News 2008


From Tutu to Kikwete-World leaders who came calling


01. March 2008

On January 29, Mr Kofi Annan predicted that the squabble over the disputed presidential results would be solved within a month.

Turns out he still had a day to go when President Mwai Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga finally inked out an agreement at Harambee House on Thursday, February 28 — with everything else on his mind, the Ghanaian prophet must have forgotten that this was a leap year.

One month? Extra day or not, it sounded like an optimistic bet. After all, Mr Annan was hardly the first — or last — international envoy of repute to visit post-election Kenya with a bouquet of olive branches, most of which were used as firewood. Between all the presidents, ex-presidents, saints and wives of saints, Nairobi has had so many high-profile visitors since December 30 we were in danger of becoming fashionable.

Can anyone remember them all? Say, Ahmad Tejan-Kabbah, formerly the President of Sierra Leone and these days the chairman of the Commonwealth Observer Group?

He was the first man to try whispering some sense into President Kibaki and Mr Odinga’s ears, having been in the neighbourhood as an elections observer. But of course we’ve forgotten about him, because on January 2, 2008, Desmond Tutu showed up. The archbishop himself!

“We did not invite him to talk,” said PNU’s spokesman when they heard he was coming. “For us, he came as a tourist.”

Well, that was indeed the stamp they gave him at customs, but one has to wonder which tour company he signed up with. Whoever they were, they landed old Tutu a fine presidential tour of State House. So much for the Mara; perhaps President Kibaki was trying to lure nervous travellers back to the country with this new rare package.

Re-entry pass

Exit Archbishop Tutu, enter Ms Jendayi Frazer, the US assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. No one had much to say about the stamp on her passport, but given the way she came and went over the next two months, she must have had a re-entry pass at least.

By this time, Ghana’s President (also the African Union chairman) John Kufuor had expressed his interest in joining the party, but presidential protocol meant he needed a formal invitation from President Kibaki, who was reluctant to give it.

While thinking it over, he sent his minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Moses Wetang’ula, over to Mr Kufuor’s house for a frank and unbiased briefing on Kenya’s situation.

Thus informed, it was January 8 before Mr Kufuor finally got the nod, and even then President Kibaki’s chin hardly budged.

According to Dr Alfred Mutua, Mr Kibaki’s wily spokesman, President Kufuor was simply “coming to have a cup of tea” with his buddy Mwai. There was “nothing to be negotiated.” This was before the tea estates were razed and their workers sent into refugee camps — the death toll hadn’t reached 600 yet.

Later that same day, a delegation flew in from the Forum for Former African Heads of State — a sinister sounding group if there ever was one.

But apparently they came in good faith. Dr Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), Mr Ketumile Masire (Botswana), Mr Joaquim Chisano (Mozambique) and Mr Benjamin Mkapa (Tanzania) all knocked at State House that evening, a visit they followed with another to Mr Odinga the next day.

The tea must have tasted bitter all around, because President Kufuor and his retired colleagues all left shortly without managing to get the two rivals to sit down together. The best Kufuor could manage was convince them to work with his countryman, Mr Annan.

To fill the time between President Kufuor’s departure and Mr Annan’s arrival, the EU Commissioner for Development, Mr Louis Mitchell, flew into Nairobi on January 19. He met briefly with Mr Odinga and President Kibaki, accomplished nothing, and left.

Spurred by failure

Mr Annan finally appeared on January 22, the same day as Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni — who, it must be said, received much less applause.

We were more than three weeks into the crisis now, and President Museveni was the only African leader to have congratulated President Kibaki.

But Mr Annan didn’t waste much time. Spurred, no doubt, by his failure in 1994 to prevent Rwanda’s genocide, he promised not to leave until Kenya had found a way out. Two days later, President Museveni was on his way out, and Mr Odinga and President Kibaki were shaking hands for all the world to see.

Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi had been thoughtful enough to send his own Secretary of African Union Affairs that day as a gesture of goodwill — Dr Ali Abdul Salam Triki came bearing humanitarian gifts for the countless displaced victims in the country, but if he wanted to capture the spotlight, his timing was poor. All eyes were on the handshake. By the time you finish reading this sentence, I bet, you’ve already forgotten his name.

Britain’s Foreign Office minister Mark Malloch-Brown was a touch more memorable when he came on the 28th.

“The British Government doesn’t have a horse in this race,” he said, perhaps to calm PNU’s disgruntlement over suggestions that the UK considered Mr Kibaki’s presidency illegitimate. It wasn’t quite that, he said, they simply weren’t ready to recognise its legitimacy either.

Two days later, the UN’s secretary-general, Mr Ban Ki-moon, hopped down from the AU summit in Addis Ababa. He squinted, smiled and left.

Uneasy calm

February turned the corner, and Mr Annan’s mediation hit its stride. An uneasy calm prevailed across the country.

He had Graca Machel, Nelson Mandela’s wife, and Mkapa at his side, but everyone knew it was Mr Annan all the way.

Progress was good, and just when it seemed it might be flagging, Ms Condoleezza Rice popped in to give him a boost from Uncle Sam on February 17. Not everyone was happy to see her. Mr Wetang’ula, her Kenyan counterpart, warned her not to “make any mistake of putting a gun to anybody’s head,” since as everyone had learned by then, that was a job for the police.

When her turn came, Condi met with all the principals and, in much more subtle terms than Mr Wetang’ula’s, let it be known that the US was ready to pull its six-shooters if necessary.

“I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr Annan said a few days later.

Mr Jean Ping, the new chair of the AU Commission, had arrived by then, followed a few days later by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

The mediation had come to within millimetres of a close, then seemed to fall apart when Mr Annan announced a suspension in talks.

And then, out of the blue, came February 28. President Kibaki shook Mr Odinga’s hand, and signed over the prime ministership. Just what Mr Annan said behind closed doors in those final hours will be the source of endless speculation — I’ve already invented a few conversations myself — but for now let’s just hope the deal sticks.

Put your guns down, Kenya, and your bows and arrows too. Save those pangas for the harvest.