Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kenya News Bulletin: Government Scoffs at US Calls; Rice to Arrive; Peace Search

Government scoffs at US calls

Kenya Daily Nation
Publication Date: 2/18/2008

The Government Sunday scoffed at the US and international community calls for a power-sharing formula that would end the political crisis in the country.

Through Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula, the State was firm that no one would arm-twist it to reach any agreement that betrays the Constitution.

Addressing journalists a day after American President George Bush called for a power-sharing agreement between PNU and ODM to end the post-election conflict that has left more than 1,000 people dead and over 350,000 displaced, Mr Wetang’ula said the solution lay with Kenyans.

“The statement should be seen within the context of opinion. The solution must be Kenyan. We will not arrive at a solution because A and B say this is the solution,” Mr Wetang’ula said.

Clear message

The Government reaction also came a day before tough US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in Nairobi Monday to back the Kofi Annan-led mediation efforts.

President Bush who is on a five-day African tour and was in Tanzania Sunday after visiting Benin on Saturday, sent Dr Rice to Kenya to give a “clear message that there ought to be a power-sharing agreement”. The US has also since warned that it is ready to sanction any individual who obstructs the peace initiative.

Mr Wetang’ula welcomed Dr Rice’s visit, saying she is to arrive at mid-morning for a one-day visit that will see her hold talks with President Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga.

The minister said the Government was committed to finding an immediate and long-term solution to the crisis facing the country, but will not succumb to any outside pressure.

Mr Wetang’ula spoke as optimism and anxiety grew among Kenyans who expect that a solution to the crisis will be reached at this week to enable them return to a life of normalcy.

On Sunday, Mr Wetang’ula repeated Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Martha Karua’s remarks that Kenya was not a colony, but a sovereign State which should be respected and left on its own.

He denied that the Government’s insistence that the Annan agreement be in line with the Constitution, was aimed at derailing the negotiations. “We cannot reach an agreement that runs contrary to the Constitution,” he said.

However, sources say the Annan team has made it clear to the PNU and ODM negotiators that they were looking for a political and not a legal solution to the current crisis.

Political solution

Mr Wetang’ula was hopeful that a deal would be struck soon. Both sides, he said, were keen and committed to finding a lasting solution.

The talks took a break on Friday to allow ODM and PNU representatives to brief their masters on progress and consult on various proposals including the formation of a grand coalition.

The negotiators, dubbed “The National Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee”, resume their efforts Tuesday.

Meanwhile, PNU leaders have reacted angrily to the US calls for a power-sharing agreement.

Addressing a press conference in Nairobi, the leaders, led by Dagoretti MP Beth Mugo, accused President Bush of attempting to infringe on Kenya’s sovereignty by demanding a power-sharing agreement between PNU and ODM.

“As Kenyans, we would like the US, Britain, Western envoys and their decoys to respect our sovereignty and territorial integrity by refraining from asking us to experiment with ‘strange’ concepts such as power-sharing.

“We would like to ask them to leave us alone to determine our destiny,” the MPs said.

Coalition agenda as Rice arrives for talks

Kenya Daily Nation
Publication Date: 2/18/2008

The Government and ODM have set their terms for Monday’s meeting with chief mediator Kofi Annan as top US diplomat is scheduled to arrive in the morning to push for a power-sharing formula aimed at ending the political crisis.

As public anxiety builds and international pressure intensifies, it has emerged that both sides in the political conflict are agreeable to a coalition government. The difference, however, lies in its structure and the powers of the President in the new arrangement.

On Sunday evening, Government and ODM negotiators were locked in briefing sessions with their principals to fine-tune the positions that would be placed before Mr Annan Monday.

The chief mediator is scheduled to meet President Kibaki and ODM’s Raila Odinga Monday.

The former UN secretary-general is expected to prevail upon the two to give directions to their negotiators to strike a deal on some form of coalition government.

The meeting coincides with the arrival of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to give urgency to the mediated talks.

Dr Rice will meet President Kibaki and Mr Odinga to convey President George Bush’s message that a solution must be found quickly to prevent the country from collapse.

President Bush, who is in neighbouring Tanzania, has said Dr Rice’s mission in Kenya: “(Is) all aimed at having a clear message that there will be no violence and there ought to be a power-sharing agreement.”

The US Foreign Secretary will first be briefed by Mr Annan before meeting the two.

She will address a press conference at 4.50pm at the Muthaiga residence of ambassador Michael Ranneberger.

