/ 9 April 2008

Kenyan leaders under pressure to resume talks

Kenyan leaders were on Wednesday under pressure to resume talks on forming a coalition government in a bid to end a devastating political crisis, a day after hundreds demonstrated to demand a new Cabinet.

The much-delayed unveiling of a national-unity government is a key step in implementing a power-sharing deal aimed at quelling the deadly violence that broke out following Kenya’s disputed December polls, killing at least 1 500 people and displacing hundreds of thousands.

Many Kenyans have already reacted angrily to last week’s announcement that the feuding factions had agreed on a 40-member Cabinet — a number of portfolios the country’s wobbling economy can ill afford, many observers argue.

The lengthy disagreement over the attribution of key portfolios has fanned popular anger, and on Tuesday hundreds of protestors chanted some of the same slogans heard during opposition marches in the immediate aftermath of the December 27 elections.

Newspapers renewed a call to President Mwai Kibaki and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga — slated to be prime minister — to agree on the Cabinet composition in the spirit of the power-sharing accord that was mediated by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan.

The two leaders have failed to agree on sharing the Cabinet, notably the ministries of justice, interior, foreign affairs, energy and local government.

“The disagreement goes to the question of whether the proposals made by the partners follow the letter and spirit of the national accord, and whether any of the parties has backed away from concessions, frustrating efforts to make progress,” the Standard newspaper said in an editorial.

“Consensus is still possible on the most difficult of issues preventing the announcement of a new coalition government,” the daily added.

But Odinga has said he will only resume talks with Kibaki after he replies to a letter sent on Monday demanding dissolution of the current 17-member Cabinet and 50-50 sharing of Cabinet posts, notably infrastructural and administrative portfolios.

The Kenyan crisis erupted after Odinga accused Kibaki of stealing presidential votes.

On Tuesday, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged the feuding leaders “to implement real power sharing by agreeing on the composition of their coalition Cabinet.”

“Both emphasised to me their strong commitment to do so,” Rice said in a statement. The European Union made a similar call, while Canada said its bilateral support to Kenya will be pegged on the implementation of the power-sharing accord.

Church and civil groups have threatened mass action if the pair fail to reduce the new Cabinet to 24 members, arguing the country could ill afford a bloated government. — AFP