Talks facing uncertainty
Published on February 21, 2008, 12:00 am
By standard Team
The mediation talks appeared to be in jeopardy last night after President Kibaki declared there was no constitutional vacuum, even as it emerged that negotiators may have agreed in principle to the creation of a Prime Minister’s post.
Matters were not helped by a persistent ODM, which accused the Government side of dragging its feet and threatened mass action next week if certain demands were not met.
The pronouncement by President Kibaki shortly after a PNU Parliamentary Group meeting put him in a direct collision course with ODM and the mediators. Earlier, former United Nations secretary-general Dr Kofi Annan had made it clear that his Panel of Eminent African Persons would work in accordance with the Constitution, but not within it.
Addressing the Press, ODM threatened mass action if Parliamentwas not reconvened within a week to begin deliberating on constitutional changes to pave the way for power sharing.
The fluid nature of the Kenyan political environment was captured in this disappointing twist given that earlier, both Raila and Kibaki sides had agreed in principle on the creation of the Office of the Prime Minister and two deputies.
This marked a milestone in the talks spearheaded by Annan, but the real deal of the talks was yet to be clinched.
A PNU side, determined to preserve the status quo by keeping Kibaki’s presidency intact through his second and last term, appeared worried about the powers that could be vested on the premier.
The Standard learnt that even though the Government side did not object to the creation of the post of premiership, its members to the National Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee wanted its functions specified.
This major shift came two days after the departure of US Secretary of State, Ms Condoleezza Rice, an emissary of President George Bush, who came with the powerful message: “It can’t be an illusion, power sharing must be real”.
Bush has himself followed up Rice’s visit to Kenya with an even more telling reminder when he spoke of early warning signs of a major conflict and the need to stop them from snowballing into a Rwanda-like genocide.
“Pay attention to the warning signs and prevent crises like this from happening. We are obviously trying to prevent such a crisis from happening in Kenya,” Bush, who is on a five-nation tour of Africa, was quoted as saying when he visited Rwanda, where nearly a million people died in 1994 in an ethnic bloodletting that left the world shell-shocked.
The international community has backed a power sharing arrangement as the most viable settlement out of the political crisis.
On Wednesday, ODM emerged from a Parliamentary Group (PG) meeting and demanded that Parliament be summoned within the next one week.
“We need to change the Constitution to be in tune with the popular demand for democratic governance in our nation,” Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, the party’s secretary-general, stated. The Kisumu Rural MP warned that ODM would reactivate countrywide peaceful mass protests if the re-opening of parliament is delayed.
ODM Pentagon member Mr Najib Balala warned of even more radical proposals.
He added: “The chief mediator Dr Kofi Annan is a frustrated man because of PNU’s intention to scuttle the process. They (PNU) are frustrating the talks so that ODM can pull out. We want to tell them that we are there to stay”.
Balala, the Mvita MP, further said: “We are meeting next week on Wednesday to prepare for the mass action and Kenyans should be ready for this”.
On his part, Annan asserted that in spite of discouraging reports prompted by statements “from one side or the other, I wish to assure the public that the talks are going on well and we are on track”.
He appealed to both PNU and ODM to refrain from making public statements or using rhetoric that could complicate the already delicate negotiations.
President Kibaki meanwhile remained locked in consultations with PNU and affiliated party MPs at a Government Parliamentary Group (GPG) meeting most of last evening.
ODM has proposed that the President be the head of State while the Prime Minister becomes head of government.
The Orange party also wants executive authority to be vested in the President, Prime Minister, their deputies and the Cabinet.
But by the admission of a section of Government representatives to the talks, the “weighty nature of the matter” meant that the details of this power sharing arrangement could not be immediately discussed.
Said a source at the mediation table: “The weighty nature of the matter at hand might mean that the two principals… (Kibaki and Raila) meet face to face and agree what functions each should execute.
“It doesn’t look to me that representatives of either side at the talks could decide this on behalf of their leaders”.
It is understood that Justice minister Ms Martha Karua, Prof Sam Ongeri, Mr Mutula Kilonzo and Mr Moses Wetangula could not commit themselves to what functions the Prime Minister’s office should have.
Equally thorny was the question of the time frame within which the office is to be created and operationalised. This matter was also said to have generated a storm between the two opposing parties.
The UN-backed talks, whose outcome the international community has said it is keenly watching, have entered their fourth week.
They have been necessitated by a disputed presidential election that triggered bloodletting and chaos on an unprecedented scale.
At least 1,000 people have died and close to half a million others displaced since ECK declared Kibaki the winner of the election, which Mr Odinga insists was stolen from him.
Concerned by the escalating chaos and the seeming inability of a bitterly divided and deeply polarised local political leadership, the international community stepped in to help in the search of an agreeable settlement.
The number of dignitaries who have visited and left has kept growing.
On Wednesday, sources close to the Annan-led talks said the Government side wanted a time frame of 12 months within which the office should be created.
But ODM representatives are understood to have strongly objected to this time frame and instead sought to have the post created within the shortest time possible.
Pentagon member Mr William Ruto told journalists at Nairobi Serena Hotel: “We’re making progress albeit slowly.” His body language appeared to reinforce this sentiment.
On another stormy day, the question of whether the post should be created through a statute or constitutional amendment also arose.
The Government side raised the issue of whether the PM’s office would be created and entrenched in the Constitution without it being subjected to a referendum.
But ODM is said to have countered by quoting Section 30 of the Constitution, which states that the legislative power of the Republic shall vest in the Parliament of Kenya, which shall consist of the President and the National Assembly.
On Tuesday, the mediation team formed an inter-parties legal sub-committee of six to draw up options to entrench the political settlement either by a constitutional amendment or a new statute.
While ODM have already given their proposal on the settlement of the political crisis, Annan was still waiting for the Government’s side to hand in their suggestions.