Sunday, January 06, 2008

Kenya - A nation at a crossroads

By Ben Agina and Maseme Machuka

President Kibaki repeated he is ready to form a cross-party government but Orange Democratic Movement leader Mr Raila Odinga maintained negotiations be transacted through a credible international mediator.

Both separately met visiting US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Dr Jendayi Frazer and made their positions known. Kibaki’s message came through a dispatch from the Presidential Press Service while Raila addressed journalists at Pentagon House.

The meeting took place as the Pope sent in a message of hope and prayer for Kenya. It was also the day the British Foreign office once again expressed concern with events in Kenya and supported power sharing.

Kibaki said he would accept a unity government "that would not only unite Kenyans but would also help in the healing and reconciliation process".

But the ODM leader said the GNU was not the way to go due to the past experience. "President Kibaki should stop hoodwinking Kenyans and address the real issues. We have gone through that path of the GNU and it cannot work."

Raila told journalists: "We are going to the negotiating table to put forward our conditions. We do not want to do that through the media."

He added: "What we want is an amicable way towards a peaceful settlement. Kibaki should know that Kenya will have peace if we address the issues surrounding the elections."

PPS reported: "Frazer commended President Kibaki for reaching out to the opposition to stop the violence and called on all parties involved to embrace dialogue as a way out of the current situation."

The President was with Foreign minister Raphael Tuju and Ms Martha Karua (Justice) while the US Assistant Secretary was with the American ambassador in Kenya Mr Michael Ranneberger.

Curtains rolled on the week that opened with the storm kicked off by President Kibaki’s contested second term as focus shifted onto the construction of the Cabinet.

Speculation was rife in the political arena his new Cabinet could be named and sworn-in on Tuesday – the day ODM plans to hold the first of its frustrated rallies at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park.

Sources revealed the President could leave out some key positions vacant, probably including the Vice- President’s, for speculative purposes. The strategy could also be to entice the ODM brigade into GNU, or simply to demonstrate his doors are not completely shut.

As interest snowballed on what form of Cabinet Kibaki could be toying with even as he warms up to the idea of coalition with other parties, the East Africa Law Society (EALS) told him to wait untill the current political post-election impasse is resolved.

‘’It is retrogressive if he appoints the Cabinet before mediation is over, and will indicate that his government is ignoring the mediation process,’’ EALS President Tom Ojienda said.

Kibaki’s plans could, however, have been complicated by the decision of small parties to form a joint parliamentary group of 35 MPs-elect.

This makes the group the third largest in Parliament after ODM (100) and PNU (43). It also dislodges ODM-Kenya from the lucrative bargaining power slot with 16 seats. ODM’s muscle in the House is discernible from the fact that apart from the six seats it is entitled to in the nomination category, it has in its brood three MPs from Pentagon member Mrs Charity Ngilu’s Narc and the United Democratic Party’s MP-elect for Mogotio, Prof Hellen Sambili. This pushes the ODM strength in the 222-member House to 109.

Role of smaller parties

Some of the parties falling under the Smaller Parties Parliamentary Group are New Ford-Kenya, Safina, Democratic Party, Kaddu, Sisi Kwa Sisi, Ford-Asili and Mazingira.

They coalesced around SPPG with a message to President Kibaki that he can only approach its members to take up seats in his Cabinet through its leadership.

"In the spirit of national reconciliation and healing SPPG wishes to bring to the attention of the President and MPs-elect that as per the amendment to the National Assembly and Presidential Elections Act passed last year, it is mandatory for the sponsoring party to give its express written authority to the President under the advice of the Speaker that such party agrees to the appointment of their members to the Cabinet,’’ said the group. Its statement was signed by, among others, Mr Paul Muite, Mr Cyrus Jirongo, Mr PLO Lumumba and Ms Njoki Ndung’u.

SPPG described itself as independent of PNU and ODM. They called on the Government to enforce the Political Parties Act; already given assent by the President, saying it enhances multi-party democracy.

On Wednesday, Kibaki told MPs-elect in his camp that he would welcome any lawmaker who was willing to work with him.

The President conveyed the message at a meeting opposition MPs-elect were expected to attend.

The Head of State had summoned all MPs-elect to State House through an afternoon alert that ODM and ODM-Kenya dismissed.

Earlier, Foreign Affairs minister Mr Raphael Tuju had given the clearest indication that the President could craft a Government of National Unity that incorporates Opposition MPs.

"We are reaching out to other parties so that we have a government with many participants irrespective of their parties," Tuju told diplomats on Monday.

