Mediation talks at a make or break stage
Published on February 24, 2008, 12:00 am
By Ernest Mpinganjira
Despite stern warnings of an economic meltdown and a humanitarian crisis in East Africa precipitated by the political deadlock in Kenya, the region lacks impetus to navigate the country out of the turbulence.
The International Crisis Group (ICG), in a report released last Thursday, warned of a looming insecurity-induced economic crisis in the region.
This was a day after US President George W Bush talked of “early warnings of civil strife” in Kenya that must be nipped in the bud.
While the warnings are not new, the intensity should jerk hardliners in the Kofi Annan-led mediation talks to tone down and address the real issues.
ICG painted a grim situation attributed to the emergence of militia groups ready to unleash terror.
The report said the militias from both sides of the political divide, are capable of atrocities committed by the Kamajors gangs in Liberia during the reign of Charles Taylor.
It noted: “State authority collapsed in the political strongholds of the Opposition, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).”
The flurry of warnings came on the backdrop of hard line stance taken by both ODM and the Government’s Party of National Unity (PNU) politicians.
The ICG report said: “To address the causes of the crisis, it will not be enough for the Annan team to broker a deal on the mechanics of a transitional arrangement between political opponents and schedule negotiations on a reform agenda. A sustainable settlement must address in detail a programme of power sharing, constitutional and legal reforms and economic policies that convince the drivers of violence to disarm.”
Annan chairs the mediation panel of Eminent African Personalities that also includes former Tanzania President, Mr Benjamin Mkapa, African Peer Review (APR) top official, Mrs Graca Machel and
Nigeria’s former Permanent Representative to the UN, Mr Oluyemi Adebayo Adeniji.
As the international pressure remained high, Nobel Peace laureate, Prof Wangari Maathai warned against procrastination in resolving the impasse.
On Wednesday, Maathai said the knock-on effect triggered by the political deadlock could easily turn into an economic apocalypse in the region.
She said Kenya had precipitated a political crisis in the region’s largest economy and warned the country was on course to self-destruction.
“I think it is important for us as Kenyans to realise that no country can live in isolation. We depend on other countries for trade. We are being told tourism has gone down by nearly ten per cent. Our businesses, including the Nairobi Stock Exchange, have been affected. And as you know, almost all countries in the region —Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, Ethiopia and Somalia —are dependent on Kenya,” she said.
The standoff between the PNU and ODM betrayed deep-seated ethnic hatred.
A report released last week by the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said this was likely to shape political discourse and activities in Kenya and the East African region.
Root causes of problems
HRW noted: “Kenya’s record of impunity for past episodes of political violence, particularly during the 1992 and 1997 elections, has directly contributed to the current crisis.”
The report attributed the gruesome events on the reluctance to address historical injustices and constitutional gaps, which threaten to tear Kenya apart. HRW urged the protagonists to seize the moment and anchor the country on a sound footing.
“The mediation process is a historic opportunity to ensure justice for past and present human rights abuses and correct the systemic failures of governance in Kenya,” it added.
Either, out of ignorance or deliberate negligence, previous governments have not been keen to address the historical injustices, the land question and distribution of resources.
That could explain why the ICG wants resolutions made at the Annan talks be conditioned with caveats.
“International pressure is critical to achieving these objectives. The conditioning of multilateral and bilateral financial help for a negotiated settlement should be reinforced by a general travel ban and asset freeze policy against those who support and organised violence or otherwise block the political process,” said the report.
ICG warned violence could erupt any time since the Opposition “is under pressure from its core constituencies, however, to demand nothing less than the presidency, and supporters could easily renew violent confrontations if Kibaki’s Party of National Unity coalition remains inflexible.”
President Kibaki, widely believed to have lost the election, has been accused of not being enthusiastic about reconciliation and allowing allies to run the show on his behalf.
HRW warned the standoff should be put to rest within the shortest time possible. It welcomed the agreement by the Government and the Opposition to establish a panel to review the elections and consider a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, among other reforms.
ICG warned if the political crisis spiralled out of control, the rest of the region would be sucked in.
It added: “Kenya’s stability determines regional access to energy supplies, basic commodities and guarantees a relatively safe environment for hundreds of thousands of Somali and Sudanese refugees.”
It also warned that concentrating on a power sharing arrangement between ODM and PNU would not be enough to restore the situation.
The ICG report coincided with the Opposition warning that it would call mass protests should Parliament not be reconvened next week.
The omens looked bad even as Annan sounded optimistic, saying he was beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.