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A Year after Violence, Annan Urges More Action by Kenyan Leaders

  • Derek Kilner

Saturday marks the first anniversary of the power-sharing agreement between Kenya's two main political factions, which put an end to two months of ethnic and political violence that killed over 1,000 people. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who mediated the agreement, called on Kenya's leaders to renew their commitment to the reforms they agreed to address, if they want to avoid a return to violence.

One year ago, Kenya's president, Mwai Kibaki, and his chief opponent in the December 2007 election, then-opposition leader Raila Odinga, signed an agreement to share power. The agreement installed Mr. Odinga in the newly-created job of prime minister.

The deal put an end to the violent protests and ethnic attacks that had killed over 1,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands following the disputed announcement of Mr. Kibaki's re-election.

So far, the coalition has held, and widespread violence has not returned. But Kenyans appear increasingly pessimistic about the coalition government's ability or commitment to address the major challenges facing the country, from corruption, to constitutional reform, to punishing the perpetrators of last year's violence.

In a recorded audio address, Mr. Annan echoed this sentiment.

"Whilst considerable progress was made in the early stages of the process, that momentum has been lost. One year after the signing of the power-sharing accord, Kenyans are feeling frustrated at the slow pace of change. I can understand those sentiments," he said.

In addition to the political arrangement - in which Mr. Odinga's party controls a majority in parliament and half the Cabinet appointments, while Mr. Kibaki retains the powerful presidency - the country's leaders agreed to tackle underlying problems that contributed to the violence. Mr. Annan says there has been little progress in this regard.

"The root causes of last year's crisis need to be comprehensively addressed if the country is to avoid a repeat of the violence. These include constitutional and institutional reforms, land reform, and reducing the huge gap between the haves and the have-nots. Other priorities are creating more jobs for youth, equal access to opportunities, promoting ethnic harmony, ending the culture of impunity, and promoting transparency and accountability," he said.

A new constitution was to be introduced within a year of the new government, but there has been little action so far. The government has introduced a bill to create an independent tribunal to try those suspected of organizing the post-election violence, but lawmakers have so far rejected it. Much of the government's energy has been spent responding to other crises, including a food shortage, and a series of corruption scandals.

The latest crisis to hit the government is the recommendation by the U.N.'s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings that Kenya's police commissioner and attorney general step down for their role in allowing widespread executions by the police force.

On Friday, a coalition of NGOs urged the government to endorse the rapporteur's recommendations. The director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, Muthoni Wanyeki, said his findings are the product of a comprehensive investigation.

"In light of this the undersigned organizations hereby demand that the government takes all measures to one, forthwith retract their ill-advised dismissal of the U.N. rapporteur's report and acknowledge the wide spread of state-perpetrated executions," said Wanyeki.

The government's spokesman has rejected the rapporteur's recommendations, though others in the government, including Justice Minister Martha Karua, an ally of the president, have said the government will consider them.

Such political divisions, both between the major parties, and between members of the same faction, have been on open display since the coalition was formed.

In a statement released Friday, President Kibaki said the government had made "commendable progress" toward fundamental reforms, including the creation of commissions to investigate post-election violence and the electoral system. He said the government was working on recommendations by the commissions.

In an interview published in newspapers Saturday, Prime Minister Odinga said the coalition has been laying the foundation for future reform, and that more progress would come by the time the next elections arrive in 2012.

But in a recent poll, a majority of respondents said the government has not had any major accomplishments. And a majority also said they thought the government would not hold together until the next elections.

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