/ 20 February 2008

Kenya talks continue, deal remains elusive

Kenya’s feuding political parties returned to talks on Wednesday to end a deadly post-election crisis, but remained stuck on how to share power.

Kenyans and world powers alike have called on President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to agree to a deal to halt turmoil that has killed more than 1 000 people, displaced another 300 000 and shattered the country’s peaceful image.

But a lasting accord looks far from certain, with Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) demanding the creation of a powerful prime minister’s post for their man, something Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) looks unlikely to concede. ”The hardening of positions by both sides — obviously due to the high stakes in the event the deal is sealed — promises a longer and more torturous path to a compromise,” local columnist Jackson Mwalulu wrote in the Daily Nation on Wednesday.

”The PNU and ODM negotiating teams have so far succeeded in making a complicated job nearly impossible. From outside looking in, it is more about egos and sibling rivalries. Each side is too careful not to be seen to have been the first one to blink.”

The opposition accuses Kibaki’s team of stealing victory at the December 27 polls. Kibaki’s side says it won fairly and accuses ODM of instigating tribal violence following the final results.

Colonial era treaty

The government team is resisting calls by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, mediator Kofi Annan and several Western nations to allow a power-sharing deal or ”grand coalition”.

”The time for a political settlement was yesterday,” Rice said on Monday after visiting Kenya to support Annan’s efforts.

On Tuesday, Kibaki said he was ”willing to work together and share responsibilities in government” with ODM, but that any deal ”must be in tandem with the current Kenyan Constitution”.

The government’s insistence on sticking to the Constitution — a colonial-era treaty which all sides agree is long overdue for reform — could block any special new arrangement to accommodate ODM like a premier’s post for Odinga, analysts say.

The deadline set by Annan for a political deal by mid-February has passed, despite a trip last week to a secluded safari lodge to focus minds. But the Ghanaian has vowed he will stay until the talks reach an ”irreversible point”. – Reuters