Positive signs of a deal in sight
Published on February 20, 2008, 12:00 am
By Ben Agina
There were indications that a deal out of the crippling political crisis could be in the offing, but Parliament would still have the last word. It was the only good news on a day of discord and a lack of impetus on the mediation front, dominated by a Party of National Unity (PNU) waving the sanctity of the Constitution.
But word that the Panel of Eminent African Persons shepherding the talks had pushed the two rival groups to form a legal sub-committee to draw up options to entrench the political settlement by a constitutional amendment or a new statute pointed at a shifting ground.
Sources close to the talks told The Standard last night that Justice minister Ms Martha Karua and Mbooni MP Mr Mutula Kilonzo will anchor the Government side in the committee, while Mr William Ruto (Eldoret North), Mr James Orengo (Ugenya) and Mr Caroli Omondi will represent the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
We also reliably learnt that Mr Hans Corell, a former Under Secretary of Legal Affairs and Legal Counsel of the United Nations, will assist them.
The fact that such a committee had been constituted and even though details of its mandate and terms of reference remained scanty appeared to suggest that Parliament would eventually have a role to play in sealing any deal that may be arrived at.
There could be a real possibility, therefore, that the two rival groups are edging closer to a power sharing deal, understood to be the creation of the office of a Prime Minister and two deputies, even as the Presidency and the Vice Presidency are retained.
However, this seemingly positive development was overshadowed by statements by President Kibaki and Party of National Unity MPs and ministers, who appeared to pour cold water on real power sharing.
“It can’t be an illusion, power sharing must be real,” US Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice on Monday told PNU and ODM — the two protagonists in the disputed and discredited presidential election.
PNU opposed to PM Post
But on Tuesday, Government negotiators and MPs attending a PNU Parliamentary Group meeting fought the proposed power sharing and pushed for “accommodating or co-opting” ODM into Government.
The MPs and President Kibaki appeared to speak in one voice as they argued against a quick power-sharing deal as pressed for by Rice in Nairobi.
The Government insisted that any deal must be worked out within the current Constitution, and any other arrangement would have to follow later through constitutional reforms.
The Annan mediation talks had resumed yesterday morning, after a weekend break last Thursday at Kilaguni Lodge where the teams had retreated to handle the critical sections.
It was understood that the Government side returned to Serena Hotel, the venue of the talks, set with its position to accommodate ODM into Government as opposed to an ODM proposal that wants a split of Cabinet positions and the creation of the post of an executive prime minister.
Lead negotiator, Kofi Annan, left the Serena Hotel in the heat of the stand-off and went to Harambee House mid afternoon for a scheduled meeting with President Kibaki.
After President Kibaki’s meeting with Annan, State House issued a statement which avoided the mention of ‘power-sharing’ but which only said the President had assured Annan that he was ready to “share responsibilities” with ODM.
“The President, however, cautioned that any political solution that will be proposed must be in tandem with the current Kenyan Constitution,” part of the PPS statement read.
It added: “President Kibaki noted that the Constitution must serve as a guide while the mediation team discussed what legal and institutional reforms are needed to move the country forward.”
Before she met President Kibaki, Mr Raila Odinga and Mr Annan on Monday, Rice had told the media: “The time for a political settlement was supposed to be yesterday and it has to be urgent. The leaders have to come together and there is need to have a power-sharing agreement for the country to move forward”.
But last night, there were conflicting reports over the progress in the talks.
Annan and the two teams were holed up in a meeting till late evening trying to obtain concessions from either side.
At one point, Mutula came out of the meeting and addressed the press with the message that any power sharing arrangement must be within the confines of the Constitution.
Sources close to the Serena talks intimated that PNU tabled a proposal that there be a post of chief minister answerable to the President.
That view was repeated at the parliamentary group meeting at Old Parliament Chambers.
The MPs resolved that they were ready to accommodate or co-opt ODM members in Government for the sake peace — but without sharing executive powers.
Spokesman Mr Danson Mungatana said after the meeting chaired by Vice-President Mr Kalonzo Musyoka that the accommodation of the Opposition was distinct from power sharing, saying it had happened before during the Moi regime.
“The President should form a government to accommodate the opposition for the sake of peace. This is distinct from power sharing. This is our negotiating position,’’ said Mungatana.
The stand-off persisted despite persuasion from home and pressure from abroad.
The European Union reiterated that it would not conduct “business as usual” with Kenya until the feuding parties reached a settlement to the political crisis.
In a press statement at the end of an external relations council meeting in Brussels, the EU said it would closely monitor the situation in Kenya and the progress of the mediation talks headed by Annan.
“The council reiterates that until a legitimate political settlement is agreed, the EU and its Member States cannot conduct business as usual with Kenya,” the terse statement said.
In Nairobi, Nobel Peace laureate, Prof Wangari Maathai, led activists at a meeting at Freedom Corner where she said Kenyans were waiting for the outcome of the talks with bated breath.
Maathai reiterated her appeal for the international community to continue exerting pressure on the political leaders to find an amicable and agreeable solution.
Cabinet minister, Dr Noah Wekesa, proposed the formation of a transitional government in what appeared to be a departure from the entrenched position of Government hardliners.
He said it was only such an arrangement that facilitated power sharing that could help resolve the current political crisis