News 2008


Kenya Rivals Sign Deal on Ending Unrest


14. 02. 2008

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) Rival factions in Kenya's political crisis reportedly agreed Thursday to write a new constitution, a move that could allow for power-sharing as part of a deal aimed at ending weeks of violence in this East African country.

The announcement of an agreement came as President Bush said he was sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Kenya to demand an immediate halt to bloodshed that has killed more than 1,000 people since the disputed Dec. 27 presidential election.

Incumbent Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner, but opposition groups claimed the results were rigged. The election fight blew up into a broader conflict among Kenya's many ethnic groups, and international pressure has mounted for the two sides to find a way to work together.

A spokesman for former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who has been mediating in closed talks between the government and opposition, announced the parties signed off on a deal Thursday but offered no details. Annan scheduled a Friday news conference, and the talks were recessed until Monday.

A few hours later, government negotiator Mutula Kilonzo said part of the deal was to revise Kenya's constitution within a year.

"The two parties agreed to write a new constitution," he told The Associated Press. "A new constitution is required."

Kilonzo did not divulge any other aspects of the agreement, which was thought likely to be just a preliminary step toward further negotiations.

An opposition member with close ties to the negotiations confirmed there was a deal on writing a new charter, but he said it was "trivial" because the government had not formally agreed to any changes in the government.

"The talks deadlocked over the discussion of government structure," said the politician, who agreed to discuss the deal only if not quoted by name since the two sides agreed to observe a media blackout during the negotiations.

Kenya's current constitution was drawn up in the lead-up to independence from Britain in 1963 and has been revised repeatedly, giving the president sweeping powers. Kenyans have said they want a constitution that would reform how their country is run following decades of abuses by successive governments.

A new constitution could allow for power-sharing or a prime minister's post, the solution that Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga have been pressed to adopt as a way to resolve their dispute.

Odinga, who served as a Cabinet minister in Kibaki's administration for two years before being booted out in December 2005, fell out with the president over a previous attempt at constitutional reform. Odinga had led a drive opposing a draft charter backed by Kibaki.

Opponents said the proposal that Kibaki supported ignored agreements during a constitutional conference designed to check presidential powers, in part by creating a powerful prime minister. Kibaki argued the draft did cut presidential powers.

Voters rejected the constitution in a 2005 referendum that was lauded as a sign democracy was maturing in Kenya.

Then came the December elections for president and national legislature. Domestic and international observers said there was vote rigging, possibly by both sides, in the presidential ballot.

The ensuing violence has been shockingly brutal in a country once considered among the most stable in Africa, and ethnic resentments that flared with the bloodshed have polarized Kenyans as never before. Much of the violence has been aimed at Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, long resented for dominating politics and the economy.

Angered by the apparent role of some influential Kenyans in the carnage, several countries threatened to cut aid, impose travel bans or freeze the assets of anyone suspected of inciting violence.

Rice and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer plan to travel on Monday to Nairobi, where they will meet with Kibaki, Odinga and civic leaders.

Bush said Rice will deliver a message to Kenya's leaders and people: "There must be an immediate halt to violence, there must be justice for the victims of abuse and there must be a full return to democracy."

He made the announcement during a speech previewing his six-day trip to Africa, which starts Saturday. Bush's schedule does not include a stop in Kenya.

Thousands of mourners gathered Thursday for a memorial service for Mugabe Were, the first of two opposition lawmakers who were gunned down in the weeks after the disputed election. Were was among a slew of opposition activists who won legislative seats.

"What is needed is a speedy resolution to the political problem being experienced in the country," Kenneth Marende, an opposition supporter and speaker of the National Assembly, said at the service. "Chest thumbing and arrogance will not resolve the stalemate."

Kenya is expected to set up a truth, justice and reconciliation commission to investigate abuses. On Thursday, the government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said "egregious perpetrators" must not be given amnesty.

"Leaders and planners of the types of violations that have taken place in Kenya over recent weeks must never be exempted under any circumstance: to do so would be a travesty of justice," the group said.