Kenya’s government said on Thursday it agreed in principle to creating a prime minister’s post demanded by the opposition, in a possible breakthrough for a political crisis some worry could explode into violence again.
Local and international pressure has grown for a deal to end the stand-off over President Mwai Kibaki’s disputed re-election on December 27. The opposition has threatened to resume street protests next week if its demands are not met.
Though the East African nation has been relatively calm for the last two weeks, the protest threat stoked fears of a resumption of the post-poll violence that killed at least 1Ã‚Â 000 people and forced more than 300Ã‚Â 000 out of their homes.
The unrest has damaged Kenya’s reputation as a trade and tourism hub and one of Africa’s most stable nations, usually the host of peace talks rather than the subject of them.
The African Union’s new chairperson, Jean Ping, flew into Kenya on Thursday to add his diplomatic weight to the crisis talks led by the former United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan.
Government negotiator Mutula Kilonzo said the creation of a prime minister’s post was the focus of talks on Thursday.
”That is more or less agreed on. What we are discussing now is the post’s functions, responsibilities, nature of appointment and so on,” he told Reuters.
”This will be an interim measure.”
Opposition leader Raila Odinga would be almost certain to take the position. He says Kibaki in the past reneged on a pledge to give him such a post in exchange for support at the 2002 election.
Asked if the position would have executive powers, Kilonzo said: ”We will not give anybody a hollow shell.”
The opposition has demanded the post, wanting it to have real power, as well as a 50-50 split in Cabinet positions including what it views as top-tier ministries like finance and internal security.
A senior opposition official said there were two potential forms of the job being discussed.
”One of them is some sort of chief minister … or there is a head of government who is answerable to Parliament. You have a real separation of powers,” the official said.
‘You’re a demi-god’
Kilonzo said the interim post would come with a sunset clause that causes the position to expire either when Parliament is dissolved or when a new Constitution is enacted.
He said he expected the discussions over a political deal to be finished ”at the very latest by the weekend”.
Both sides have agreed on the need for changes to Kenya’s 45-year-old Constitution, which many criticise because nearly all the powers rest with the president.
”You’re a demi-god. It allows impunity. You can appoint anyone, everyone, you can sack people at will, appoint your relatives,” former anti-graft adviser John Githongo, a government critic, said at a speech in London on Wednesday.
”Introducing accountability to the executive is something that is extremely important,” said Githongo, who exiled himself after exposing a major graft scandal in Kibaki’s government. He urged constitutional and land law changes to solve the crisis.
The crisis laid bare issues of land, ethnicity, wealth and power that have dogged Kenya since the British colonial era, and have been habitually exploited by politicians over the decades.
The International Crisis Group think-tank, in a new report on Thursday, warned people not to be fooled by the relative calm in Kenya. ”The situation remains highly volatile … Armed groups are still mobilising on both sides,” it said.
The Brussels-based group cited the threat from warriors in the pro-opposition Kalenjin ethnic group and the Mungiki gang that comes from Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe, both responsible for some of the most horrific violence during the crisis. – Reuters