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Political Deal in Kenya Raises Hopes for End to Violence

February 28, 2008 at 6:40 PM EDT
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Rival leaders in Kenya agreed to a coalition government deal Thursday that would create a new prime minister role to rule with the president, raising hopes for an end to two months of post-election violence. The U.S. secretary of state for African affairs discusses the plan and the prospects for peace.

JIM LEHRER: The Kenya agreement. Jeffrey Brown has that story.

JEFFREY BROWN: After two months of violence that killed 1,000 Kenyans and displaced 300,000 more, the country’s two major politicians signed a deal today that would bring them into a coalition government.

President Mwai Kibaki, whose disputed re-election in December sparked the violence, will retain his post. Opposition leader Raila Odinga will be established in the new post of prime minister.

The men spoke at a ceremony this afternoon.

MWAI KIBAKI, President, Kenya: This process has reminded us that as a nation there are more issues that unite than divide us. We have been reminded that we must do all in our power to safeguard our peace that is the foundation of our national unity.

RAILA ODINGA, Kenyan Opposition Leader: For the last two months, Kenyans have known nothing but sadness.

JEFFREY BROWN: The deal was mediated by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. It was an arduous, weeks-long process, which included several breakdowns in the talks.

Annan said the deal was just the beginning of the work to be done.

KOFI ANNAN, Former U.N. Secretary-General: Today, we’ve reached an important staging post, but the journey is far from over. In fact, it is only beginning.

The real challenge now is for President Kibaki and honorable Raila Odinga to work together to heal and reconcile this nation, working jointly to implement the reform agenda on which they agreed, they have agreed, and sustaining the effort until the job is done.

But the job of national reconciliation and national reconstruction is not for the leaders alone. It must be carried out in every neighborhood, village, hamlet of the nation.

JEFFREY BROWN: Kenya had long been considered a hub of regional stability and prosperity in Africa, but that image was shattered after the election that returned Kibaki to power in December, in defiance of pre-election polling and initial returns that showed him losing badly.

Opposition groups alleged ballot-box stuffing; international observers called the election a fraud. Ethnic and tribal violence ensued and continued unabated until this week.

Ending the violence

JEFFREY BROWN: And for more about the agreement, we turn to Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs. She was in Kenya last month.

Welcome to you.

JENDAYI FRAZER, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Is this a good deal?

JENDAYI FRAZER: It is a good deal. It provides the basis for real power-sharing by creating an office of the prime minister and two deputy prime ministers who will allow for the overseeing the government business, the execution of government affairs and government business. And so we think that it's a very good deal.

JEFFREY BROWN: One key question, clearly, is whether it would stop the violence. Does an agreement like this, made at the high political levels, elite levels, does it filter down to the streets?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Well, so far, the reaction of the Kenyan people has been extremely positive to this agreement. I think that civil society in Kenya, the business community have been calling for their leaders to find the necessary compromise so that they can reconcile the country.

And so the popular reaction has been extremely positive. And so I do hope that it creates the foundation for really ending the violence.

JEFFREY BROWN: We noted in that piece that this took weeks, about a month, that Kofi Annan has been there. And it sounds like it almost broke down several times, including this week. Do you know what led to a breakthrough finally?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Well, the parties have been close. It was a matter of them trying to figure out how they were going to distribute the power between the office of the presidency and the office of the prime minister.

I think that Kofi Annan has done a fabulous job of holding the two parties to account. He had the international community backing him. Secretary Rice, of course, made a very strong statement a couple of days ago saying to the parties that their relationship with the United States was in jeopardy if they could not find an agreement.

And so I think with that type of international support for Annan's mediation, it helped to create the breakthrough.

Detailing the power-sharing plan

JEFFREY BROWN: But you just raised what is probably the other key question here is, how will the power-sharing work? Mr. Odinga is given the power to, quote, "coordinate and supervise government affairs." Now, is it clear what that means?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Well, we will find out in the coming weeks, certainly, because another key step is to distribute the cabinet ministries, as well. And so I would expect that there's going to be a back-and-forth between them to determine how to distribute those cabinet ministries.

But supervising and coordinating government affairs means that he has some degree of executive authority, executive power.

