Annan launches new bid for Kenya deal

Mediator Kofi Annan launched a new bid on Thursday for a political compromise to end Kenya’s post-election crisis, bringing the country’s feuding leaders to the same table for the first time in a month.

Annan and many Kenyans want President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to make tough decisions that will lead to a power-sharing agreement after talks between negotiators for the two men hit a deadlock on Tuesday.African Union chairperson and Tanzanian President Jakakya Kikwete also attended the talks, extending his stay in Kenyan capital, Nairobi, by a day in hope of pushing through a deal.

Odinga and Kibaki have come under intense pressure to compromise over Kibaki’s disputed re-election in a December 27 vote, which sparked ethnic violence that killed 1 000 people and displaced 300 000 more.

The opposition had threatened to hold mass street protests on Thursday, but called them off after meeting Annan, a former United Nations secretary general, on Wednesday.

Kibaki has agreed to create a prime minister post, as demanded by the opposition, but the two sides are still far apart on how that would be done, what powers a premier would have and how many Cabinet jobs Odinga’s side will get.

Annan said on Wednesday he believed the two sides could strike a deal.

“Issues that divide the parties are bridgeable … with political will,” Annan told reporters. “The solution must be found in the mediation room.”

The crisis that exploded after Kibaki was sworn in on December 30, amid Odinga’s claims the election was rigged, seriously hurt Kenya’s reputation as a stable, prosperous nation in a turbulent corner of Africa.

The stalled negotiations also prompted criticism from the United States and European Union, in the latest diplomatic pressure to force a rapid resolution of the crisis.

Further polarisation
A top UN official said earlier in the week that the post-election violence has split the country along ethnic lines, and there is a risk of further clashes if the political crisis is not resolved quickly.

“The ethnic basis of much of what has happened was tragically clear,” Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told the UN Security Council about a recent trip he made to Kenya.

“Heightened ethnic awareness and fears have quickly spread through much of Kenyan society, fuelling polarisation,” he said. “The effects of ethnic divisions on basic government services have, for example, been dramatic in some areas because staff have quietly left or fear to go to work.”

He said it was obvious that the crisis in Kenya would not disappear, even if a political agreement was reached in the coming days.

“It was clear that the people who have been displaced by this crisis in many cases will not be able to go home quickly,” Holmes told reporters after the council meeting.

While a power-sharing agreement would likely not end all aspects of the crisis, failure to get one soon could be disastrous for Kenya, Holmes said.

“If there is no quick resolution to the political crisis, the risk of a fresh surge in violence, more displacement [of people] and further polarisation of society is very high,” he told the Security Council.

“The humanitarian consequences of this could dwarf anything we have seen so far,” he said, adding later to reporters that “we are doing our contingency planning for that.”

He said the roots of the crisis went deep and any long-term resolution would have to deal with them.

“Decades-long grievances over land, poverty and wide economic inequalities must be addressed, in a context of strong population growth and limited availability of fertile land,” Holmes told the council.

“Political manipulation of land and tribal issues will have to be prevented in future, including, no doubt, through constitutional and electoral reform to encourage more equitable representation of different interests in the government.”

He said the UN expected to remain actively involved in dealing with the humanitarian situation created by the Kenyan crisis for at least a year. — Reuters