Kenyan Government Moves to End Violent Fallout
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
We have another important story we've been following on the international front. We have news that Kenya's rival politicians, President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, have reached an agreement on a coalition government. The news comes after weeks of bitter negotiations on how to end the country's post-election crisis. That crisis has left more than 1,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. The agreement was brokered by Kofi Annan, former head of the United Nations.
Joining us now is Emira Woods, co-director of foreign policy and focus at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. She joins us from her office in Washington. Welcome, Emira, thank you.
Ms. EMIRA WOODS (Co-director of Foreign Policy and Focus, Institute for Policy Studies): Always a joy to be with you, Michel.
MARTIN: So Emira, what are you hearing? We understand that - as you know, this has been such a very sort of difficult negotiation over these last couple of weeks. Do you have any sense of how an agreement between the parties was reached?
Ms. WOODS: Well, it's been an on-again, off-again negotiations process, but it is clearly Kofi Annan, given the mandate from the African Union - this former U.N. secretary-general has brought all his negotiating skills to bear, and also Gracia Machal, the wife of Nelson Mandela, with all of the political weight that she brings to bear, holding all parties to the table and keeping all parties around the table negotiating what looks now like an agreement to share power.
So there is agreement now on the creation of a prime minister post, likely to be held by Odinga, and so this new kind of creating space within the cabinet for the opposition party seems to be what's presented in this agreement.
Now we won't know the details of this until, hopefully, later on today when a news conference is held in Nairobi, but it is absolutely encouraging that there is agreement. It's been rumored, really, for a week now that it'll be signed, it'll be signed the next day, it'll be signed the next day. And at last, it seems as if all the parties have inked the deal and signed the agreement to move forward towards a power-sharing arrangement that will end the crisis and the violence, hopefully, in Kenya.
MARTIN: As you know, any successful negotiation generally leaves each side with something, and each side has to give up something. So could you give us a sense of what each side may have given up in order to get what? And you've already said that the opposition wanted a power-sharing agreement, but initially, they were saying they wanted elections to be held over. So…
Ms. WOODS: Well, clearly the elections were flawed. At the end of December, it was known by the international community, by those within Kenya, that the elections were absolutely rigged. And the notion that both an election will be derailed and a judicial process - remember, Kibaki changed the judges right before the election. So, normally, if there are issues, as there were here in the U.S., disputes over the election, you go through a judicial process like a Supreme Court, to resolve that dispute.
And in the case of Kenya, that wasn't even an option. So it was as if the rule of law was absolutely tossed aside. So what you have now is a sense from the opposition that they have been robbed of their right to rule, right? The will of the people not being respected in that election led the opposition to then say we should have power. Let's re-do the elections.
Clearly, to get from a point of let's re-do the election to a position today of let's figure out a power-sharing arrangement where, really, we can put a path to peace that's firm in place for the people of Kenya and begin to more forward, this is a process that's been tried and actually has worked in quite a number of other countries.
So Benin, for example, had a power-sharing agreement. Liberia had a power-sharing agreement. Clearly, each of the sides don't get everything they want, but it has worked in stemming the violence and bringing forward a path that is seen as more fairly distributing both political and, hopefully, economic power.
MARTIN: Emira, for interrupting. I'm going to bring in another voice now. We have Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times East Africa bureau chief. He's in Nairobi, and he's with us on the line. Now thank you so much for speaking with us.
Mr. JEFFREY GETTLEMAN (East Africa Bureau Chief, New York Times): Sure.
MARTIN: Jeffrey, can you just give a sense - and I understand that the story is developing, and you're still reporting it. But can you give us a sense of what was the key to resolving this crisis? It's been going on for months now.
Mr. GETTLEMAN: Well, it looks like today, they signed this deal that everybody in Kenya had been hoping that they would sign. Kofi Annan had been pressuring both Kibaki and Raila to come to some sort of agreement. He had been negotiating with them for over a month, mostly through intermediaries. And this week he got very frustrated with that and started meeting directly with them together. And that, I think, is what led to the breakthrough that we saw today.
Now, they've given us an outline of what the two sides agreed to, and basically, the opposition got what they wanted, which was a strong prime minister position. There had been a lot of debate over whether or not the opposition would be given any real power in this coalition government.
