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Revealed: Secrets of talks with Rice

NEWS

Revealed: Secrets of talks with Rice

Story by BERNARD NAMUNANE
Publication Date: 2/24/2008

The secret details of the high-level meetings US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held with President Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga in her few hours of diplomacy in Nairobi can be revealed today.

US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice

Dr Rice was once described as a “young lady who exhibited something very special” in 1986 when she served as an intern with the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. The fast pace of the talks in the past week can now be attributed to her one-day shuttle diplomacy last Monday.

The top US diplomat who was dispatched by President Bush to Kenya with the stern message that there must be an end to violence and that the PNU and ODM must share power to end the political crisis is reported by those who attended the closed-door sessions to have as easily navigated the issues on Monday as she did her difficult piano pieces as a girl and the tortuous field of Soviet military affairs as a junior female analyst.

In preparation for meeting her, it is understood that both parties burnt the midnight oil to prepare convincing arguments that their side was blameless in the violence, lawlessness and uncertainty that have  convulsed much of the country since the results of the presidential election were announced on December 30.

Election results

What they did not know was that the diplomat had carried with her the details of the election results, the reports of domestic and international observers and the allegations that both parties had tabled.

On the basis of the information gathered since the disputed elections, Dr Rice is said to have delivered to President Kibaki and his team on the one side and to ODM leader Raila Odinga and his group on the other a three-fold message laying out the concerns of the United States and the international community.

First was the fear that instability in Kenya was likely to affect the entire region, including countries in eastern, central, and southern Africa as well as those in the Horn. Their concern ran the gamut of political stability, economic development, relations with other nations of the world and the search for democracy.

The second item in her message centred on the violence that had been well-documented by the media.  Dr Rice is said to have urged the two sides to take steps to ensure that violence doesn’t engulf the entire country because, once it does, it would be difficult to stop.

She was categorical that the international community was not ready to allow the violence in Kenya to spiral out of control and risk a Rwanda-like situation in which hundreds of thousands were killed in 100 days. She is said to have made it clear that the two sides “must fix the violence,” which is why chief mediator Kofi Annan has been insistent that he will not leave Kenya until  a political solution has been reached.

The third issue was based purely on Washington’s concern over international terrorism. It is understood Dr Rice told the two sides that the US believed that should political instability take hold in Kenya, then terrorism would have found a new home. 

She is said to have argued that whenever security becomes endangered, civilians tended to buy a lot of guns, something that would make it difficult to tell a terrorist from a person fighting for a political cause or a tribal war.

Dr Rice reminded the government and ODM of America’s war on terror and the suspected Al Qaeda activities in the neighbouring Somalia which is struggling to establish a central government after 17 years of civil war.

Sources who attended the top-level diplomatic meetings revealed that Dr Rice insisted that Kenya must quickly stop the slide into the abyss and return to the democratic path as a stable, secure country.

She summed this up in her address after the closed-door meetings: “The international community is engaged; they are engaged because of their friendship for Kenya and they are here because of their solidarity with the Kenyan people, and we’re all working together to ensure that we get the right results and that Kenya becomes a stable, prosperous country and the haven it has been in this region for all the countries.”

To achieve the stability, she urged the two sides to forget about the question of who was the winner or the loser and work together under a grand coalition.

“We came in to join Kofi Annan, who is here on behalf of the African Union and the international community, to help the leadership and Kenyans to end the political crisis. There needs to be a coalition and sharing of responsibility in the governing of this country.” she said.

When she arrived on Monday morning, she first went to the Serena Hotel where Mr Annan and his team that includes former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa and former South African First Lady Graca Machel are based.

They briefed her on the issues, the mediation status and the hurdles that needed to be overcome before a political settlement could be reached.

From the hotel, she was driven to Harambee House to meet President Kibaki. Apparently, he and his team on national reconciliation led by Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka had held several sessions  in preparation for the meeting.

It is understood that they had agreed on the legal positions and the rich history of how election disputes have been resolved that they were to present to Dr Rice. 

The meeting took two hours, and it is understood that President Kibaki was the first to speak, summarising the issues that he believed showed clearly that he was the winner and that ODM was using violence to support their claim to power.

It was then that he invited Mbooni MP Mutula Kilonzo to take Dr Rice through their presentation which contained arguments pushing for ODM to assume the Opposition and that should power-sharing be the option, he explained the impossibility of immediately creating the position of executive prime minister.

Sources said Mr Kilonzo went into election disputes around the world, some drawn from US experience, to show a clear pattern of how they were solved. He was also said to have argued that ODM rigged the elections and had planned to use violence if necessary and that President Kibaki had shown readiness to share power by naming Mr Musyoka from ODM Kenya his VP.

It is understood that Dr Rice said that given the state of affairs in the country, it was the President’s duty to provide leadership by agreeing to share power with his rivals and prepare the ground for fresh elections.

The Kibaki team complained of what they called overbearing foreign involvement in the dispute in favour of ODM and stated they would not accept dictatorship.

This could explain why she said later: “What we hear is the insistence by the Kenyan people that the political crisis and the violence must come to an end. We are not dictating a solution to Kenyans.”

She then added: “We should, as one international community, observe certain standards that have been set. We object to the use of the word ‘dictate’. It is the Kenyan people who are insisting on an end to the crisis, and the international community is coming in to assist, to help.”

After the two-hour meeting with President Kibaki, she went to the residence of the US ambassador Michael Ranneberger in Muthaiga to meet the ODM team.

On its side, ODM had prepared a forensic audit of the votes to show how the final figures were altered at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) to favour President Kibaki.

But when they arrived prepared to argue their case, Dr Rice reportedly made the task easier for them. She is understood to have said: “We have everything on the elections; let us not waste time on it.” 

The meeting took one hour.

She was referring to election results announced by the ECK, reports of local and international observers and vote audits by each side.

The ODM leader Raila Odinga was the main speaker while the rest of the team chipped in to provide more details on the disputed election results.

Sources close to the meeting said the ODM team argued that a re-run of the presidential election was necessary to restore tespect for democracy in the country and clear the air over who the clear victor was.

But it is said Dr Rice replied that the environment was not yet conducive for an election and urged them to consider the sharing of power as the solution to the crisis.

She said it was no longer important to know who was the winner and the loser because of the damage that it had cost the country in terms of instability and the scale of violence.

Dr Rice made it clear that a grand coalition was necessary, that no obstacles should block the sharing of power and that the country should not rush into another election.

This position trumped the second ODM argument hat they were ready to enter into a coalition with PNU on condition that an election be held after two years.

In fact, it is said that Dr Rice insisted that the grand coalition should last long enough—five years—to enable those involved in the conflict to carry out the necessary constitutional, legal and judicial reforms that would  seal the loopholes that led to the disputed poll results. Priority would  be given to comprehensive review of the Constitution.

This, it is understood, was to ensure that the country  took advantage of the disputed elections to enact reforms that would return it to the democratic path. 

She alluded to this at her press conference: “Sometimes when there is a crisis, use it to put the country to a firmer footing. That is the message I passed on to all parties (PNU and ODM),” she said.

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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