News 2008

 

Kenya Rivals Agree to Review Election



By TOM MALITI

16. 02. 2008



NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - Kenya's political rivals announced on Friday a 10-point plan to resolve their political crisis after weeks of negotiations but they remained deadlocked over power sharing.

The two sides did make progress on other issues, including an agreement for an independent review of the election at the center of their dispute. The Dec. 27 presidential vote unleashed weeks of ethnic violence that left more than 1,000 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.

"Let me assure you that there is real momentum," said former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is mediating the political talks. "We are at the water's edge and the last difficult and frightening step, as difficult as it is, will be taken," he told reporters.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki have been under international pressure to share power as a way to resolve their dispute over who won the election. Odinga says Kibaki stole the vote and should step down. Kibaki insists his position as president is not negotiable.

For some Kenyans, patience was wearing thin. Even if a political solution comes soon, the damage done already to the national and social fabric and to the economy will take years to reverse.

"Why are they not hitting the main issue so we can have a normal life in Kenya?" 35-year-old Dan Omondi told The Associated Press in Kisumu, which has seen some of the worst of the ethnic violence. "When you are hungry, you need food, not appetizers."

Annan said it has become the most difficult task in his long career and, in an indication of his frustration, warned he would not be provoked into withdrawing from the negotiations.

Much of the violence has pitted other ethnic groups against Kibaki's Kikuyu, long resented for their prominence in politics and the economy.

Kibaki, speaking at the opening of a new university in Nairobi, urged conciliation with those in the opposition whom he has blamed for the violence.

"We must not abandon them because there is no way we can do without them," he said.

The preliminary agreement signed Thursday after 48 hours of secret talks calls for an independent review committee "to investigate all aspects of the 2007 presidential election."

The committee will include Kenyan and non-Kenyan experts, start work March 15 and submit its report within three to six months. The report will be published two weeks later.

In the agreement, the government also acknowledged that the dispute cannot be resolved in court because the deadline for complaints expired earlier this year. Kibaki's government had insisted the opposition take its complaints to the courts, while Odinga demanded Kibaki step down.

The two sides have not agreed on whether to hold a rerun election, as the opposition has demanded.

The agreement also calls for the two sides to draw up a new constitution within a year, which could pave the way for a prime minister's post or another way to share power.

"We have only one outstanding issue ... the governance structure, which is being actively discussed. Several options have emerged," said the agreement, adding that the negotiators will now consult Kibaki and Odinga.

Musambayi Katumanga, a political scientist at the University of Nairobi, said there were already several government reports looking at how to solve issues such as constitutional reform and land distribution, which have been identified as root causes of Kenya's conflict.

"These issues have to be sorted immediately and for some of them, the answers already exist. So anybody talking about long term is burying their head in the sand," said Katumanga.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was due in Kenya on Monday to call for an immediate end to the violence. Rice and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer will meet with Kibaki and Odinga.

A statement from Odinga's party Friday said the visit is a "sign of the growing U.S. and international awareness that this grave crisis is far from over and that international pressure is essential. ... We should not be fooled by the current relative calm to believe that the worse of the situation is over."

Michael Onyango, a 30-year-old resident of the western city of Kisumu, said he was hopeful in part because of the international community's involvement.

"This is real progress," said Onyango, who makes a living herding passengers onto taxis. "The international community is talking about change in Kenya which is what we've been agitating for. We need jobs and we need constitutional and electoral reform more than we need Raila as president."

But Amos Otieno, a jobless 24-year-old in Kisumu, said he and others are fed up.

"We keep waiting and the deadlines come and go. We are growing impatient and soon people will go to the street to get their rights."

Annan also sounded frustrated at the slow pace of talks.

"I thought we could have moved much faster than we have," he said.

 

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