Sunday, April 13, 2008

Kenyan Leaders Reach Agreement on Coalition Cabinet

Kenyan leaders clinch coalition cabinet agreement: officials

Sunday, April 13

NAIROBI (AFP) - - Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and would-be prime minister Raila Odinga agreed on a new coalition cabinet to be unveiled Sunday, Kenyan and diplomatic sources said, ending weeks of delay that threatened to explode into new violence.

"The two leaders held talks today and agreed on a new coalition cabinet that will be unveiled tomorrow around lunch time," a top Kenyan political source, close to one of the leaders, told AFP on Saturday.

A Western diplomat, whose government has been pressing for a quick deal, confirmed that an accord had been clinched. Both officials refused to disclose details.

"We have been informed that a cabinet deal has been reached and we expect it to be announced tomorrow. The two leaders are keen to have a cabinet before parliament resumes on Tuesday," added the diplomat.

The agreement was struck after Kibaki and Odinga held closed-door talks in Sagana State Lodge in central Kenya, they said, a day after Odinga dropped his pre-conditions of demanding dissolution of the current 17-member cabinet and to get an equal share in top diplomatic and civil service posts.

The much-delayed cabinet was scheduled to be unveiled on April 6 but was put off after the two leaders failed to agree on a 50-50 sharing of key infrastructural and administrative portfolios.

The new government is a key step in implementing a February 28 power-sharing deal that quelled violence that broke out following Kenya's disputed December polls, killing at least 1,500 people and displacing hundreds of thousands.

Earlier this week, riot police battled hundreds of angry youth in the capital's Kibera slums and the western city of Kisumu protesting the delay, raising fears of fresh bloodletting in the battered nation.

The riots caused damage notably dismantling the only railway line that links the port of Mombasa to landlocked Uganda and three other central African nations, thereby choking supplies.

Once named, the new line-up will replace the current cabinet that Kibaki hastily assembled after he was controversially declared re-elected after the December 27 polls.

It was unclear whether they will name a 40-member cabinet, the size that had been agreed initially, but opposed by many Kenyans, notably civil society groups and newspapers.

Independent watchdogs say an average cost of running a ministry in Kenya is around eight billion shillings (130 million dollars) a year, too expensive for its wobbly economy and in a country where 60 percent of 35 million people live on less than a dollar a day.

Odinga, the leader of the Orange Democratic Movement party, is slated to become new prime minister under the power-sharing accord that has been entrenched in the constitution.

Western powers have piled pressure on the pair to implement the accord, mediated by former UN chief Kofi Annan, which curbed tribal fighting, revenge killings and police crackdowns that erupted when Odinga accused Kibaki of rigging the polls.

According to a new poll released on Saturday, 75 percent of Kenyans support the coalition government, but 50 percent fear that it will not last a whole five years because of fractious local politics.

The violence, which stripped the country of its reputation as a relatively peaceful haven in the conflict-torn Horn of Africa region, also choked the mainstay tourism and agricultural sectors.

This sent inflation to climb to a record 21.8 percent owing to steep food and fuel prices, prompting the government to scale down the 2008 economy growth forecast from eight to between 4.5 and six percent.

On Thursday, the government issued a cholera outbreak alert after the disease killed 60 people in recent weeks, compounding a health nightmare facing hundreds of thousands still living in displacement camps. Many had refused to return home until the accord was reached.

The UN has appealed for 150 million dollars (95 million euros), saying it had expanded its Emergency Humanitarian Response Plan for Kenya to cover the whole of 2008 and must meet the needs of up to 500,000 people affected by post-conflict issues.

A further 840,000 people are at risk from drought in the eastern African country, the body added.

Kibaki, Raila on retreat to seal Cabinet deal

Publication Date: 4/13/2008

There was optimism Saturday that the Cabinet could be named on Sunday after President Kibaki and Prime Minister-designate Raila Odinga were flown by the military to the Sagana State Lodge on the slopes of Mt Kenya for private talks.

