Sunday, January 06, 2008

Pressure piles on Kibaki presidency

By Dennis Onyango

The week has ended the way it began.

It is not any clearer today what the future holds than it was this time last Sunday.

As paramilitary troops sealed off Uhuru Park and the rest of the city most of the week, a stained presidency with damaged reputation was taking shape.

The prospect of a lame duck government was also unfolding earlier than normal, even by the standards of a regime serving the final term. The fear now is that should parties fail to agree, Kenya risks descending not only into more chaos, but also into being listed among pariah States, like Zimbabwe, disowned by the international community.

For the first time in the history of Kenya’s most disputed polls, the international community moved away from the traditional statement that elections were flawed, but results "generally reflected the will of Kenyans".

That was the phrase in 1992 and 1997 when then President Moi was believed to have robbed a divided opposition of victory through rigging. This year, the international community has openly disowned the presidential poll results and asked parties to renegotiate.

On Friday, Britain, through its Foreign Secretary said the source of the violence and the continuing instability is the dispute "over well-documented concerns about irregularities in the election process."

"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. 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," the Foreign Office said in a statement

Britain said it is involving everyone, from the Prime Minister downwards, and all its allies in the US, Europe, Commonwealth and African Union to establish "a strong and credible mediation process."

"The political divisions in Kenya mean an international presence is vital. The leadership of President Kufuor of Ghana, the current President of the AU, 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."

The US effectively retracted a statement from Washington that had congratulated President Kibaki on his victory by releasing a statement from its Nairobi embassy expressing concern about "serious problems experienced during the vote counting process".

Envoy stood by Raila

Ross Hynes, Canada’s High Commissioner to Kenya, offered ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga, a public show of support when he met him by the poolside at the Fair View Hotel earlier in the week.

Unlike in past elections, diplomats are not telling the Opposition to accept the results.

They want the Government and the Opposition to negotiate and help ease tension and resolve the crisis. On Saturday, a top US diplomat arrived for talks with main political rivals to seek an end to the post-election violence.

Jendayi Frazer, the assistant Secretary of State for African affairs, met ODM Raila Odinga in Nairobi, and separately with PNU’s Mwai Kibaki.

International observers have described last week’s vote as seriously flawed. Orange Democratic Movement party leaders have called for fresh elections. The Government says it will accept that proposition, but only if a court orders it. The condemnation of the outcome of the poll looked universal in political and influential international media circles.

The Economist called it "A very African coup," and "utter contempt for democracy" and the people.

The magazine put Kenya’s elections and the mayhem that followed at par with Nigeria’s elections last April. Kenyan elections, the paper said, "Completes a depressing cycle of democratic abuses in Africa’s biggest countries."

"Nigeria held its own mockery of an election last April. Scores were killed and observers pronounced it the most fraudulent poll they had ever witnessed. Congo held a more or less peaceful election in October 2006, since when the main opposition leader has been hounded into exile. And the year before that, flawed elections in Ethiopia resulted in the deaths of 199 protesters. Needless to say, the incumbents all won." The paper called for hard action on Kenya, arguing that it was no time to be nice.

"Initially, America, which sees Kenya as a front-line ally in a war against Islamist militias in neighbouring Somalia, made the mistake of endorsing Kibaki’s re-election. Now Britain, America and the African Union are urging Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki to talk in an effort to stop the bloodletting. That lets Kibaki off the hook far too easily. All the violence should certainly be condemned, but most of the diplomatic pressure should be exerted on Kibaki’s supposed new government to annul the results and organise a recount — or a new vote.

"If Mr Kibaki will not do this, the rest of the world should suspend direct aid to his regime and impose a travel ban on his officials. That is the least the wretched people of Kenya have a right to expect from their friends abroad," it concluded.

Anger swept across the world that Kenya, with a strong tradition of holding elections, a vibrant political culture, a relatively free press and a sophisticated economy, blew its chance to "set an example" to Africa with free and fair elections.

Like The Economist, The Financial Times too took a hard line, calling for a freeze in aid if no urgent solution is found.

"It should be made clear to Mr Kibaki that his government is illegitimate. If he refuses to accept that, the western powers should suspend programme aid and devote the money to emergency relief and supporting any more muscular AU intervention. Visas should be refused not only to corrupt officials, but to Mr Kibaki and his team.

"If Mr Odinga and his inner circle are seen to encourage violence, the same sanction should apply to them. Whatever happens, the outside world must prepare for the worst, while praying fervently that both sides will see reason," the paper said.

The paper lamented that Western leaders now scrambling to prevent Kenya’s descent into chaos should find time to consider "their own failure to respond to a crisis that has been long in the making."

Ignored the warning signs

"Seldom has an African tragedy been signalled so far in advance. And seldom have western policymakers been so complicit in a crisis that is turning into Kenya’s catastrophe. For the past three years the international donor community, led by the World Bank and supported by the International Monetary Fund, have ignored the warning signs and knowingly backed one of Africa’s most corrupt regimes."

But despite all the diplomatic efforts, things remained virtually where they were at the beginning. At Pentagon House, ODM leaders maintained that the party is ready to hold talks with Kibaki, but only under international mediation.

ODM Pentagon member William Ruto said the party’s position remains that Kibaki lost the election, a position he said they told the US diplomat.

Ruto talked as the remnants of the civil society also planned to begin their protests next week, with LSK planning to go to court while ODM calls for more mass action.

Across in the Party of National Unity camp, Kibaki’s team is said to be considering a government of national unity, on their own terms, devoid of international mediation.

Sources told The Sunday Standard, that Kibaki’s team has toyed with a power-sharing deal modelled along the lines of what transpired in South Africa in 1993 that was billed a historic compromise.

Other sources, however, said that while power sharing was being considered, no precise mechanism had been decided.

Others have proposed an interim government of national unity, which they say is not the same thing as power sharing.

But nothing much may happen unless the parties agree on the issue of who presides over negotiations.

Ruto yesterday said his party insists on international mediation for two reasons. "International mediation because Kibaki is not known to keep his word. He believes the end justifies the means and that is a game we do not want to play."

"We need international mediation so that the whole process is above board. We do not want a process that somebody will disown saying it was forced or that it was just a gentlemen’s agreement," he added.

Ruto said his party’s greatest fear is that if they let this pass, then "no president will in future be removed through the ballot," a prospect he described as "dangerous for Kenya."

The African Union was supposed to take the lead in the search for peace by facilitating talks between Kibaki and Raila. Ghanaian President John Kufuor, the current chairman of AU, was supposed to have arrived earlier in the week to facilitate talks.

Ghanaian and Commonwealth officials confirmed at the end of the week that Kufuor’s trip, which had been planned as part of a joint AU-Commonwealth mediation effort, had been cancelled as the AU and Ghana had failed to consult Kenya.

With two parallel positions constant, the fear is that the uneasy calm that has returned could erupt into violence again any time.

On Saturday, Ruto said his reading of Kibaki is that the Head of State thinks peace will return, "even if the issue is not addressed".

"Our position is clear that it is beyond doubt the elections were stolen. And we believe the people will not live with a stolen election. Some people in Kibaki’s circles seem not to understand that it is no longer business as usual. They should stop thinking that this thing will fizzle out," Ruto said.

Ruto said his party is not to blame for the violence that has gripped Kenya after elections.

"We are civilised people. We will do what we have to do in a civilised manner. The president has said he would negotiate only after the violence has ended. But he never told us when the violence would end," Ruto said.

Kibaki also did not say who would end it or take responsibility for it, he added.


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