Revealed: Inside the talks room
Published on February 27, 2008, 12:00 am
By Standard Team
A member of the PNU negotiating team engaged the Panel of Eminent African Persons in heated exchanges and is understood to have let fly comments that stunned mediators before the talks were suspended indefinitely, The Standard can report.
A disappointed lead mediator, Dr Kofi Annan, said he would now engage with the principals, Party of National Unity’s President Kibaki and Orange Democratic Movement’s Mr Raila Odinga, in a bid to give the talks a fresh lease of life.
This emerged even as the US State Department announced it was exploring “a wide range of possible actions” on Kenya, less than 24 hours after the deadlock.
“We will draw our own conclusions about who is responsible for lack of progress and take necessary steps. We will also exert leadership with the United Nations, African Union, European Union and others to ensure that the political solution the Kenyan people deserve is achieved,” the US Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice said in a statement issued by the State Department.
On Tuesday night, details of the exchanges in the mediation room remained sketchy but the minister is understood to have exploded when the former United Nations Secretary-General, Annan, tried to steer discussions towards what was already drafted in the report of the Legal Working Group.
Sources told The Standard the minister was defending the need to preserve the President’s executive authority and retain him as the appointing authority for both the prime minister and members of the Cabinet when Annan interrupted the argument with the reminder.
Thereafter, the talks are said to have degenerated into accusations, with epithets being hurled across the table as the PNU and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), the two protagonists in the disputed and discredited presidential elections engaged in a slinging match.
Both Annan and former Tanzania President Benjamin Mkapa, who also sits on the Panel of Eminent African Persons, are understood to have found themselves on the rack with attacks, some of them questioning their integrity.
It is at this point or shortly afterwards, sources said, that the minister left the mediation room in a huff.
Mbooni MP Mr Mutula Kilonzo, who together with Justice minister Ms Martha Karua, Education minister Prof Sam Ongeri and his Foreign Affairs counterpart Mr Moses Wetangula makes up the Government team at the talks, is said to have followed the minister outside.
When he returned to the still high-strung room, Mutula reportedly apologised and clarified that the minister’s were “personal remarks and not that of the Government mediation team”.
Later, while addressing journalists at the Serena Hotel after the talks, Mutula remarked: “The meeting was too hot, tempers flared in the afternoon”.
Since the weekend, it was clear the talks could be headed for a gridlock, even collapse.
Matters in the search for a political settlement out of the impasse — that has left at least 1,000 people dead, close to half a million displaced and the economy on the brink — appeared to have come to a head on Monday.
On Tuesday, that chasm appeared to have widened even as the talks’ teams put on a brave face.
In perhaps his harshest speech since he arrived in the country slightly over a month ago, Annan openly spoke of his disappointment at the failure by the protagonists to understand the magnitude of the problem at hand.
He appeared dismayed that no one seemed to see the gravity of what in his estimation was an extraordinary situation that required extraordinary measures to deal with once and for all.
Struggling to remain diplomatic in the face of disdain, Annan told an international press conference: “We cannot pretend that nothing has happened, we cannot continue with business as usual”.
The UN-backed mediator asked President Kibaki and Mr Raila Odinga to either take charge by giving instructions to their representatives, “or I engage them”.
It was only his second statement in under 24-hours that seemed to imply that the two must now show leadership in the process.
On Monday night after a day in which nothing moved in the talks, Annan had stated: “I believe that the Panel of Eminent African Personalities working with the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation have done its work. I’m now asking the party leaders, Hon Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki to do theirs”.
He said he had concluded that the teams were incapable of resolving the outstanding issues.
The divide was evident from what the opposing sides in the talks said soon after Annan’s pronouncement.
While ODM cited frustration even after “ceding a lot of ground” in the talks, PNU insisted it did not see any justification for the suspension.
Mutula, in fact, said the Government side had formally protested against the shelving of the talks and said that the bitter exchanges and flaring of tempers would not justify such a move.
“Look at Prof Sam Ongeri, he is distraught…you have never seen him like this,” the MP, who spoke for the Government side, said in reference to the bitter exchanges that had erupted.
He added: “We have not given up. We were distraught by what happened on the mediation floor when it degenerated almost into personal insults.”
ODM Pentagon member Mr Musalia Mudavadi, who together with Mr William Ruto (Eldoret North), Dr Sally Kosgei (Aldai) and Mr James Orengo (Ugenya) constitute the Orange party’s team, said: “We are extremely frustrated. The moment we made some ground a complete reversal was made”.
International pressure mounts
He added: “We have been dedicated and committed to the talks. As ODM, we ceded ground on our original position that Kibaki should resign. We did this even despite the tribulations that we have gone through because we wanted Kenya to go on and be together”.
On Tuesday night, as the deadlock forced a suspension of the talks, the US threatened to exert leadership with the UN, the EU and the AU to force a political solution on Kenya.
The statement came barely a week after Rice visited the country to impress upon President Kibaki and Raila to reach a settlement soon.
“It can’t be an illusion, power sharing must be real,” Rice said and warned that the solution to the country’s crisis lay in sharing of power between the two camps.
Indeed, it is the quest for real power sharing by ODM and the reluctance by PNU to make any meaningful concessions that appear to have wound back the clock on the talks even as progress appeared to have been made.
In her statement on Tuesday, Rice noted that the two leaders assured her of their commitment to work out a structure for real sharing of power.
“While some progress has been made,” noted Rice in her statement, “I am disappointed by the failure of leadership necessary to resolve all the remaining issues.
“There can be no excuse for further delay. There can also be no excuse for violence and those responsible must be held accountable,” she warned.
“I want to emphasise that the future of our relationship with both sides and their legitimacy hinges on their cooperation to achieve this political solution,” Rice warned, adding that her country was exploring a wide range of possible actions.
She noted that peaceful voices continue to mount from civil society organisations, churches and from the Kenyan people on the need for a political solution.
She reiterated her strong commitments to efforts by the Annan mediation team to bring a political solution to the problem.
But the Government reacted sharply to the US statement at a hurried press conference on Tuesday night.
The PNU mediation team urged ‘international friends’ not to impose solutions on Kenya.
“Our international friends as we have stated before are welcome to make suggestions and to support the dialogue process but not impose solutions and should take care not to legitimise or reward violence, death and destruction. All relevant factors must be taken into account to avoid rush judgment based on incomplete information,” read the statement in part.
Mutula instead accused the ODM side of being responsible for the stalemate due to their “amazing” demands.