NAIROBI, April 2 – Chief Mediator Kofi Annan on Wednesday stepped in to end a stalemate on naming a new coalition cabinet for Kenya, calling on President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to quickly conclude consultations and immediately agree on the merged government structure.
In a statement sent from Geneva and read out by the spokesperson of the mediation team Nasser Ega Musa, the Chief Mediator said the two principals should not keep Kenyans waiting any longer.
“His Excellency Kofi Annan is seriously concerned by the failure to compose and announce the coalition government,” Musa read.
Annan also offered that the cabinet that is to be named should not fall short of the National Accord Agreement that he brokered on February 28, which incorporated a 50-50 power sharing deal in the Cabinet, starting with the posts of a Prime Minister and his two deputies.
“Annan calls on the two leaders to implement both the spirit and the letter of the agreement signed and to resolve the issue of the composition of government expeditiously,” Musa went on.
He also said the situation in the country dictates a coalition government in which the two parties would be equal partners.
The statement read: “The Cabinet should be shared equally with appropriate portfolio balance, thus enabling each party to see itself as playing an equal role with the other partner.”
Annan left the country at the beginning of March after the power sharing accord between President Kibaki and Odinga, and was replaced at the helm of mediation talks by the former Nigerian foreign minister, Oluyemi Adeniji.
In the same vein, the United States (US) has once again called for the cabinet to be named speedily.
Calling journalists to his residence Wednesday afternoon, US envoy Michael Ranneberger termed the current impasse as ‘not a crisis’ but ‘a process that has taken longer than expected to be resolved’.
“I don’t think they are going to fail to agree so we are not going to get hypothetical about what would happen if they don’t,” he stated.
“We knew this was not going to be an easy process because whenever you are talking about sharing positions, it’s never easy. We knew this process was going to take some time, but it is going to work,” he confided.
The envoy however urged both President Kibaki and Odinga to move with speed and put aside their personal interests so that the coalition government could begin its work soon.
“I don’t think it’s necessary for Annan to come back. Now it’s a question of determining who is going to get what ministerial portfolio and that is not something that he can directly dictate to the two sides,” Ranneberger stated.
“But given the needs out there, this is no time to be wasting money on excess cabinet appointments.”
The cabinet and the slow process of its formation has been a source of anxiety for the Kenyan populace, with politicians constantly bickering over positions and civil society making demands on its structure.
The bone of contention, according to the main leaders working on it, is the number of cabinet members and which side gets what portfolio.
There have been repeated reports that one of the conflicts revolves around Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) Pentagon member William Ruto, who was allegedly denied a slot.
But this was vehemently disputed by ODM leaders at a meeting Wednesday, led by Mvita legislator Najib Balala.
“William Ruto is not an obstacle to the formation of the cabinet. The obstacle is the figures.”
“What are the portfolios? If they’re taking Defence, we are taking Internal Security, if they are taking Foreign Affairs, we are taking Finance!” said Balala.
The statements drew a sharp tongue lash from the government side, with Information Minister Samuel accusing ODM of side-show politics.
Amid all the drama, President Kibaki held a five-hour meeting with top government officials at his Harambee House office.
The meeting that kicked off at 3pm was attended by Attorney General Amos Wako, Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua, Internal Security Minister Professor George Saitoti and Head of Civil Service Francis Muthaura.
There was no official communication on the details of the meeting.
(Reports by: JUDIE KABERIA, CATHERINE KARONG’O and GEORGE MUNYORI)