News 2008


A blot on the talks

February 13, 2008


By Standard Team

Claims of ambush, obstinacy and a protest by the Government side threatened to spoil the party as the final countdown in the search for a political solution began on an optimistic note on Tuesday.

Members of Parliament at an extraordinary Kamukunji session were called upon to put aside their sectarian differences and collectively focus on Kenya to find a lasting solution to the crippling political crisis.

Lead Mediator Kofi Annan - who was optimistic that an agreement could be concluded "hopefully this week" - urged MPs: "Let us pull together and get it done. We cannot afford to fail".

However, there was a damper as soon as Annan concluded his briefing of MPs on the ground so far covered by the negotiators in ongoing talks, when discontent became evident within Party of National Unity (PNU) ranks.

Matters appeared to have come to a head at the plenary session when the former United Nations secretary-general allegedly seemed to suggest that PNU and rivals Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) had agreed on a transitional government and presidential elections after two years.

Soon after this statement, some PNU and Government-aligned MPs started trickling out of Old Chambers of Parliament — the venue of the Kamukunji — seemingly in quiet protest.

Thereafter, and after the special session of Parliament concluded, the MPs retreated to a hastily convened Parliamentary Group (PG) at County Hall, where Justice minister Martha Karua — who heads the Government team in the talks — read a letter to protest against the Annan "pronouncement".

An excerpt of the strongly worded letter obtained by The Standard last night read: "My team is alarmed at some serious inaccurate statement made by Your Excellency at the briefing of parliamentarians today. Namely, you stated that ‘the dialogue team had agreed to have a transitional government for two years after which we shall hold presidential elections".

The minister, a status quo-proponent and a close confidant of President Kibaki — whose disputed pronouncement as winner of the December presidential election triggered violence and bloodletting in an unprecedented scale — summarily described Annan’s briefing as "inaccurate".

Efforts to get a word from the Annan team were fruitless as his team and the negotiators had left for a secret location out of Nairobi to carry out with talks in which the lead mediator said could yield fruit within the next 48 to 72 hours.

Issues agreed to so far

Legislators meeting at County Hall were impressed upon to be ready to move swiftly to endorse radical constitutional review to redress historical injustices through land reforms, checking inequity and impunity to support equal access to opportunity if they truly wanted to transform Kenya into a modern society.

They were briefed on the areas so far tackled by the Annan team, which include measures to end violence and restore fundamental rights and freedoms.

The Government has also to ensure impartiality of the security forces, demobilise and disband all illegal armed groups and militias.

On civil liberties, the restoration of freedom of peaceful assembly and lifting of the ban on live broadcasts have been agreed upon.

Also dealt with are the immediate measures to address the humanitarian situation and promote reconciliation, healing and restoration.

The way for the establishment of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission that includes local and international jurists has also been paved.

Ending the political crisis by searching for a political solution to promote national reconciliation and unity, which could entail the establishment of a grand coalition government to undertake crucial and long overdue constitutional, electoral and other reforms is actively under way.

And so is the establishment of an Independent Review Committee that would be mandated to investigate all aspects of the 2007 presidential election and make findings and recommendations to improve the electoral process.

This will be done within the context of comprehensive electoral reform — electoral laws, the electoral commission and dispute resolution mechanisms.

However, a lasting solution lies in tackling critical long term issues that include land reform, tackling poverty and inequity; addressing transparency, accountability and impunity and supporting equal access to opportunity.

Eye on Kenya

On Tuesday, the high profile international attention on Kenya also continued amid reports that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US President Bush are set to hold talks at the White House on Friday on a range of global issues including Kenya.

"We expect the president and the secretary-general to address the situation in Kosovo, Burma, Sudan, Iran, Lebanon and Kenya; the recent attacks on the leaders of East Timor; as well as international support for Iraq and Afghanistan," White House Press Secretary Dana Perino was quoted as saying.

And back in Nairobi, PNU and Government-leaning MPs emerged from County Hall to claim that they had been ambushed by a proposal for a transitional government and elections after two years.

This occasioned an inordinate delay in the departure of the PNU and ODM talks teams that were headed for a secret location to escape media scrutiny and leakage of information.

Karua, Education minister Prof Sam Ongeri, Foreign minister Moses Wetangula and Mbooni MP Mutula Kilonzo make up the Government team, while MPs Mr Musalia Mudavadi (Sabatia), Mr William Ruto (Eldoret North) and Dr Sally Kosgei (Aldai) anchor the ODM side.

Earlier in a live 10-minute telecast address, Annan said some of the issues being discussed would require action by the 10th Parliament.

He added: "You will need to work together to implement this heavy (legislative) agenda. Your active involvement, across party lines, is necessary. Without this, the Government may be paralysed".

The session was convened by Speaker Mr Kenneth Marende to brief MPs on progress made by the National Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee and roles they (MPs) were expected to play.

Mrs Graca Machel, a member of the panel of Eminent African Persons steering the talks, also addressed the gathering. The other member of the team, former Tanzanian President Mr Benjamin Mkapa, was absent.

Annan opened with a declaration that he was addressing the MPs as "representatives of the whole Kenya" and "not as a parliament representing different communities".

"Today I ask you to focus on Kenya and be proactive to foster one Kenya with a common destiny," he said. He urged MPs not to let their multiple identities in ethnic background, professionalism and party affiliations block the quest to restore peace and stability in the country.

"You should stress what unites you and not what divides you. You must appreciate that there is strength in diversity," said Annan.

Thereafter, the up to 200 MPs in attendance got the opportunity to ventilate their feelings on the ongoing talks.

The informal session went to plenary soon after Marende, Annan and Graca had read their speeches.

During the closed-door session, Transport Minister Mr Chirau Ali Mwakwere was reportedly heckled by a cross-section of members when he questioned the constitutionality of what Annan was doing.

Tigania East MP Mr Peter Munya said whatever the mediation team did, it must at the end of the day establish who between President Kibaki and Raila won the December 27 elections.

Mbita MP Mr Otieno Kajwang’ blamed the crisis gripping the country on what he described as an imperial presidency, recalling that in 1963 there was clear division of power: head of state and head of government.

But this changed in 1964 when the imperial presidency was created.

Energy Minister Mr Kiraitu Murungi recalled how the push for constitutional reforms started off so well during the National Constitutional Conference at Bomas, but problems crept in when positions were created for particular individuals.

"I was Justice minister… I have a lot of information that can really help," he was quoted saying.

Speaking outside the Old Chambers, Mbooni MP Mr Mutula Kilonzo said MPs from across the political divide were now working as a team.

Former Education Assistant minister, Mr Kilemi Mwiria, said no consensus had been reached but pointed out that there was direction in searching for a political solution.

Kisumu Town MP Mr Shakeel Shabir said it was time the feuding parties dropped their hardline positions and closed ranks for the sake of the country.

Finance minister Mr Amos Kimunya said they were all keen to see calm and stability return.

Kilome MP Mr John Harun Mwau said he was confident the talks would succeed and the verdict would be binding to both parties.

Prof Margaret Kamar echoed his sentiments, urging MPs to be prepared to pass the requisite laws as advised.