News 2008


Breakthrough in Talks As Both Sides Climb Down

The East African (Nairobi)

11 February 2008

Fred Oluoch


Former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan appears to be on the brink of clinching a peace deal for Kenya.

Getting President Mwai Kibaki to climb down from the position that the election dispute could only be resolved in a court of law was no easy task.

Neither was it going to be easy to persuade Raila Odinga to climb down from the position that the election was stolen and that the only option was for Kibaki to either step down or agree to a re-run of the presidential election.

It is noteworthy that even as a breakthrough was being announced, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka was in the United States lobbying Congress to press Raila to seek redress in court.

Indeed, throughout last week, temperatures remained high at the Serena Hotel where the negotiations are taking place, with Kibaki's team making it clear that a power-sharing deal was out of the question.

The standard refrain of hawkish elements on their side of the divide, including Finance Minister Amos Kimunya, was that they were not prepared to share power with "losers."

In the midst of it all, one other factor was causing positions to harden even further on Kibaki's side: As international pressure mounted on him, with one diplomat after the other issuing threats to members of his administration, his key players began taking exception to what they saw as bullying by foreigners.

Clearly, getting the parties to agree to discuss power-sharing was not going to be easy for Annan's team.

Still, agreeing to discuss how to share power was the easy part. As long as the stakes for the hardliners on both side of the divide remain high, an agreement on a power-sharing deal may take much longer to achieve.

One on side, there is a group that fears that the mediation process may expose their culpability in the sins that may have been committed at the Electoral Commission of Kenya during the tallying of the presidential votes.

On the other are hardliners who fear revenge for the killings - especially in the Rift Valley. In the middle of the post-election violence, criminal elements have taken advantage, burnt people's houses and displaced hundreds of thousands of members of President Mwai Kibaki's community.

Their fear is that if Kibaki is allowed to entrench himself in power, they may face retribution.

Which is why one of the most important achievements by the Annan team was to get the negotiating parties to agree to a truth and reconciliation commission.

Implemented well, truth and reconciliation commissions have proved to be the best medicine for dealing with the fear of retribution for historical injustices.

What options will be on the table as the teams reassemble for negotiations? First is an interim coalition government that will last for a few years to give space for national healing, agreed
constitutional reforms and reconstitution of the Electoral Commission.

Second, a grand coalition of all the major parties in parliament.

Third, where Odinga and Kibaki share executive powers - a compromise between what was stipulated in the Bomas Draft constitution and the Kilifi Draft during the constitutional reform debate of 2005.

Success will, however, depend on whether the principals manage to dissuade their agents from engaging in strident rhetoric.

The decision by the government to lift the ban on public rallies, which was announced a day before the "breakthrough" was a good starting point - as it signalled that the government was keen to implement decisions agreed on and signed off on by both parties at the Annan mediation process.

If parliament is recalled, and as long as the mood of hope is
maintained, the country may be on the path of reconciliation.

Africa's most decorated diplomat, Annan has handled more serious conflicts, where the stakes were even higher than in Kenya.

Before becoming secretary-general of the UN, in 1990, it was Annan who facilitated the repatriation of international staff and citizens of Western countries from Iraq after it invaded Kuwait. Subsequently, he led initial negotiations with Baghdad on the sale of oil to fund humanitarian relief.

As secretary-general, Annan used his good offices in several delicate political situations, including an attempt in 1998 to gain Iraq's compliance with Security Council resolutions, as well as a mission that
year to promote the transition to civilian rule in Nigeria.

In 1999, he helped to resolve the stalemate between Libya and the Security Council, and to forge an international response to violence in East Timor.

He has worked to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to resolve their differences through negotiations based on Security Council resolutions and the principle of "land for peace."

It is Annan's stature as former secretary general of the United Nations that has made it possible for the man to mobilise international opinion and resolve to return Kenya to normalcy.

Signs that the Kenyan dispute was likely to assume international dimension because of the country's strategic importance in Africa came early in the dispute when the European Union made it clear that it was not satisfied with the way the poll tallying was done.

The EU was the first to threaten to impose sanctions on Kenya in case nothing was done to rectify the situation. Now Britain, the US and Canada are talking the same language, threatening to ban any individual who might have participated in rigging or violence from travelling to their countries.

Last week, the US issued banning letters to 10 politicians and business personalities whom it considers to have participated in either promoting violence or subverting the democratic process. The focus now is on individuals taking part in the mediation who may be deemed to have derailed the talks.

It is now apparent that the international community is reading from the same script and fears that the Kenyan crisis could overshadow or divert attention from complex cases like Darfur and Chad.

And, with the Kenyan crisis now being discussed at the UN Security Council, the matter has quickly taken on a global dimension.

In a statement, the Council said the only solution to the crisis was dialogue, negotiation and compromise, and strongly urged Kenya's political leaders to foster reconciliation.

It reaffirmed its support for the African Union and the Panel of Eminent African Personalities led by Mr Annan in their efforts to stem the violence and requested Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report on how the United Nations could further support the mediation efforts in Kenya and mitigate the impact of the crisis on the wider region.

Meanwhile, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes arrived in Kenya on Friday. A fact-finding mission deployed by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour arrived in in the country last week.

The team will conduct research for an initial period of three weeks, as it works to assess allegations of recent grave human-rights violations in the country.