/ 6 March 2008

Kenya’s Kibaki pushes peace deal, honours dead

President Mwai Kibaki commemorated on Thursday the 1 000 people killed during Kenya’s post-election crisis and urged Parliament to enshrine into law a power-sharing deal intended to keep the peace.

Kibaki — who last week agreed to bring opposition rival Raila Odinga into a ”grand coalition” government — opened Kenya’s 10th Parliament with a minute’s silence first for two slain legislators then for all the victims of violence.

He later urged the divided house to set aside partisanship and enact last week’s political agreement brokered by former United Nations seretary general Kofi Annan in the hope of drawing a line under the darkest moment in Kenya’s post-independence history.

”Please succeed. Please forget the history of what has happened,” Kibaki (76) said in off-the-cuff comments at the end of his speech.

Kibaki urged legislators to quickly pass legislation that will let Odinga (63) — a former political prisoner who says Kibaki cheated him of the December 27 presidential vote by fraud — take up a new post of prime minister.

”The accord is a victory for all Kenyans, laying the foundation for peace and stability in our country,” Kibaki said. ”The successful implementation of the accord will require goodwill, unity, good faith and integrity from this House.”

Parliamentarians, who next meet on Tuesday, must pass a raft of legislation to approve the deal, amend Kenya’s Constitution to make the agreement legal, establish a truth and reconciliation commission, and pass an ethnic relations act.

New era?

Kibaki’s disputed re-election ignited looting, riots and politically-tinged ethnic clashes which also made more than 300 000 people homeless and caused millions of dollars of damage to property and infrastructure.

Kenyans hope the Parliament — which many view as a bastion of greed and laziness that rarely agrees on anything — will usher in a new era of politics by passing the laws fast.

The crisis hurt Kenya’s reputation as one of Africa’s most stable nations and damaged a fast-growing economy.

It also exposed simmering rifts over wealth, power and tribe dating back to the colonial era, often exacerbated by politicians angling for supremacy for their own people from among Kenya’s 42 different ethnic groups.

”The post-election violence saw communal relations stretched to breaking point,” Kibaki said.

”[But] I am confident that we will soon overcome the setbacks we have suffered recently and our country will resume its upward path in all aspects of development once we begin to implement our coalition government programme.”

Kibaki’s Party of National Unity and its allied parties, together with Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement — who share roughly equal numbers in the Parliament — have also agreed to carry out a constitutional review within a year.

Both men sat together and chatted warmly after the Parliament session in a show of unity sure to fuel a wave of optimism and hope around an exhausted nation.

But despite reaching broad agreement on power-sharing, their parties have yet to finalise some crucial details like the prime minister’s precise powers and distribution of Cabinet positions.

Kibaki noted progress during his first five-year term on helping HIV/Aids victims, raising primary school enrolment by two million, and taking economic growth from 0,2 to 7%.

Future policy priorities would include boosting the agricultural sector, still Kenya’s biggest employer, and further increasing access to education, he said.

He also committed to a policy of ensuring 30% of public appointments go to women, and improving roads. – Reuters