On Saturday Raila once again said Kibaki should accept that his tenure ended on December 30 and his declaration by ECK and consequent swearing-in ceremony was a nullity.

"What we did was an example of democracy in Africa. We want to protect this democracy for the people of Kenya spoke resoundingly," he added.

"If these results will be allowed to stand then the people of Kenya will lose faith in the ballot. Why should people vote only to declare a loser a winner?" he asked.

Meanwhile calm returned to the streets of Nairobi after a week dominated by anxiety and fear of sporadic violence. But Raila told supporters to gather at Uhuru Park on Tuesday. This is the recreation barricaded by police to keep off ODM supporters since President Kibaki was sworn-in at State House on December 30 at dusk.

Mombasa, for the second day running, turned the theatre of running battles and clouds of teargas as police took on a group led by Pentagon member Mr Najib Balala.

In Kakamega a commercial building was set ablaze. There were no reports of injuries but property of unknown value was destroyed in the afternoon inferno. In Nakuru town a fire lit by arsonists destroyed several makeshift garages.

The turmoil has claimed over 300 lives and displaced more than 100,000.

The UK Foreign secretary Mr David Miliband said in his statement: "The source of the violence and the continuing instability is the dispute over well-documented concerns about irregularities in the elections. Serious questions about the conduct of the count stand in the way of the formation of a stable Kenyan government that commands the confidence of the Kenyan people and is able to unite the country. It is vital that the democratic process works and is seen to work."

He added: "The message to Kenya’s political leaders is therefore clear: the basis for the country to move forward is political compromise, which recognises the divided nature of the electoral vote and establishes a basis for politicians of different parties to work together in a way that reflects the will of the Kenyan people. The sharing of political power is the way to build bridges across serious divides."

International efforts

"This is the context for our efforts, from the Prime Minister downwards, and involving all our allies in the US, Europe, Commonwealth and African Union to establish a strong and credible mediation. The political divisions in Kenya mean an international presence is vital. The leadership of President John Kufuor of Ghana, the current President of the African Union, is therefore critical in our view. We believe all of Kenya’s political leaders should welcome his offer to play a key role in resolving this crisis, and call on them to facilitate his journey to the country as soon as possible,’’ he went on.

Kibaki emerged from the meeting with Frazer saying he was ready for dialogue to resolve the crisis that has questioned the credibility of his regime.

The peace brokerage went on as attention turns to today’s series of prayers for peace. After prayers, television stations will broadcast "Prayer for Peace, Truth and Justice" theme between 6-7pm.

ODM secretary general said the party was for peace and Mrs Idah Odinga had been dispatched to Nyanza to call for calm.

Raila proposed Kufuor as the credible person to lead mediation.

Raila added UK Prime Minister, Mr Gordon Brown, US secretary of State on African Affairs Ms Condoleezza Rice have implored him to enter into talks and save the country from degenerating into a civil war.

Other leaders who have asked the two parties to talk include UN Secretary general Mr Ban Kim Moon, African presidents Muhammad Gaddafi (Libya), Melez Zenawi (Ethiopia) and Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania).

"We are prepared to walk the extra mile in search of peace. I urge all people to desist from violence," Raila said.

The Lang’ata MP-elect said they would keep on agitating for the justice until their demands are met. The ODM leader also met the head of Anglican Church in Kenya Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi.

Earlier Pentagon member William Ruto said they had given Ms Frazer two concerns to raise with Kibaki. "One of them was that Kibaki should recognise that he is the problem and that an internationally renowned mediator will be engaged in the talks," said Ruto.

Raila said Ugandan president Museveni has called him thrice denying there were Ugandan soldiers in Kenya. "Museveni was at pains to explain that his soldiers are not here. He asked me to clarify the issue to the Kenyan people."

Even as Museveni denied this, the rumour of Ugandan soldiers killing civilians in western Kenya remained strong.

Nzimbi said there was need for truth and justice. He called for an independent international body to evaluate the presidential results and give a definite way forward.

"All of us must accept that the tallying was riddled with anomalies. A sense of justice and truth will end the stalemate," he added.

He added that the people’s reaction was due to the completion of the exercise and called on Kenyans to be calm as dialogue was sought.

Nzimbi who earlier met Kibaki said the President was positive and eager to find a lasting solution to the crisis. "Ours was to initiate the process and then independent people to take over from us," he added.

Kibaki and Frazer agreed that all efforts should be made towards ensuring that the politically instigated violence is ended and affected families are resettled.


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