The Kenyan government had been very reluctant to cede any true power to them, despite mounting international pressure, and it appears that they did indeed get this because the job description of the prime minister is to coordinate and supervise government functions, which was - to supervise was the key word that there had been a lot of debate back and forth in the last couple days over.
MARTIN: Do you have a sense of what it is that persuaded Kibaki to accept this or to make this concession? Do you have any sense of whether international pressure played any role?
Mr. GETTLEMAN: I think it did. It is hard to tell. I wasn't in these negotiations. I've talked to a bunch of people around them, and what was clear was that there was increasing frustration, unanimously, by all the major donors that give billions of dollars to Kenya in one way or another each year.
The E.U., the U.N., the U.S., lots of countries around the world had been pressuring Kenya's government to give a little more. They had been very recalcitrant over the last couple weeks, and had sort of, you know, said they weren't going to give any more. They would create a prime minister position, but it would be more about sharing responsibilities than sharing power. And it seems as though that international pressure and also the pressure within Kenya of so many people who had been pleading with their leaders to restore normalcy and to come up with some type of agreement that would calm the country down. Eventually, it seems that reached the right people.
MARTIN: And speaking of the mood of the people - I know this is a very new development, but what is the mood there? Do you have any sense of whether this news has reached sort of regular folks, and is there any sense of how it's being received?
Mr. GETTLEMAN: People are glued to their television sets. They've been waiting for this very moment since the whole election crisis began in late December and early January. From what we can tell, there are people all across the country right now watching the announcement that has just finished on TV.
Kofi Annan spoke. He thanked everybody. He celebrated the fact that Kenya's leaders had finally stepped up and agreed to share power. Then both of the leaders spoke. Mr. Odinga gave a long speech without looking at his notes once. He thanked Kibaki a few times specifically, and he said that he was committed to implementing this deal. He also spoke about the monster of ethnicity, because we've seen a lot of ethnic violence in Kenya. Most people tend to vote along ethnic lines, and supporters of Mr. Raila and Mr. Odinga had been fighting for the past two months.
So ethnicity has been a big issue in this country, and both Raila and Kibaki have addressed that in their speeches. Kibaki also said that he was committed to this, the government would do what it needs to do, and he called for parliament to meet next week to begin enacting the reforms that will be necessary to see this deal to completion.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm speaking with Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times East Africa Bureau Chief. He's in Nairobi reporting on the just-completed power-sharing agreement that seems to be ending the political crisis that has gripped the country for months. I'm also speaking with Emira Woods. She's co-director of foreign policy and focus at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.
Emira, what are you hearing about - I know you had been sort of critical of the international community for not doing enough to pressure the parties to come to the table. At the end of the day, do you think that those efforts did make a difference?
Ms. WOODS: Well, we've been critical, particularly of the Bush administration for essentially calling a flawed election a victory and celebrating the election with Kibaki much too early on. So this was the number one point of critique for us. But I think right now, the African Union has actually stepped up to the plate putting Kofi Annan in this position to be able to work out this deal. I think it is absolutely the right way to go, for a regional organization with international backing, to push forward all sides and kind of stay firm in the path to peace. I think this is the victory. I mean, it may be early yet to say it's a long-lasting victory, but I think we need to celebrate the accomplishments to get to this point today.
MARTIN: Jeffrey Gettleman, finally, I wanted to ask - the comments about sort of ethnicity and the role of ethnicity, was this considered ground-breaking? Are you surprised by this sort of open acknowledgement about the degree of ethnic tensions, and do you have any sense of whether that will be kind a lasting message? I understand I'm asking you to speculate.
Mr. GETTLEMAN: I think it's issue that nobody here can really avoid anymore. SO much of the violence looked like it was along ethnic lines. We've seen the segregation of Kenya in many areas, with areas that used to be ethnically heterogeneous, communities living next to each other, people inter-marrying, people of different ethnic groups in the same neighborhood, we've seen those pulling apart.
And there's been a mass exodus for many of these mixed zones into ethnically homogenous zones for the first time in Kenya's history, and that's frightened a lot of people. So I think both leaders were acknowledging the obvious, which is of all the problems right now, that's something they have to deal with.
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MARTIN: All right. Thank you so much. Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times East Africa bureau chief. He joined us from Nairobi. We were also joined by Emira Woods, co-director of foreign policy and focus at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. She was in Washington. Thank you both. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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