News 2008


Rival camps still divided in Kenya

By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

February 16, 2008

NAIROBI, KENYA - Government and opposition negotiators agreed Friday to work toward a raft of electoral and constitutional reforms, but remained bitterly divided over how Kenya's presidential rivals might settle their differences and share power in a coalition.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is leading mediation talks, said a power-sharing agreement was the best hope of breaking Kenya's political stalemate and halting postelection violence that has resulted in 1,000 deaths and displaced another 300,000 people.

After spending two days in a secluded southern Kenyan safari lodge with bickering negotiators, Annan described the talks as "intense and fruitful," and said he remained optimistic that a compromise might be reached next week.

"The momentum is with us," he said Friday at a news conference here.

"We are at the water's edge, and the last difficult and frightening step, as difficult as it is, will be taken."

He added that he planned to bypass the official four-person negotiating teams Monday and make personal appeals to Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, urging them to "have the courage and make a deal."

Analysts warned that Kibaki, who has scarcely acknowledged the election crisis since the disputed Dec. 27 presidential vote, appears reluctant to concede any significant authority to Odinga.

The opposition leader says he won the election. Kibaki was declared the victor by his handpicked election commission, despite widespread claims of vote rigging.

"The Annan initiative is going to collapse because Kibaki is adamant about not sharing power," said political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi in Nairobi, the capital. "He doesn't believe in a positive-sum game where everyone goes home with a piece of the pie."

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in Kenya to help prod the participants toward a settlement. Before the recent meltdown, Kenya had been a key American partner in fighting terrorism in the Horn of Africa and a model of democracy in the region.

Opposition leaders welcomed U.S. engagement and warned of continued violence if the talks break down.

"International pressure is essential to ensure that Mr. Kofi Annan's mission succeeds and we are to avert a disaster in Kenya," opposition spokesman Salim Lone said Friday. "We should not be fooled by the current relative calm to believe that the worst of the situation is over."

Rice's visit appears to be part of an international diplomatic campaign to keep pressure on the government and opposition by threatening sanctions against those deemed to be stonewalling.

On Thursday, Britain's high commissioner, or ambassador, to Kenya, Adam Wood, said his country does not recognize Kibaki's government "as presently constituted, as representing the will of Kenyan people."

The U.S. and other Western governments said they might deny visas to Kenyan politicians and business leaders found to be involved in instigating or funding violence. European Union officials this week warned of economic consequences if the talks fail.

The threats drew angry responses from government officials. On Thursday, Justice Minister Martha Karua, who is leading the Kibaki government's negotiating team, accused foreign governments of treating Kenya like a "colony" and dismissed their views as "irrelevant."

Earlier in the week, Karua, who is considered one of the government hard-liners, blasted Annan for publicly suggesting that a transitional "grand coalition government" could be a solution for Kenya. She cautioned that the proposal had "not been discussed or agreed upon."

Those familiar with the negotiations say the government is offering to give the opposition 15 Cabinet positions, but is insisting that Kibaki select the nominees and that he be allowed to serve out a full five-year term.

Opposition leaders want Odinga named to a new prime minister post, with clearly defined powers. They are also seeking guarantees that opposition ministers cannot be fired by Kibaki, and they want elections in two years.