News 2008


Hopes and fears as talks enter key stage

February 4 2008


By Standard Team

Kenyans face the moment of truth this week when the Kofi Annan-led mediation talks enter the most crucial stage, even as Opposition leader Mr Raila Odinga called for foreign peacekeepers.

At the heart of the mediation talks is Annanís Agenda Number 4, which is the most critical and which focuses on the political crisis touched off by the controversial proclamation of President Kibaki as the winner of the disputed elections that local, regional and international observers said was deeply flawed.

It comes amid renewed suspicion between ODM leaders and President Kibaki over the latterís statement at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa.

Christians pray at the Kisima Cha Neema Church in Mombasa on Sunday. Picture by Andrew Kilonzi

The President claimed that the opposition planned and executed the violence after refusing to concede defeat. But Raila shot back that Kibaki did not have even an iota of evidence to back his claims and, besides, he was ultimately in charge of security and had failed to ensure the safety of Kenyans.

As the politicians traded blame, violence continued to spiral. At the Borabu-Sotik-Bureti border, 10 people were reportedly killed, bringing to 17 the number of those who have lost their lives in the past three days.

Also burnt alongside several dozen houses were three schools - Koiyet Primary and St Ann Academy on the Sotik side of the border and Ribaita Primary School in Borabu.

In Eldoret, raiders razed another school.

And at Bimbiniet village in Trans Mara District, raiders armed with assault rifles shot four people dead yesterday morning.

Calling for foreign troops to be deployed under the command of AU or United Nations, Raila said Kenya Army personnel being used to contain civil unrest were not neutral, but were instead serving Kibakiís interests.

The ODM leader said the police force had the capacity to deal with acts of violence, but were under "wrong orders".

On Sunday, thousands of Kenyans flooded churches to pray for peace, as the defining week began.

It is the week that the team of international mediators, led by the former UN Secretary-General, is expected to come up with a clearer roadmap over the disputed presidential poll.

In Annanís team are former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa and Mrs Graca Machel, the wife of former South African Nobel laureate and former President, Mr Nelson Mandela.

Negotiating on the PNU side are Justice minister, Ms Martha Karua, Education minister, Prof Sam Ongeri, and Mbooni MP, Mr Mutula Kilonzo, while on the ODM side are ODM deputy leader, Mr Musalia Mudavadi, Pentagon member, Mr William Ruto, Aldai MP, Dr Sally Kosgei, and lawyer, Mr James Orengo.

Another negotiator arrives

The arrival of tough South African negotiator and respected political strategist, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, gave the Annan talks a fresh boost because Kenyans expect the skilled mediator to use his expertise to build on what the other mediators have so far achieved.

The 55-year-old Ramaphosa is among those credited with negotiating the end of Apartheid in South Africa and midwifing a new constitution in the early 1990s.

The trained lawyer, trade unionist and politician told The Standard from his hotel in Nairobi that he would speak to journalists only after getting his briefing from Annan.

Ramaphosa, however, said on arrival that he was aware of the daunting task ahead and would use his skills to help find a solution to the crisis that has left more than 800 Kenyans and 350,000 others displaced and living in inhospitable and squalid camps.

Property worth billions of shillings has been destroyed in the one month of post-election upheavals.

The Annan team has already zeroed in on the four most important agenda that divides Kenyans and their leaders across the middle.

The team has discussed Agenda Number One, which touched on ending violence and there was hope yesterday that things could be getting better.

Although there were isolated cases of tension in Naivasha, along the Borabu-Sotik-Bureti borders and the burning of a multi-purpose learning centre in Eldoret, the country remained relatively peaceful.

Jamhuri Park was, however, re-opened by the Minister for Special Programmes to accommodate new arrivals of displaced people from Central Province.

Despite the setbacks, prayers from across the country, peace missions by diplomats and politicians, including Raila and Pentagon member, Mr William Ruto, calmed a previously agitated nation.

Raila told supporters in Kisumu to stop the violence and destruction of property while diplomats told residents of Naivasha to cultivate mutual acceptance and co-existence.

There were also more players from the Vatican, where Pope Benedict XVI expressed hope that a peace deal can end the violence. He called on Kenyans to work towards restoring normalcy.

When the Annan talks resume this morning, the team will first focus on disposing of Agenda Number Two which will delve into the humanitarian crisis.

Tomorrow, it will narrow its focus to the nerve centre of the talks by discussing Agenda Number Three on the political crisis occasioned by disputed presidential elections described by observers as seriously flawed.

ODM insists that its candidate, Raila, won the election, but it was stolen from him. The Government side, however, insists Kibaki won fair and square.

The settlement of the political crisis is the most fundamental issue of the talks, and on the table is, among others, the re-tallying of presidential votes or a re-run.

Talks on the disputed presidential polls may begin this afternoon depending on how fast the two negotiating teams tackle the agenda on humanitarian intervention.

Another critical issue is the resettlement of displaced people. The Standard was reliably informed that one of the negotiating teams has suggested the formation of an Independent Compensation Fund, to be managed jointly by ODM and PNU as the surest and transparent way to resettle the displaced.

"We want those in camps to be given alternative resettlement," said a source privy to the goings-on at the talks.

It was also suggested that standards be set on how the camps should managed as resettlement programmes are worked on.

To underline the importance of the week, Raila was yesterday optimistic that the countryís destiny would be determined in the next 10 days.

Speaking in Bondo, he said Kenyaís fate lay in the Annan team, and cautioned President Kibaki against attempts to manipulate the outcome of the process.

As the nation hoped for a quick settlement to the crippling crisis, Vice-President, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, jetted out of the country for the United Kingdom and the United States to brief the countries on the state of affairs back home.

Kalonzo, whose party, ODM-Kenya, emerged a distant third in the elections and has since joined hands with Kibakiís PNU, is scheduled to meet the Commonwealth Secretary-General, some members of the House of Commons and "friends of Kenya" in London.

He will then proceed to the US to meet Congressmen and Senators. In the charm offensive, Kalonzo would try to convince his hosts not to downsize investments following the discredited elections.

He will also reaffirm the Governmentís commitment to the ongoing talks.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, was in Nairobi last Friday and threw his diplomatic clout behind efforts to end the month-long violent political standoff.

Ban flew to Nairobi from the AU Summit in Addis Ababa to meet his predecessor, Annan, to underline the importance of the talks.

African leaders at the African Summit in Addis Ababa called for urgent action to stop the bloodletting, which has turned one of the continentís most stable nations into its most pressing crisis.

Ban told the 53-nation AU Summit that the violence in Kenya threatened to "escalate to catastrophic levels" and called on President Kibaki and Raila to do everything possible to resolve the crisis.