News 2008


Kenya's Kibaki takes tough line, AU divided

Fri 1 Feb 2008

By Barry Moody

ADDIS ABABA, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki took an uncompromising line over the turmoil in his country at a regional summit on Friday and diplomats said Africa was divided over the continent's most pressing crisis.

Speakers on the first day of an African Union summit on Thursday called for urgent action to stop post-election turmoil that has killed 850 people, stepping up the pressure on Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to find a negotiated solution to the crisis.

But in two speeches on Friday, to the summit and a separate meeting of the east African regional grouping IGAD, Kibaki repeatedly attacked the opposition and stuck to positions that have already been rejected by Odinga.

He said he had been elected by a majority of Kenyans, firmly put the blame for the deaths on Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and said the dispute must be settled by Kenya's courts.

Odinga says Kibaki stole the Dec. 27 election and refuses to accept him as president. He rejects a solution through the courts, saying they are stacked with Kibaki allies and would take years to issue a ruling.

He also accuses the police of killing at least 100 protesters.

The ODM fiercely protested when Kibaki described himself as Kenya's duly elected president at the first meeting between him and Odinga after the election.

Western diplomats in Addis Ababa said Kibaki seemed to be taking a tougher line than on Thursday in resisting pressure to be more conciliatory.

In addition, the 53 members of the AU seemed divided on the issue.

"There are divisions between one group who see themselves in Kibaki's situation and another that has told him in no uncertain terms that this is not acceptable," said one Western diplomat, adding that South Africa was in the latter group.

Pretoria says Kenya's crisis will be a disaster for the continent if not resolved quickly.

United Nations chief Ban Ki-Moon went to Nairobi direct from the Addis Ababa summit on Friday to support mediation led by his predecessor, Kofi Annan.

Outgoing AU chairman John Kufuor, Ghana's president, told reporters Kibaki should work with Annan to end the crisis.

"I appeal to (Kibaki) to cooperate with Kofi Anan so normalcy will be achieved quickly. The African Union is not taking sides. The AU hasn't taken sides and is standing firm behind Kofi Annan to try to achieve mutually acceptable rule".

But in his speech to the AU, Kibaki -- who has resisted outside involvement in the crisis -- described Annan's efforts as a "facilitation" mission rather than mediation . "This is first and foremost a Kenyan problem," he said.


A senior African official told Reuters at the summit on Friday that a high level review panel had warned Kenya two years ago about dangerous ethnic tensions that have now exploded into bloody conflict.

The AU's Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), a scheme to encourage good governance and democracy on the continent, issued a report drawing attention to potential ethnic problems after visiting the country, said APRM panellist Marie Angelique Savane.

"This was not only one of the main issues that we put in the report, but afterwards we wrote to the authorities of Kenya to alert them on the need to tackle these type of issues: the issue of land, the issue of ethnicity, the lack of access to democracy for the majority of the people," she told Reuters.

"We were expecting the government to fix that and we encouraged them," she added.

The peer review of Kenya was led by Graca Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela and now a member of a group of eminent Africans on Annan's team.

Experts say Kenya's apparent stability before violence exploded following Kibaki's disputed re-election, veiled deep ethnic animosity over wealth, land and power which had been allowed to fester since British colonial times.

Savane said the crisis in Kenya, previously seen as an island of stability in a turbulent region, was a warning to the whole continent.

"This should be an alarm to all African countries to realise democracy is not on paper. It has to be based on strong economic development, it has to be based on consensus building, on political dialogue to try to give a chance to every ethnic, social or economic group to be in a situation to participate," she said.

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton, Barry Malone and Daniel Wallis, editing by Ralph Boulton)