Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki said on Saturday he was ready to form a government of national unity to end post-election violence that has killed hundreds of people and forced 250 000 to flee their homes.
The development could be a breakthrough after a week-long stalemate between Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, who says the president stole the December 27 election.
”The president said he was ready to form a government of national unity that would not only unite Kenyans but would also help in the healing and reconciliation process,” said a statement from Kibaki’s office.
It was issued after he met Washington’s top diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer. President George Bush sent Frazer to Nairobi on Friday to try to help end a week of killings and chaos since the election.
”Frazer commended President Kibaki for reaching out to the opposition in order to stop the violence and called on all parties involved to embrace dialogue as a way out of the current situation,” the Kenyan statement said.
It quoted Frazer as saying Kibaki had shown ”commitment to ending the political impasse” by extending an ”olive branch to the opposition”.
Odinga, who had appeared on course to win the vote until Kibaki was handed a narrow victory last Sunday, says the election was rigged and his rival is an illegal president.
The refusal of the two men to negotiate has frustrated both Kenyans and Western powers and prolonged the crisis.
Frazer, an Assistant Secretary of State, earlier met Odinga. ”We had a long, extremely useful meeting with her,” said his spokesperson, Salim Lone.
Lone said Odinga reiterated the opposition’s demands that a transitional government be formed to prepare for a new presidential vote within three to six months.
”We’re willing to meet Mr Kibaki as long as there is international mediation,” Lone added. ”Without it, this crisis will only fester and get worse.”
Frazer’s mission was the latest attempt at mediation by world powers horrified by the turmoil in what had been seen as one of the continent’s most stable democracies, and an ally of the West in its efforts to counter al-Qaeda.
Kibaki was sworn in at his residence only an hour after the results were announced on Sunday. Opposition anger exploded around the country in demonstrations and tribal killings that only subsided on Friday.
The government, which also accuses the opposition of vote fraud, says it will accept a re-run of the December 27 polls, if this is ordered by a court.
The opposition is sceptical about that, saying the judiciary is packed with Kibaki loyalists and legal appeals may take years.
The United Nations says post-election riots have uprooted 250 000 people — far more than previously feared.
UN officials were scrambling on Saturday to get food to people facing starvation after fleeing violence in the west of the country, which included the burning to death of 30 people barricaded in a church.
The World Bank has said the unrest could hurt Kenya’s impressive economic gains and harm neighbouring countries that rely on it as the region’s business and transport hub.
Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are suffering fuel shortages. The UN World Food Programme says its main problem in feeding the displaced has been getting trucks to western Kenya.
The turmoil has caused sharp fluctuations in the Kenyan shilling and the stock exchange lost 2,3% on Friday.
International observers say last week’s election fell short of key democratic standards. — Reuters