President Kibaki also maintains executive authority to appoint the cabinet based on the recommendation and the decision of the two coalition leaders.

And so I think that we will see in coming days how this will actually operate. We know that in seven days they're going to have an act of parliament so that it becomes -- has the force of law.

JEFFREY BROWN: You mean whether the new prime minister, for example, has the kind of authority that cannot be overruled by the president is still an open question?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Well, I think that he will have the authority, because the agreement, once the act of parliament is enacted, it clearly states that he has the right, the power to supervise and coordinate the executive affairs of government.

And so I think that that was a key point for Raila Odinga, the honorable Raila Odinga, and he would not have signed the agreement if he didn't feel that he had the assurances that he would have real authority.

Role of international community

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you mentioned international pressure and the role that's played, in particular the U.S. There were reports that the State Department sent letters to some Kenyan politicians suspected of stoking the violence that their U.S. visas would be reviewed. Is that correct?

JENDAYI FRAZER: That's correct, yes. That's absolutely correct. The United States and Kenya has a very close relationship. There are some 6,000 to 7,000 students that come here annually. About 100,000 Americans go to Kenya.

And so this is a very, very close relationship, and it means a lot to Kenyans to be able to come to the United States. And so we wanted to show that we were very serious and that we were going to hold to account anybody that was blocking a political agreement, as well as instigating violence.

And so, yes, we did send visa letters to them saying that we may revoke their visa.

JEFFREY BROWN: And did you get reactions? Did it feel that that was having the kind of response you wanted?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Definitely. It definitely had an impact, yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: Does the U.S. have a continuing role in enforcing this agreement, if new tensions arise and the parties want to leave the government? What is our role now?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Well, Secretary Rice is playing a very key role, working with Kofi Annan, to give confidence to both sides that the agreement will be implemented.

And we will also provide $25 million in new assistance to help with the implementation of the agreement and the fourth part of the agreement, which is long-term reforms, power-sharing, but also constitutional, electoral reform, and land reform, and also grassroots reconciliation.

Kenyans have to be able to live anywhere in their country, so people will need to be resettled, and we will play a positive role in providing that type of funding to help with that.

Rebuilding the country

JEFFREY BROWN: Of course, in the short term, the violence has devastated the economy. Thousands of people have lost their homes. Can that be turned around quickly? Or what happens next in that regard?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Well, we will have to work also to resuscitate this economy. They lost about 10 billion shillings, $140 million a day, at the height of the violence.

And so, yes, we definitely have to try to get more foreign direct investment to create confidence among investors, as well as tourists, which is a major part of their economy. So we will play a role there.

But I think that the $25 million that we are going to infuse in trying to help with the reconstruction of the country will be at the local level. It's really to deal with issues of economic inequality, to deal with issues of community reconciliation.

I think that's the major way of healing this nation so that we don't have a return to violence.

JEFFREY BROWN: But do you sense that -- and you heard Kofi Annan say that we're just at the beginning here. Do you sense that this agreement allows those kinds of things to happen right away? Or is there a period now of, whatever, months, where everybody is going to wait and see whether this actually sticks?

JENDAYI FRAZER: No, I think we can start right away. Certainly, we have to start right away.

At the same time, they're going to deal with these more fundamental -- agenda item four of Kofi Annan's mediation is the longer term institutional reforms. And that will take some time.

Constitutional reform is very difficult. Land reform is even more difficult. And so that will take periods of months, maybe even years, to carry out.

But we can start with the reconciliation, grassroots, economic development activities. The economy, its fundamentals are very strong. And so I suspect that foreign direct investment will come back rather rapidly, as well as the tourist industry will be revived quickly.

JEFFREY BROWN: I was going to ask you what benchmarks you'll be watching for to see whether this is working. Are those the kinds of things?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Well, those are, but also we want to see in the immediate term how parliament reacts so that it establishes the legislation necessary to give this agreement the force of law.

And we will see how the two leaders themselves interact to try to get their coalitions within parliament to enact the legislation very quickly.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state, thank you very much.

JENDAYI FRAZER: Thank you very much.

JIM LEHRER: You can ask your own questions about Kenya on our online forum at