Africa, Headlines

POLITICS-KENYA: One More "Frightening Step" To Go

Najum Mushtaq

NAIROBI, Feb 15 2008 (IPS) - Efforts to defuse the post-election crisis in Kenya have entered a decisive phase, with negotiators appointed by President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga close to agreeing on a power-sharing government, chief mediator Kofi Annan said Friday.

Former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, chief mediator in talks to end Kenya's post-election crisis. Credit: Paulo Filgueiras/UN Photo

Former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, chief mediator in talks to end Kenya's post-election crisis. Credit: Paulo Filgueiras/UN Photo

"We are at the water's edge and the last difficult and frightening step, as difficult as it is, will be taken," the former United Nations head noted at a press conference in the capital, Nairobi.

Kenya descended into mayhem after the Dec. 27 presidential poll, which Odinga claims was rigged. International observers also expressed concern about the ballot; however, Kibaki insists his victory was fair.

Annan told reporters that the negotiating teams for the two politicians would refer back to him next Tuesday, probably with an agreement on a new governance arrangement to address the political gridlock that followed the vote.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who arrives in Nairobi Monday, is expected to give the two sides a final nudge to conclude a deal.

Prospects for a joint government have been clouded by the fact that an earlier power-sharing arrangement between Kibaki and Odinga collapsed.


This arrangement involved a memorandum of understanding signed ahead of the 2002 elections by the National Alliance Party of Kenya – then headed by Kibaki – and the Liberal Democratic Party, under Odinga. These parties formed part of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), which went on to win the vote.

The memorandum guaranteed that Odinga would become prime minister in return for his support of NARC, even though the constitution does not provide for this post.

Asked what assurances would be put in place to ensure that a new deal remains intact, Annan replied that this aspect of the process had not yet been taken up.

He also refused to give details of the power-sharing options on the table; the matter of Kenya's future governance is said to be the only outstanding item on the four-point agenda for talks. Initially, Odinga had demanded that Kibaki step down, and elections be re-held.

Essential reforms

The two camps recognise, Annan said, that given the nature of the Kenyan crisis, "power sharing is not about government positions or ministries" but about working together to implement a package of wide-ranging reforms. These changes are needed to address the underlying roots of the election difficulties.

Laying down the broad parameters of what promises to be a protracted and contentious process of constitutional, judicial, electoral and administrative reform, the Ghanaian diplomat said the core questions of land and poverty could not be resolved without a grand coalition of politicians willing to push through with change.

He also cited Japan and other western democracies as examples of states where intractable political disputes had given rise to cross-party coalitions.

In Kenya, Annan added, neither of the two main parties enjoyed enough parliamentary support to move ahead with reforms.

Electoral probe

Another gain made during talks is the agreement on constituting an Independent Review Commission (IRC) to examine all aspects of the contested election and its bloody aftermath. Kibaki's team previously spurned any means of settling the poll dispute other than those provided by the courts.

"Facts have to be known. Kenyans have the right to know what happened," said Annan. He further noted that the two sides had agreed the IRC would be constituted no later than Mar. 15, and present its report within three to six months. A non-judicial body, the commission will comprise local and foreign constitutional and election experts, as well as diplomats.

Explaining why a recount of votes had been discarded as an option to address the electoral dispute, Annan said tallying votes again would only have exacerbated tensions.

A truth and reconciliation commission to help Kenyans deal with the trauma of the past weeks is also envisaged. Details have not yet been finalised; however, the Kenyan chapter of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) also backed the idea of such a commission, Friday. "We need to know the victims of the violence, who perpetrated it and how," said an ICJ official. "Kenya needs to know who burned the farms and churches and who killed so many innocent people."

Annan further noted that Kenya was too important for the region and the wider world to be allowed to drift away into chaos. He reiterated that he had the support of the international community in his effort to find a sustainable solution to the East African state's problems.

The former U.N. secretary-general is being assisted in his mediation by Graca Machel, a leading child rights activist and the wife of former South African leader Nelson Mandela, and erstwhile Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa. Kibaki's Party of National Unity and the Orange Democratic Movement, headed by Odinga, each have four negotiators at the talks – which began towards the end of last month.

More than a thousand lives have been lost in the election violence, and as many as 600,000 persons displaced, according to the United Nations.

The crisis has brought ethnic divisions to the fore, with significant anger directed against the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest ethnic group, to which Kibaki belongs. Many Kenyans resent Kikuyu dominance of political and business affairs.

Odinga is a member of the Luo group, the third-largest tribe in Kenya.

 
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