Political crisis

The US sentiments have been echoed by the United Kingdom, Germany, European Union and the UN who have all stated that Kenya would not be allowed to go up in smoke.

While acknowledging the need for a solution to the political crisis and the violence in which more than 1,000 people have been killed, Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula was categorical that the Government will not allow the international community to usurp its sovereignty and arm-twist it into a governance structure that fails to respect the Constitution.

“We have a country, we have a Constitution and laws. Whatever agreement reached must be in line with the Constitution and meet the interests of Kenyans,” he said.

The former UN boss has proposed a coalition government as the best option to end the seven-week-old crisis.

Ambassador Oluyemi Adenije from Nigeria is also expected to arrive Monday to assist Mr Annan in the mediation.

The envoy is a former Cabinet minister and UN official.

We learnt that while the Government side was not opposed to a new coalition arrangement, it would insist that it must be in line with the provisions of the current Constitution.

This is based on the thinking that the political crisis, which arose from the disputed presidential elections, does not, in any way, subvert the Constitution.

That is why they are advancing the argument that President Kibaki should retain his slots as the Head of Government and Head of State with executive authority.

They will also maintain that Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, in addition to retaining his position in Parliament as the Leader of Government Business, will assume the position of the principal deputy of the President.

In line with Section 16 of the Constitution, they propose that the position of a Prime Minister, who in reality would serve as the chief minister, be created and given to ODM.

The holder of the position, will oversee the running of government ministries.

Number of ministries

Under the same section, they would propose that an Act of Parliament be passed to fix the number of ministries from which the President can appoint to his Cabinet.

The Government will also hold that the coalition will come into being on condition that President Kibaki serves his full term.

They will also demand that the coalition arrangement stops when the life of the current Parliament comes to an end and the country prepares for fresh elections.

ODM are pushing for a new coalition government in which it will share equal powers and slots with PNU. They will push for a Prime Minister’s position in a governance arrangement in which the functions of the President and the premier are separated.

While the President retains the position of the Head of State, the Prime Minister will serve as the Head of Government.

The ODM team will also push for creation of two slots of the deputy prime minister, and that Mr Musyoka be edged out of that arrangement.

This means that the PM will be the Leader of Government Business in the House, a position which is currently held by the VP.

They will also demand for half of the ministerial positions and that high profile slots like Finance and Internal Security be shared equally with the PNU.

This arrangement, they argue, has to be replicated even to the lowest ranks in public service jobs.

Let not arrogance and careless talk derail peace search

Kenya Daily Nation
Publication Date: 2/18/2008

There was a lone woman seated at the corner of the road last Friday, her baby cradled in her arms. I stole a quick peek from her bent head and solitary movement as she fed her child on some food from a polythene bag.

It was easy to tell that she was in lamentation pose.

Lamentation as is the poise of the country at the moment.

On that Friday while an obviously homeless woman sought refuge in the wind without the slightest idea of where she would lay her head that night, the world was waiting with bated breath for news from the dialogue team.

Air-conditioned office

Self-control is something that most Kenyans will tell you is their greatest challenge so far — the self-control not to explode at the team that is currently holding us to ransom and in essence, holding the fate of a nation in its hands.

There might be no solution as yet. There might not be a solution for a long time to come. What Kenyans do not want to know or hear is that the mediated talks have collapsed.

Ask the woman by the roadside or the manager in the air-conditioned office or even the child playing on the swing; what we dread the most are headlines that read; “Talks collapse” or even “ Deadlock”.

These are the headlines which we in the media would agonise over even as we splash them because we know what the repercussions would be.

I salute Kofi Annan, in whose humble stewardship the sanity of the talks still holds.

Yes, you were right sir, contrary to popular belief, what we in the media have been clamouring to report — what we are still hopeful to report is exactly what you said sir: “We have a deal”.

The past few weeks since the negotiators began their sittings have been awash with suspicion, careless public declarations, adamant hard-line stances and a general indication that what this team gets into behind closed doors may not be exactly pretty.

We never assumed that it was going to be easy. This is about power over a whole country is it not? Well, wrong!

When both sides picked out the team to determine the fate of over 30 million Kenyans, it was not for them to sit rooted over their own selfish party loyalties and affiliation, it was to make sure that every night Kenyans go to bed assured of sun-rise the following morning.

We are aware that they must have jostled and cajoled both sides so as to be chosen to speak on behalf of their parties.

We are aware that they walked up to their roles with confidence and the sheer belief that they hold the key to holding this country together or let it slide into perpetual anarchy.

