Kenyan Rivals Sign Power-Sharing Agreement
Friday, February 29, 2008
NAIROBI, Feb. 28 -- Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga signed a power-sharing agreement Thursday to halt ethnic violence that has killed at least 1,000 people and displaced 600,000 in a post-election crisis that has ushered this nation to anarchy's door.
With ethnic militias arming for all-out conflict, the economy crushed and talks near collapse, former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan, who has been mediating between the two sides, bypassed deadlocked negotiating teams and appealed directly to Kibaki and Odinga.
By Thursday afternoon, the feuding men were seated in matching red chairs in the warm Nairobi sun, signing a deal that promises an influential position as prime minister for Odinga and a balance of power in Kenya's government that has been lacking since the country won its independence from Britain in 1963.
Although the United Nations, the United States and others characterized the deal as a significant political breakthrough, it remained unclear whether Kenyans would accept it.
"Let the spirit of healing begin today," Annan said after the signing ceremony outside a downtown government office. "Let it begin now."
Odinga, a fiery opposition leader who had eyed the presidency with what appeared to be a sense of righteous destiny, accused Kibaki of stealing the Dec. 27 election, which international observers found flawed.
The dispute set off a wave of violence driven by a sense among many ethnic groups that Kibaki's tribe, the Kikuyu, was unwilling to relinquish control after dominating Kenya's power structures for more than four decades.
Kikuyus and members of Odinga's ethnic group, the Luo, have fought hand-to-hand in Nairobi's poorest neighborhoods. And in the western Rift Valley region, politicians rallied ethnic Kalenjin and other militias to torch Kikuyu farms and houses in violence that included the burning of 17 people inside a church.
The violence has resulted in a crude segregation of Kenya's population that in many ways is a reversion to the country's colonial period, when ethnic groups were confined to artificially created homelands.
Tens of thousands of Kikuyus have fled east to central Kenya, considered their traditional home even though many no longer have connections there. Comparable numbers of Luos and other ethnic groups have been chased by vengeful Kikuyu militias to western Kenya, considered their ancestral land.
A similar sorting process has occurred in Nairobi's sprawling slums, where the trust that had existed among neighbors remains broken.
"How can you stay with people who attacked you?" asked Moses Wanjau, 21, whose house and shoe kiosk were burned by Luo neighbors he had considered friends. "How will things go back to normal after they did that?"