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Kenya Election Monitor Says Political Settlement Shows Promise

The United States has welcomed the power-sharing agreement between Kenya's leaders, calling it an "important and positive step" toward ending the country's political crisis. Professor Joel Barkan, senior associate in the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), says that both sides made key concessions in order to secure Thursday’s power-sharing deal. Barkan observed last December’s controversial elections in Kenya first-hand with a select monitoring team sent over by the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI).

“Both sides gave a little. Both sides had to swallow hard. I think, given the sequencing of it, President Kibaki had to swallow a little harder at the end. But you may remember that in the immediate aftermath of the election, (ODM opposition leader) Raila Odinga was calling on President Kibaki to resign and the election should be run over, and they did not recognize President Kibaki as the head of state. They (ODM) have accepted that. So as I said, both sides have given in significantly, as must be the case when you have an arrangement of this sort,” he noted.

Thursday’s deal, negotiated and signed in the capital, Nairobi, was facilitated by both principal mediator, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and acting African Union chairman, President Jakaya Kikwete, who arrived suddenly on Wednesday from Tanzania after talks stalled. It spells out specific legal commitments which, Barkan points out, if followed by both parties, will be the ultimate test of whether this government of national unity can succeed.

“What raises the possibility of it being implemented this time is that the agreement is very specific that there will be an act of parliament, which is called the National Accord and Reconciliation Act of 2008. That’ll be brought before parliament as soon as parliament convenes. Once this act is put into place, the provisions of the deal will be then enacted into law,” said Barkan.

President Mwai Kibaki claims that he won the December 27 presidential vote, which the opposition charges was rigged. About one thousand people have been killed in the ensuing ethnic violence that broke out and several hundred thousand Kenyans have been displaced from their homes. Professor Barkan notes that the broad outlines of a political settlement to break the stalemate have been available for several years, even preceeding President Kibaki’s first term in office, but were never carried out.

“It’s a significant first step, assuming the agreement is fully implemented. The broad parameters of this deal, that is to say, the creation of a prime ministership, were actually part of an MOU (memorandum of understanding) signed in 2002 between Mwai Kibaki, when he was campaigning for president and Raila Odinga, who joined him in a National Rainbow Coalition in the run-up to that election, that they would create a dual executive at that time, with Kibaki being president and Raila being prime minister. That understanding was basically not implemented by President Kibaki after he was elected, and you’ve had a festering situation ever since,” he noted.

Professor Barkan, who taught political science at the University of Iowa before moving to his current post at CSIS in Washington, credits Kenyan civil society, the Kenyan press for recent editorials, and the business community, which was losing an estimated 500 million dollars a week in commerce, for bringing pressure conclude a power-sharing deal. He also credits concern by neighboring African governments, and the brokering power of AU Chairman Kikwete, mediator Annan, and several recent strong speeches by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who recently visited Nairobi, for getting the two sides to come to terms.