We are also aware of the sheer arrogance, chest-thumping and ego-boosting tirades most likely to occur when digressing opinions are seeking the top price. But lest they forget, let it now be known to the negotiators that they are deliberating over the fate of this nation and its people. Period.

Academic discourse

We have watched the circus of the absurd in the form of verbal exchanges sugar-coated in intellectual and academic discourse poised to derail the focus of the talks.

We have been alarmed and downhearted as diehard stances take root and assumed stubborn poses.

We have heard accusations and counter accusations as demands from both sides glare back expectantly.

Kenyans sit back through these desperate scenarios played on our screens and cringe on the prospects of any indications that the process might sire cracks.

Still the very same Kenyans whose very core of moral survival has been so shaken in the past two months are desperate for a solution — a peaceful solution and nothing less. This is a fact that the Annan team should never ever forget.

Their mandate is signed by the fact that the fate of 33 million Kenyans is hinged on it. Arrogance, power greed and cultivated stubbornness just will not do, nay; this is not the time for a show of might.

This is the time when Kenyans demand that the peace-seekers who represent the two divides across which Kenya is split, will rise above all indices of pride and come down to that level of peace and stability which is the essence of a surviving nation.

They should not allow anything to stand in the way of peace. The negotiators, as lawyer P.L.O. Lumumba puts it, may not allow their arrogance to stand on the way of peace.

It is a plea of desperation that mirrors the sagged shoulders of the homeless woman on the side of the road — a desperation felt by a nation on the brink of losing its most vital breath of survival.

Will the negotiators put their pride aside and bring back the peace solution we so much crave?

Where are leaders who can put country first?

So, the giants of this world are in town? The presumed super-powers whose verdict is feared and causes ripples the world over?

Kenya is in a crisis matters to the rest of the world, and that is why the “whole world” is in the country to help solve the crisis, says Uncle Sam.

What would be nice to see is not the continuous lambasting directed at those scampering to assist in bringing back the peace. What would be nice and encouraging to see and hear is a different kind of leadership displayed by those we have entrusted both in government and the opposition to stabilise a nation that is almost on its knees.

Let those who purport to be leaders seize this moment to declare and display their uttermost dedication to the survival and wellbeing of this nation. I like the sacrificial stance taken by Kofi Annan that spelt out his dedication towards finding a lasting solution to the crisis.

Peaceful solution

“I will stay as long as it takes to get the issue of a political statement to an irreversible point. I will not be frustrated or provoked to leave,” he said.

If there were other words to describe hope from the former UN secretary-general then these were the words. Where then are our very own leaders both in government and the opposition who “will not rest until a peaceful solution is found?” Where are they who will lay down their commitment to peace regardless of the stakes they claim in a win or a loss?

Where are the leaders who will put selfish gains aside and accede to the higher commitment to serve and honour a country’s craving for peace?

Waiting for poisonous kiss

This prose is dedicated in sadness to all those who live in fear and are being threatened every day for being from a different community.

Yesterday, we woke up against the backdrop of the madness of violence to pick leaflets strewn in the compound by my brother.

He had written to warn of his coming.

“We are coming. We shall revenge the killings of our people. If you know you are not from our tribe, be prepared”.

And so we sit and wait. In our tiny makeshift houses, we pray the most we can. We recall prayers yanked from our bleeding souls, trying to remember all those like us, scattered across the country who await a brother who comes with a kiss laced in poison.

Just when did we get to this crossroads of anguish and pain? When did we begin to sink so low?

Election day was victory day. The determination of the people to vote won the heart of freedom and democracy. On Election day, we marched to tell the world that Kenya is of a different breed — that Kenyans know better about mutual respect, justice and democracy, when expectations for sobriety were high enough to help us sleep well at night.

But that was the last night we slept well — the very last night we smiled in our dreams.

Today Kenya burns with a vengeance that has eclipsed the history of our existence. Violence rocks the very heart of a country that had gained the reputation of being a peace mediator in the region, a country that has for eons been a safe haven for refugees fleeing anarchy in their countries.

The polling was free and fair. Kenyans knew the fate of the next five years lay in the little ballot paper they would slip through the box. And so Kenyans flocked the polling stations in droves, as early as before the birds found their voices.

The devil was dead during voting day, but he resurrected on vote counting day. He waved his evil wand and greed for power seeped through.

Today we have become the country that has lost its soul as we burn children in churches, rape fleeing mothers and slash fellow men whose ethnic community happens to be different.

Kenya bleeds to the shock of the world. Democracy dies as the intricacies of the power game and the power hungry plays on inflated egos.

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