The post-election violence was fueled in part by outrage resulting from President Mwai Kibaki’s failure to honor a similar accord with opposition leader Raila Odinga that led to Kibaki’s election in 2002 as Kenya’s fourth head of state.
NAIROBI, Kenya – A few days before Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and his main opponent Raila Odinga signed the Feb. 29 agreement to share power, it looked as if the country was closer to returning to the post-election ethnic violence that had claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people and left hundreds of thousands more wounded and displaced.
Earlier in the week, it appeared as though Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general who was leading the talks, was going to fail a task he had embarked on more than a month earlier to bring together Kibaki’s Party of National Unity and Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement after the Dec. 27 disputed elections.
Violence erupted in many parts of the country on Dec. 30 when the Kenya’s electoral commission declared that Kibaki had won a second term, despite evidence that the tallying of the votes had been seriously flawed.
When Annan, who had been in the country since Jan. 22, emerged from the meeting with both parties to announce that he was suspending the talks, panic spread a cross the country as Kenyans feared that ODM would call for fresh “mass action,” which could have certainly led to riots and more violence. But the former UN chief did not give up; he went to straight to the top by calling a meeting with Kibaki and Odinga. By the end of the week, he had managed to get the two leaders to sit next to each other at a desk outside the Office of the President to sign an agreement to share power.
“This process has reminded us that, as a nation, there are more issues that unite than divide us,” Kibaki said after signing the documents.
Odinga added, “With the signing of this agreement, we have opened a new chapter in our country’s history – from the era or phase of confrontation to the beginning of co-operation.”
A time of merry
After the two leaders signed the agreement, Annan said, "Today we have reached an important stage, but the journey is far from over. The real challenge now is for President Kibaki and honourable Raila Odinga to work together to heal and reconcile this nation, working jointly to implement the reform agenda on which they have agreed, and sustaining the effort until the job is done.”
Celebrations rocked opposition strongholds and other parts of the country as news spread that Odinga and Kibaki had signed a power-sharing deal that would bring an end to the post-election turmoil and political impasse that had engulfed the country for two months. Residents took to the streets of the lakeside city of Kisumu to as motorists hooted to celebrate the good news. In the coastal city of Mombasa, celebration was the same soon after the deal was signed. Revellers, singing and dancing, jammed entertainment joints. Tourism businesses, which were severely affected by the violence, were prompt to react.
Some citizens asked the Government to pick a work-free celebration day in the following week to compensate for the New Year’s Day, which Kenyans did not celebrate because the violence began on Dec. 30. Many also commended Odinga for agreeing to work with Kibaki.
In the North Rift, however, there were mixed reactions to the deal. Cheruiyot Ruto, a resident, said the deal was an affront to democracy. But many people called for reconciliation and healing, with others saying that the arrest and prosecution of people suspected to have engaged in violence should stop in order to achieve peace.
Residents praised Annan for his humility, saying that his team had done a commendable job despite opposition from hardliners on both sides.
There was excitement at camps for the displaced in the western district of Trans Nzoia when people received the news. They urged Kibaki and Raila to facilitate their return to their homes.
The agreement between Kibaki and Odinga will see the return of the Office of the Prime Minister, scrapped in 1964 by Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s founding president. The prime minister will supervise all Cabinet ministers and lead the government in Parliament. The arrangement will also provide for a sharing of Cabinet positions based on the strength of parties in the Parliament. The prime minister will be assisted by two deputies, positions that will be shared by PNU and ODM.
The power-sharing deal also stipulates that to fire the prime minister the president must seek consultation from the parties involved. Such a decision must also be put in writing and made in agreement with the prime minister’s party. But the prime minister may be removed by a motion of no confidence in Parliament by a majority vote.
A historical accident
Both parties agreed to work together to ensure that Parliament cements the agreement into the Constitution. When that is completed, the leader of the political party with the largest number of members in Parliament will almost automatically become the prime minister.
Foreign leaders, who had been involved in one way or another in brokering the truce expressed satisfaction with the agreement. Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who is also the chairman of the African Union, called the post-election violence a historical accident, adding that it was possible to make it a “thing of the past.” Kikwete, who flew to Nairobi to continue the mediation after hosting U.S. President George W. Bush for four days, said the toil and sweat of the mediation team had been handsomely rewarded.
“This agreement, if implemented fully, will help the people of Kenya,” Kikwete said.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told journalists that Kenya’s leaders had reached a power-sharing agreement that represented a triumph for peace and diplomacy, and a renunciation of the violence that had scarred a country of “such enormous potential.”
“Common sense has prevailed, and the Kenyan people have the outcome for which they have hoped and prayed,” Brown said. “I applaud the courage that Kenya’s leaders have shown in taking the tough decisions necessary to put Kenya back on the path to the prosperity, democracy and stability which it is so richly deserves.”
Tom Casey, the U.S. State Department deputy spokesman, said the agreement was an important and very positive step forward for Kenya.
“We are very pleased to see that this agreement has been reached,” Casey said. “We want to see this agreement implemented. We certainly would hope that everyone associated with their (Kibaki’s and Odinga’s) political parties and movements would work with them to support this deal and move it forward.”
Negotiations not over
Although the agreement was good news, it is unclear how President Kibaki and Odinga are going to make it work. There is still a strong rivalry between the two men stemming from the failure of a similar agreement popularly know in Kenya as the MoU or memorandum of understanding. If fact, what led to the bitterness between the two men was their subsequent differences on the agreement signed before the 2002 elections to rally Odinga’s followers behind Kibaki against KANU, the incumbent party.
But there is hope that the involvement of the international community in the brokering and signing of the new accord will force Kibaki and Odinga to put aside their differences for the good of Kenya. If they succeed, the memorable covenant could usher in a new era of reforms that successive regimes had procrastinated over, leading to the post-polls meltdown.
Although Annan left Kenya on March 2, the team of mediators, headed by Nigerian diplomat, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji continues with the talks to define the specifics of how it will be implemented to address, land access, injustice, poverty and corruption in government – the main problems that led to the violence.