NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 28 – Two years ago on this day marked a tough, rocky moment for Kenya. It was a time that the country could have sunk in long term conflict due to an unresolved political stalemate.
People went down on their knees to pray for peace.
And they must have prayed for the Kenya Dialogue and Reconciliation team that was seeking an end to the chaos that had rocked the country. The team was formed at a moment when the country was seething with hatred, violence, tribalism and election trauma.
The team comprised eight members drawn from both the Party of National Unity (PNU) and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) in addition to a Panel of three African Eminent Personalities.
As the country was burning, the Amani room at the Serena Hotel where the mediation process took place was not any cooler. The PNU and ODM representatives hardly wanted to see each other face-to-face.
But just how was the accord struck?
Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula who sat in the mediation team spoke to Capital News about the machinations that led to the formation of the Grand Coalition government.
From his interview, find out why Education Minister Prof Sam Ongeri was named ‘Bishop.’
Q: What are the intrigues that surrounded the Serena negotiations?
A: It was very challenging coming as it did at the time when the country was at the brink of consuming itself, when most people were in the mood of fighting, and the population was frustrated and angry. The task put on the eight of us was quite heavy; the country was looking at us like magicians working with the African Union team to bring harmony. We started with a lot of tension and mistrust but with time it eased.
Q: Are there moments you felt like the talks would crumble?
A: Many times, there were very sticky issues. There were four Agenda items, the first one was cessation of violence which was difficult but achieved quickly. Mass action calls stopped and the temperature in the country went down. The second was on the internally displaced persons and those who died in the violence. Food security was also an item that could not be fixed quickly, but we got help from other countries.
The third agenda was a political solution and a very difficult one, how could we bring the warring factions of ODM and PNU together? Each of us believed we had won the elections fairly, with that tensed situations and fixed positions taken, it was very difficult to agree. PNU had already formed the government, it was resisting the entry of people we believed we had defeated, ODM were finding it difficult to work with people they thought they had defeated.
We spent more than 80 percent of our time at Serena on a political settlement. Every step meant progress.
All this we were doing before we agree as to whether we are going to be both in government or not. We were saying we are legitimately in government and we did not need to share with anybody, our colleagues were saying they must get in government because we run away with their victory.
This painstaking process of course needed the patience of Kofi Annan and his group. It needed the thawing of hard positions from some of my colleagues who took real hard-line positions. We had to consult heavily with principals. I remember our team used to brief the president twice a day, before going for the talks and after.
Q: Did you expect to find a solution even when members of the team stuck on their hard-line positions?
A: When we started the talks we were not talking to each other though we knew each other well, when we entered the hall, ODM would group itself in some corner, then PNU in another corner.
It looked like a funeral situation.
But the fact that we started talking, sitting together, to me was a good indicator. It was a measure of victory. Eventually we would crack jokes and make us smile though temporarily and then we could go into prayer sessions before the meeting started.
We branded Prof Sam Ongeri, our Bishop. He used to make every moving prayers, he could pray sometimes for 10 minutes, but the prayer would be a real moving sermon as it would bring us back to the reality of our task.
Q: What role did Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete and his predecessor Benjamin Mkapa play during the negotiations?
A: I have always said Mr Mkapa is the unsung hero of the Serena talks. He is quiet, clever, deeply intelligent and a very patient man. Out of the three, he was the only East African. His communication with us would be a lot deeper, more fraternal than Annan’s or Mama Machel whose motherly instincts were also very touching. Mr Mkapa would many times – when things were getting out of hand – switch to speak in Kiswahili reminding us that this is the only Kenya we have.
Q: At what point did you agree to share power?
A: We had just returned from a retreat in Kilaguni and for the first time we agreed that power would be shared and that we would have a Prime Minister, and two deputies, and that we needed to define their roles.
But those were just the principals, but how do you put muscle to those skeletons? That was the crunch. We (PNU) were still holding onto what we had and ODM was aggressively pushing to take a portion of what we had.
When we went to Serena after Kilaguni at one time Dr Annan suspended the discussions, he said we could not negotiate from fixed positions and we could not say the same thing over and over.
This is the time that when things were very difficult, one of us would leave the meeting for about 30 minutes and rush to brief our principal and come back with an enriched position.
We used to do it in turns, and then we would go back and brief the others and tell them of the position to take.
It was the moment when we were almost collapsing, fortunately (Tanzanian) President Kikwete had just arrived in the country. He was able to lend a hand at the final stages to lead to the signing of the Accord
Q: How would you describe the negotiating skills of Dr Annan?
A: He is very patient, witty, clever, he knew when and how to persist on an issue until he would get an answer. He could not close a point until you have reached an agreement; he exhausted every discussion.
Dr Annan is a shrewd negotiator and he is very convincing and of course he came in with enormous goodwill, and he never squandered it. The country was on fire, and Kenyans saw him like some fireman walking in with a bucket of water, but it was not a one-man’s show.
He introduced this to Kenyans because many of us knew that when you don’t agree on something, you don’t say we have agreed and move on.
Dr Annan showed us you bracket it, meaning it is acknowledged but not agreed then at the end of the day you come to the brackets, and one by one he would ask us, “you bracketed this, have you now appreciated what we are doing so that you un-bracket it for us?”
Some of these brackets are what we used to carry to our principals. Apart from the AU members, we don’t want to blow our trumpet, but we were there too, and we made a lot of sacrifices.