An official who is normally conversant with the negotiations said there had been a definite breakthrough in everything and that a cabinet will be named any time.

As this report was being published, top officials were said to be going to a meeting understood to be related to the announcement President Kibaki and Mr Odinga arrived for the talks at 11 a.m. and finished at 6.30 p.m.

The talks were attended by President Kibaki, Mr Odinga and one security person. The setting of the talks were a tranquil and peaceful environment. There were no phones and no politicians hanging around.

The two leaders had lunch together for one-and-a-half hours.

The President and the ODM leader had landed at the heavily guarded presidential retreat in three military helicopters at 11 a.m.

Mr Odinga was assigned a separate helicopter. The choppers were parked at a ground adjacent to the lodge for the rest of the day.

Kept at bay

Hundreds of residents of the area rushed to the gates after word went round that the President was visiting, but they were kept at bay by the General Service Unit.

A group of about 100 children from the nearby village waited outside the lodge under an afternoon shower.

Security personnel, whom sources said arrived at the venue as early as 4 a.m., prevented journalists from going near the helicopters.

Mr Odinga was accompanied to the venue by Mr Mohammed Isahakia and the President by Mr Francis Muthaura.

Mr Odinga, dressed in a cream coat, was the first to be driven out of the lodge in a white Toyota Prado with tinted windows to one of the choppers followed by a body guard.

President Kibaki followed closely. Among those in his entourage was Mr Muthaura, the head of presidential press service Mr Isaiah Kabira and Central provincial commissioner Mr Japhter Rugut, Provincial CID boss Sebastian Ndalu and provincial police boss Philip Ndwiga.

The president waved at a crowd of Wananchi that had anxiously been camping outside the State Lodge, before talking briefly with Mr Rugut.

He then entered the helicopter.

Asked whether there as anything fruitful from the discussion Mr Rugut told the Sunday Nation: “You will hear an announcement from Nairobi.”

The two leaders were meeting for the first time since Cabinet talks collapsed on Monday over how to divide posts.

ODM withdrew from the negotiations saying it was not satisfied that the proposed 40 seats have been divided equally taking into consideration portfolio balancing.

They met on Thursday last week at the President’s Harambee House office and Mr Odinga announced that they had agreed and a Cabinet was to be named the following Sunday.

However, the list released by ODM director of communications Salim Lone was disowned by the government the following day.

They met again on Sunday, this time accompanied by key allies and ODM withdrew from the talks the following day.

The standoff has caused outrage with the United States and Britain asking both leaders to make compromises to resolve the issue quickly.

On Saturday, Mr Lone denied that ODM had climbed down on its conditions, saying that it had been the party’s demand to nominate or appoint permanent secretaries, diplomats and parastatal chiefs.

But as a coalition partner the party expects to be consulted on such appointments, he said.

Earlier, details about the agenda of Saturday’s meeting were closely guarded by the aides of President Kibaki and the ODM leader, who only confirmed that the meeting was called to discuss the Cabinet. The Sunday Nation, however, established that three members of the ODM Pentagon were in different parts of the country.

Sabatia MP Mr Musalia Mudavadi, who is tipped to be one of the two Deputy PMs, spent the day in his Sabatia constituency, attending his Constituency Development Fund committee meeting, where he was quoted as saying ODM will not compromise on the controversial portfolio balancing but would reconsider the appointment of permanent secretaries, chief executives of State corporations and diplomats.

Coalition cabinet

In Mombasa, Kitui Central MP Mrs Charity Ngilu and Mvita MP Najib Balala attended a public function where they hinted that President Kibaki and Mr Odinga will name a coalition cabinet very soon. But they did not elaborate.

An aide to Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka said the VP had spent his day in Nairobi and that he did not have any official engagements.

It was the President’s first time to use the State Lodge since he was sworn in for a second term after the December 27 General Election, whose disputed presidential result led to violence and the deaths of more than 1,200 people and displacing of 350,000 others.

The State Lodge is located on the western slopes of Mount Kenya, about 30 km from Nyeri town.

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