Kenya under pressure to reach agreement
Published on February 8, 2008, 12:00 am
By Standard Team
Strike a deal to end crippling crisis or else we intervene — that was the unambiguous message that the international community was sending to the PNU and ODM protagonists on Thursday.
The pressure came from the United States, the United Nations Security Council and the European Union, even as ODM leader Raila Odinga indicated that his side was willing to cede ground in mediation efforts spearheaded by former UN chief Kofi Annan for the sake of the country.
In Washington DC, members of a US Congressional Sub-Committee on Africa said Kenya was too important in the region and the world to be allowed to go the way of Rwanda and Somalia.
At the Wednesday meeting, the sub-committee warned that time was running out for “a Kenyan” solution to the political crisis.
“If the warring parties are not ready to compromise to stop the country from sliding into tribal anarchy, then the international community should move in to help,” the team, under the chairmanship of Mr Donald Payne, said without specifying what kind of intervention would be recommended.
And back in New York, the United Nations Security Council urged Kenya’s leaders to implement the February 1 agreement — which includes taking action to dismantle armed gangs, improve the humanitarian situation and restore human rights — without delay.
In the statement issued on Thursday, the Council reaffirmed its support for the Annan-led team of Eminent African Personalities in their efforts to find a solution to the problem that emerged following the disputed elections, and stem the violence.
It requested its Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, to report on how the UN could further support the mediation efforts in Kenya and mitigate the impact of the crisis on the wider sub-region.
And the European Union was reading from the same script, warning that it would deal firmly with anybody who attempts to derail the mediation talks.
EU Commissioner for Development Louis Michel said any such person would face serious consequences, which he, however, did not specify.
“We will leave no room for failure,” he said in Nairobi last night, adding that there must be a price to be paid by both parties if an agreement is to be reached.
“Both sides must be prepared to make concessions as they tackle the root cause of the problem,” he said.
In Nairobi, the Government buckled to pressure and cancelled an East African Heads of State Summit that was scheduled to take place in Nairobi today, and which ODM had vehemently opposed as a hindrance to the Annan effort.
The East African Community (EAC) headquartered in Arusha said the parley had been postponed indefinitely.
Raila said his party was ready to yield some ground to arrest the situation in the country.
“Initially, our stand was that we won the elections and Kibaki did not, hence he should resign and we should be sworn in. But we have said we are not static on that point. We are willing to yield some ground so that an acceptable solution can be found between us and the other side,” said Raila.
Back at the mediation table at the Nairobi Serena Hotel, talks reached a critical stage where the Government and ODM were expected to agree on tough choices.
Annan asked the parties to relax their positions that had the potential of stalling the talks, and pleaded with the two sides to pursue the compromise path.
“Talks on the political issues are crucial, at times divisive, but proceeding in good spirit, slowly,” Annan said.
For the second day running, the teams discussed arguments for and against a re-run of the disputed presidential elections in a tense mood.
The Government team insists ODM should take their complaint to court in compliance with the Constitution and laws that govern elections.
The Government has not been keen on a fresh presidential election and has opposed the demand that Kibaki resigns.
There was a moment of anxiety when the Government negotiators retreated to their office for consultation within Serena Hotel, leaving the ODM side in the negotiation room.
They later re-emerged and clarified that they had not walked out of the talks.
“We were busy consulting. The matters are weighty and critical. We are talking to our counterparts and very good progress is being made,” said Mbooni MP Mr Mutula Kilonzo, one of the negotiators on the Government side.
In Washington DC, Congressional Sub-Committee chairman Payne said that though the US felt that what was happening in Kenya could be dealt with internally, it appeared there was no goodwill on both sides.
Present to give updates on the situation were the chairman of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Mr Maina Kiai, and former nominated MP Ms Njoki Ndung’u.
And in New York, the Permanent Representative of Panama, Mr Ricardo Alberto Arias, who holds the rotating Council Presidency of the United Nations Security Council for February, welcomed the announcement of progress in negotiations but expressed deep concern that “civilians continued to be killed, abused and displaced.
In Nairobi, EU’s Michel separately met President Kibaki, Raila, House Speaker Mr Kenneth Marende and the business community.
Michel impressed upon President Kibaki on the need to move expeditiously to resolve the impasse and end the suffering of Kenyans in parts of the country.
Michel urged both sides of the political divide to be flexible, saying the EU expected that a consensus would be reached on all issues, including addressing the underlying causes of the post-election violence.
Michel said the international community fully backed Annan’s recommendations for short term, mid term and long-term solutions.
Michel ruled out the imposition of economic sanctions at this stage.
“It is too early to impose sanctions and this would affect poor people,” he said.
He was accompanied by, among others, Ambassadors Mr Walter Lindner, (Germany) Ms Elisabeth Barbier (France) and United Kingdom High Commissioner, Mr Adam Wood.