Peace talks rejected in Kenya

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki announced part of his new Cabinet on Tuesday, including Amos Kimunya as Finance Minister, amid a political crisis that has cost nearly 500 lives.

“I have considered the importance of keeping the country united, peaceful and prosperous under a strong, broad-based leadership,” Kibaki said in a televised address to the nation.

Kimunya (45), an accountant, has been Kibaki’s finance minister since February 2006. His biggest challenge will be to push government spending proposals through Parliament, where Kibaki’s Party of National Unity is in a minority after the country’s December 27 election.

Twenty of Kibaki’s ministers lost their seats in the parliamentary poll, held the same day as a presidential ballot that the opposition says Kibaki rigged. The disputed presidential result unleashed more than a week of chaos and violence.

Among the ministers Kibaki named on Tuesday was Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, who ran against Kibaki for president and came a distant third behind Kibaki and his main rival, Raila Odinga. He was appointed Vice-President and Home Affairs Minister.

A former vice-president, George Saitoti, was named Minister of State for Provincial Administration and Internal Security.

Talks rejected

Meanwhile, Odinga has rejected bilateral talks with Kibaki, dimming hopes for a breakthrough to end the turmoil in the country.

Kibaki had invited Odinga to talks on Friday, but the opposition leader said he would only attend negotiations mediated by African Union chairperson John Kufuor, who arrived in Nairobi on Tuesday.

Kibaki did not invite Kufuor to the Friday talks and officials say he will remain in Nairobi for little more than 24 hours.

“We will not attend the talks on Friday. They are a sideshow,” Odinga told a news conference.

Despite huge international pressure, especially from Western powers, Kibaki and Odinga have still not met face to face since violence erupted after Kibaki’s disputed re-election on December 30.

Odinga says Kibaki stole the December 27 election and must step down and make way for a new vote after a transitional period. Kibaki is reluctant to accept international mediation. His officials say the crisis is an internal matter.

Odinga accused Kibaki of trying to divert attention from Kufuor’s mission by offering bilateral talks in what he called a “public-relations gimmick”. “Clearly, he is extremely worried about an independent, international review of the election outcome,” he said.

The opposition leader called off nationwide protests to allow time for mediation to work, but said they will resume if it fails. He said police have killed hundreds during protests.

Economic cost

As the two sides squabbled, to the dismay of many ordinary Kenyans, Finance Minister Kimunya said he estimated the turmoil could have cost East Africa’s biggest economy about $1-billion. One of the worst crises since Kenya’s independence from Britain in 1963 has also badly hit a swathe of Central and East African countries dependent on Mombasa port on the Indian Ocean.

Britain and the United States pressed Kibaki and Odinga to find a solution.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Parliament that Kufuor “needs Kenyan leaders ready to engage. Fail to compromise and they will forfeit the confidence, goodwill and support of their own people and the international community”.

Jendayi Frazer, Washington’s top diplomat for Africa, also issued a stinging rebuke to political leaders. Kenyans “have been cheated by their leadership and their institutions”, she said.

Four former African presidents, including Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, on Tuesday visited the western town of Eldoret, in the area worst hit by ethnic killings, to meet refugees. Officials say 255 000 people have fled their homes.

Relatives were still retrieving bodies in the area around Eldoret. Faith Wairimu broke down in sobs as she stumbled across her husband’s dismembered body in a field late on Monday. He was hacked to death in the same attack near Eldoret in which 30 people were burned to death in a church.

Aid agencies were erecting makeshift plastic tents in fields and rushing food, blankets, medicines and water to tens of thousands of refugees. Many were sleeping outdoors in the cold after their houses were burned down.—Reuters

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