Kenya mediation success fails reality test

March 27, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 27 – In March 2008, Kenya\’s reconciled foes were trumpeting ambitious reforms and the international community was basking in the glory of a rare African crisis-resolution success.

Two years later, the euphoria has long been extinguished.

"It looks less perfect now," said activist Mwalimu Mati, referring to the February 28 power-sharing deal signed by election rivals Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga that ended a cycle of deadly violence and tarnished the country\’s image.

"Something had to be done to end the conflict but perhaps it could have been better thought through," said Mati, who heads the Mars Kenya Group political watchdog.

Kenyans\’ faith in their rulers is at its lowest, the pledged reforms are nowhere to be seen and many argue that, as the government doubled in size to accommodate feuding parties, so did corruption.

Former UN chief Kofi Annan, the chief mediator two years ago, and the Western powers that helped him broker the accord are constantly reminding Kenya of its pledges and sounding alarm bells over impunity and resurgent tribalism.

On at least his fifth visit to Kenya since the signing, Annan on Friday again spoke of "concerns and frustrations".

"The international community and the mediation team believed in this agreement more than the Kenyans did," argued Tom Wolf, a Kenya-based governance consultant and pollster.

The incumbent President Kibaki was behind then opposition leader Odinga in opinion polls but surged past his rival in the final stages of a delayed and confused vote-counting process.

The internationally-backed commission probing the ballot claimed it could not determine a victor, Annan urged Kenyans not to dwell on the past and some Western diplomats admitted that knowing who won was the last of their concerns.

The feuding camps "were forced into marriage without opening the pandora\’s box of the election\’s real outcome," Wolf said.

A US government-paid exit poll by the International Republican Institute gave Odinga the edge but was kept secret and a Gallup poll nine months later showed that only 25 percent of Kenyans thought Kibaki had won.

As a result, the basis of the power-sharing deal was perceived as being quite different by either side.

What was touted at the time as a 50-50 deal Prime Minister Odinga himself now bemoans as a raw deal, with Kibaki\’s people holding the interior, justice, finance and foreign affairs portfolios.

The dysfunctions of the coalition have been plain to observe since, culminating in Odinga sacking two ministers implicated in graft scandals last month only to see his move vetoed by Kibaki.

Wolf argued that the colossal reform wishlist the West slapped on the newly-formed coalition would be "overwhelming for any government, however unified and well-intentioned."

"It was as if Western diplomats were trying to prove they were still relevant. The crisis made them look incompetent because they didn\’t predict it," he said.

One of them admitted to shortcomings and also highlighted an undesired side-effect.

"Given other instances in Africa since Kenya, I think we need to look at the message we sent," said the diplomat on condition of anonymity, referring to political unrest in Zimbabwe and Madagascar.

"I think many authoritarian regimes could see the scenario as rather attractive: you want to stay in power so you rig the election, raise the spectre of ethnic violence and wait for a panicked international community to broker a power-sharing deal," the diplomat argued.

Despite its poor performance over the past two years, the prospect of the coalition\’s collapse following recent skirmishes is met with fear that ethnic strife could be re-ignited.

But Mati argued that while they may not manage to agree on substance, Kenya\’s foes were happy to keep the shell as it is.

"The truth is that Kibaki won\’t end it because it would end his presidency, Odinga won\’t end it because it\’s as prime minister he gets attention and the ministers won\’t end it because they have ministries to run and loot," he said.

"It\’s almost a perfect conspiracy against the Kenyan people."


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