the country a long time to recover from the death and displacement it has already suffered. The official toll of around 600 dead and 250,000 displaced is highly conservative. Aid and relief agencies working in many displacement &#39sites&#39 – the government does not want to call them camps – paint a much bleaker picture and also warn that the violence is continuing.

"Though some areas have calmed down and in some the displaced can return to their homes, the number of new arrivals in displacement sites is still more than those returning," says a Danish aid worker whose team carried out a needs-assessment mission in displacement camps in the Rift Valley and Nairobi. The majority of the displaced are living in churches, schools and stadiums. The longer the political stalemate continues, the more perilous the situation will become.

The cruel irony in this large-scale internal displacement of Kenyans is not lost to aid workers based in Nairobi, as the country takes pride in housing refugees from all over the conflict-ridden region. For more than 16 years, people fleeing from Somalia &#39s civil war have found refuge in Kenyan camps. Almost all aid agencies working in Somalia and in other regional hotspots are based in Nairobi. "Now, more Kenyans are in need of humanitarian assistance, shelter and food than the refugees from other countries living in the country," says Jens Christiansen of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

On the second point, Annan will need to build on the pressure already exerted by the U.S., UK, and other foreign powers. The State Department&#39s tough words Sunday – that it will not be business as usual with Kenya unless negotiations to address the crisis started in earnest – ought to be repeated with more force by Annan.

Many European countries have already issued restrictive travel advisories for its citizens. Most of Kenya&#39s tourism sector and much of its status as the regional hub of international organisations and businesses are due to its reputation as a relatively stable and peaceful state in close proximity to numerous volatile countries like Somalia and Uganda.

Unless the Kibaki government softens its stance and strikes a deal with the opposition, the country will face international isolation, and possibly even sanctions.

It would be naïve to assume that the ruling clique led by Kibaki is unaware of these dangers. Annan&#39s team will have done its job if it demonstrates to the Kenyan regime that the costs of ignoring these internal dangers and external pressures are too high.

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