/ 13 February 2008

Will ‘grand coalition’ end Kenya’s woes?

The creation of a power-sharing government in Kenya appeared imminent on Tuesday after a parliamentary briefing in which former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan spoke of a possible “grand coalition” to end the country’s political crisis. He has also noted that a deal would hopefully be made by the weekend.

The special sitting of Parliament was called to bring legislators up to speed with talks aimed at ending the crisis. Annan is mediating in the discussions, alongside children’s rights activist Graca Machel — the wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela — and former Tanzanian head of state Benjamin Mkapa. The talks got under way towards the end of last month.

Kenya experienced mayhem after a disputed presidential election held on December 27; opposition leader Raila Odinga has claimed the vote, which returned President Mwai Kibaki to power, was rigged. The poll was also queried by international observers.

“Grand coalitions have served other nations well,” Annan told Parliament, adding that they enabled countries to make the changes needed to address their problems, and “then eventually organise an election”.

Odinga, who heads the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), at first insisted that Kibaki should leave office and the election be reheld. Later reports indicated the possibility of Odinga becoming prime minister in a joint government that would have Kibaki as president, with the Constitution being amended to create this ministerial post.

Annan said that the ODM and the Party of National Unity (PNU), headed by Kibaki, had agreed to an independent probe of the presidential ballot with a view to avoid repeating mistakes made during the election.

He also noted that legislators would have to work “across party lines” to introduce necessary reforms. In the wake of parliamentary elections, also held in December, the legislature is roughly divided between supporters of Kibaki and Odinga.

However, a recount of votes in the election has been ruled out by negotiators (the PNU and ODM each has four representatives at the talks), while a rerun of the poll in the immediate future is apparently deemed untenable, given Kenya’s volatile political climate.

Annan further urged parliamentarians to travel to their constituencies and work for peace in these areas.

No enthusiasm

However, certain legislators were unenthusiastic at the prospect of power-sharing.

“By having ODM join government, we are declaring a one-party state. We fought for multiparty democracy and this should not happen,” said the PNU’s Beth Mugo, in reference to the push for a multiparty system in the 1990s.

However, William Ole Ntimama of the ODM said his party was happy with the Annan-led discussions and ready to embrace their recommendations. “We support the panel and, whatever they come up with, ODM will move along.”

On the matter of reforms, political analyst Pamela Tuiyot echoed long-standing calls for a reduction of presidential powers. “These powers encourage inequitable distribution of resources whereby the presidency is deemed to benefit the community of the incumbent more than others. If the presidency is made less attractive, the poll-related violence is likely to become a thing of the past,” she said.

Negotiators have now been moved from a hotel in the capital, Nairobi, to a secret location — this to prevent the media from being leaked information that could hamper the progress of talks, said a senior aide to Annan in a press release.

To date, poll-related clashes have claimed more than 1 000 lives and driven about 300 000 people into displaced persons’ camps, according to the United Nations, which also estimates there may be an additional 300 000 displaced who are not in the camps. Reports indicate that violence has now ebbed.

Anger over the alleged vote rigging has brought Kenya’s tribal divisions to the fore, notably in attacks against the Kikuyu, to which Kibaki belongs. This group has become the focus of resentment on the part of many Kenyans, who believe it has monopolised political and economic power in the East African country. — IPS