News 2008


Kenya talks hit a snag

By Carole Landry

Feb 13, 2008

NAIROBI - Talks on ending Kenya’s post-election turmoil hit a snag today when the lead negotiator for President Mwai Kibaki said there was no agreement on a "grand coalition" government.

Chief mediator Kofi Annan put forward the idea of a power-sharing government as a way out of the crisis, sparked by the disputed December presidential election that unleashed a wave of violence in which 1,000 people died.

"My team is alarmed at some serious inaccurate statement made by your excellency (Kofi Annan)," said lead negotiator Martha Karua, the minister for justice and constitutional affairs.

"Namely you stated that ’the dialogue team had agreed to have a transitional government for two years after which we shall hold presidential elections,’ which position has not been discussed or agreed upon," said Karua in a statement late yesterday.

The statement confirmed Kibaki’s long-held view that he won the presidential vote fairly and should not have to share power with his rival Raila Odinga, who says he was robbed of the presidency.

In an address to parliament, Annan stressed that only a political deal could end the turmoil and suggested it could take the form of a "grand coalition" between the government and the opposition.

"Grand coalitions have served other nations well and these are often formed when a country is in crisis," the former United Nations (UN) secretary general told the parliament session yesterday. "They come together to try to work out the fundamental issues, make constitutional and other changes required and then eventually organise an election," he said.

Kenya descended into violence after Kibaki, 76, was officially declared the winner of the December 27 presidential election that the opposition said was rigged. International observers also found flaws in the tallying of ballots.

According to the Kenyan Red Cross, more than 1,000 people have died in rioting, tribal clashes and police raids since the vote and 300,000 people have lost their homes, shattering Kenya’s reputation as one of Africa’s most stable countries.

Crisis talks were set to continue today at a secret location as Annan sought to clinch a deal by the end of the week, slapping a full news blackout for the coming 48 to 72 hours as the talks go down to the wire.

Annan had addressed parliament to secure broad support for constitutional and statutory changes that a final political settlement might require, but his "grand coalition" proposal angered a group of MPs from Kibaki’s party.

Speculation about the agreement had centred on a possible power-sharing government in which Odinga, 62, could be named prime minister, a post that would have to be created by constitutional amendment. Parliament would then adopt a raft of reforms to pave the way for fresh elections in two years.

But the government has reportedly maintained in talks that Odinga’s party should retain a role as a strong opposition with a voice in parliament - and not within the executive.

Relative calm appeared to take hold across the country for the first time in weeks. No incidents have been reported in western Kenya, which had been the worst hit by the violence.

The post-election turmoil has laid bare tribalism as well as simmering resentment over land issues and wealth disparities in Kenya, long considered a model of stability in Africa.