Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bush urges power-sharing, Kenyans skeptical!

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Kenya on Monday to try to break the deadlock between rival politicians, and it seemed that she was bringing carrots, not sticks.

However, she gave the clear impression that she was not happy with the lethargic pace of the negotiations, which have ground on for more than three weeks as Kenyans have continued to be killed and driven from their homes.

"The time for a political settlement was yesterday," Rice said at a news conference.

While suggesting economic incentives for a peace deal, she also seemed to aim her sharpest comments at the Kenyan government, which has been widely viewed as the obstacle to a genuine power-sharing agreement between government officials and opposition leaders.

Both sides must have "responsibilities and authorities that matter," Rice said. "It can't be simply the illusion of power sharing. It has to be real."

Today in Africa & Middle East
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The Kenyan government responded by saying that it agreed a solution needed to be found as soon as possible, but government officials seem to be getting increasingly prickly about outside intervention.

"We will not bow down to dictation," Martha Karua, minister of justice and constitutional affairs, said in an interview Monday night. "We can listen to all our friends, we can engage with them. But the decision ultimately will be ours."

Rice, who went out of her way to say that she was not trying to dictate a solution, is the most senior American official to wade into the Kenyan crisis, which began after a disputed election in December. She flew here for the day from Tanzania, which President George W. Bush is visiting as part of a five-country trip to Africa. As she was flying over the Serengeti, Rice spoke of how she was going to strike an upbeat tone.

"When Kenya resolves this political conflict," she said, "they are going to find a very supportive United States in terms of additional work on reconstruction and reconciliation support."

"I'm going to emphasize that there is a lot to be gained in a relationship with the United States through resolution of this political crisis," she added.

Rice said she did not want to talk about threats, sanctions or provisions that might punish Kenya's leading politicians, who have been bitterly at odds since the election plunged the country into violence.

More than 1,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in fighting that has followed mostly ethnic lines, and as a result has segregated many areas of the country into ethnically homogenous zones. Many Kenyans believe the only solution is for the government and opposition to share power.

Rice's promises of more help for Kenya, which already receives more than half a billion dollars of annual American aid, fit in with Bush's approach of rewarding countries who embrace democracy and American-approved development programs. Though the president is trying to cement his legacy as a friend of Africa with the trip this week, he has been criticized for not traveling to Africa's hot spots, like Congo, Sudan and now Kenya.

The trouble here started in late December when the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, was declared the winner over Raila Odinga, the top opposition leader, despite widespread evidence of vote rigging.

Supporters of the two politicians have battled throughout the country, and the election controversy has stirred up deep-seated grievances over land and economic inequality that have been dogging Kenya since independence in 1963.

On Monday, Rice met with Kibaki, Odinga and Kenyan business leaders. The country's economy, which until recently was one of the strongest in Africa, has been brought to its knees by the turbulence and violence.

Rice also talked with Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general who has spent the past four weeks in Kenya trying to broker a truce.

The opposition has proposed a number of power-sharing possibilities, including having Kibaki remain the president, head of state and commander-in-chief of the military, while Odinga would become prime minister and take charge of domestic affairs.

But Kibaki's team has forcefully rejected that, saying that they will give the opposition some cabinet posts but that the Constitution does not allow power to be divided the way the opposition is suggesting.

The fear is that unless the government gives the opposition a meaningful role in ruling the country, opposition supporters will revert to violence and Kenya will join the growing club of failed states in Africa.

Odinga has said that the prime minister post is the bare minimum he would accept.

By Katie Nguyen

NAIROBI (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush stepped up the pressure on Saturday for a power-sharing pact in Kenya to end a post-election crisis that has killed 1,000 people, but many Kenyans were skeptical about a quick deal.

Bush, who began a five-nation trip to Africa on Saturday, is sending his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Kenya to support mediation efforts led by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan to bring the feuding sides together.

Bush is not scheduled to visit Kenya where President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election triggered ethnically-tinged clashes that left 300,000 people homeless and hurt the country's image as one of Africa's most stable democracies.

Rice's mission to Kenya was "aimed at having a clear message that there be no violence and that there ought to be a power-sharing agreement", Bush told reporters in Benin.

Rice is due in Nairobi on Monday as Annan, who advocates a "grand coalition" to solve Kenya's troubles, meets Kibaki and his opposition rival Raila Odinga.

Washington's top Africa diplomat, Jendayi Frazer, said she believed the two men -- former allies who fell out -- understood they had to find a credible lasting solution to the dispute.

She warned that any individuals seen to be obstructing peace efforts or a power-sharing agreement may face U.S. sanctions.

Many Kenyans believe a shared government offers the best, immediate formula to resolving a dispute over who won the country's closest-ever presidential vote on December 27. Continued...

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