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Kenyans Anxiously Await Results of Political Deal

March 17, 2008 at 6:40 PM EDT
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While Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga were able to reach an agreement on a coalition government, Kenyans are anxiously waiting to see if the deal will hold. Margaret Warner reports from Kenya on the latest developments.

JIM LEHRER: And, finally tonight, Kenya. This week, Margaret Warner will have a series of reports on and from Kenya’s efforts to recover from the violence that ignited two-and-a-half months ago. Tonight, she reports on the stalled political reconciliation efforts.

MARGARET WARNER: On this Palm Sunday, Kenyans are praying for peace. At the Holy Family Basilica in downtown Nairobi yesterday, thousands of worshippers joined in the ritual blessing of palms and a procession commemorating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

PRAYER LEADER: Thank you, heavenly father, that we can meet, talk and share with one another regardless of tribe, creed and economic background. May hatred and jealousy among us not lead us to destruction.

MARGARET WARNER: Holy Family’s parishioners were denied this comfort of communal prayer earlier this year when they couldn’t get to church. A wave of violence engulfed Kenya, sparked when the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, was declared the narrow winner in the late December presidential election against the top opposition leader, Raila Odinga.

Odinga charged fraud. It was an ugly explosion, as Odinga’s supporters — members of his Luo tribe and other ethnic groups — went on a rampage against members of the dominant Kikuyu tribe of President Kibaki.

The Kikuyus responded with brutal revenge attacks. The victims were mostly ordinary folks who found themselves on the wrong side of an ethnic divide.

More than 1,000 Kenyans were killed and another 300,000 forced from their homes before former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan managed to hammer out a power-sharing deal between Kibaki and Odinga, two full months after the violence began.

But it’s been nearly three weeks now, and the parliament here still hasn’t approved the constitutional changes required to make the power-sharing deal a reality. The Kenyans we’ve spoken to are frustrated that their political leaders haven’t gotten on with the job.

Kenya’s leaders have been spending the last two weeks setting up inquiries into what went wrong and bargaining over which ministries Kibaki and Odinga will control.

Meanwhile, burned-out buildings pockmark many cities and towns in Kenya’s farming heartland, the Rift Valley. The tent camps for internally displaced people are bursting. And Nairobi’s business class, now players in the global economy, struggle to recover from the two-month disruption.

Defining power-sharing plan details

MARGARET WARNER: Kibaki and Odinga made a great show of harmony last week, even appearing together at a golf tournament, and publicly insist they're on the verge of bringing their deal to a close. But privately, disagreement is emerging on one sticky issue: What powers will the new post of prime minister, created for Odinga, enjoy?

MARTHA KARUA, Justice Minister: It's like any other coalition. There's only one president. There's a vice president. And there is a prime minister. And the law is giving each one of them their space, but there is a hierarchy.

MARGARET WARNER: Justice Minister Martha Karua, a hardliner member of President Kibaki's party and one of his chief negotiators in all this, says even in a grand coalition there cannot be two centers of power.

In that hierarchy, is Raila Odinga No. 2 or is he No. 3?

MARTHA KARUA: I won't give numbers. I'll say there is the president, and the constitution makes the vice president his principal assistant. And then there is the prime minister, who is going to be provided for by the constitution, whose role is entirely different. He coordinates and supervises the functions of government, executions of the functions of government.

RAILA ODINGA, Kenyan prime minister-designate: Grand coalition is very simple. Grand coalition brings two parties that almost are equal.

MARGARET WARNER: When told of Karua's interpretation, Prime Minister-to-be Odinga did not mince any words.

RAILA ODINGA: That is out of ignorance, because we have not had a coalition in this country since independence. That's why they cannot comprehend that power is going to be shared. They have been used to the authoritarian, imperial presidency where the institution of the presidency has emasculated all other institutions of governance and that is what they're used to.

Prospect of further violence

MARGARET WARNER: If Kibaki clings to that old model, Odinga vows he'll make it impossible for him to govern, since he, Odinga, controls the most seats in parliament. And that, he warns, is the least of it.

Could Kenya see more violence?

RAILA ODINGA: I don't want to be the devil's advocate, so I don't want to foretell what will happen. But I think that there will be political instability in the country, the reason being that Kenya, the majority of Kenyans believe that they were cheated, they didn't get what they wanted or what they voted for.

MARGARET WARNER: So it could happen again?

RAILA ODINGA: You can't rule it out.

MARGARET WARNER: That prospect seemed quite real on a recent visit to Nairobi's Kibera slum, one of the hotspots in the recent violence, where jobless young men systematically torched Kikuyu-owned businesses.

High school teacher Edwin Obonya says the politicians don't have long to make good on their promise of change. If they don't, he says, Kenya should brace itself.

EDWIN OBONYA, high school teacher: That will bring violence that can only be compared to the war which arised in Rwanda, because a million people have not died yet. And they can cause that to happen in Kenya. So we are praying that they work together so we don't have any kind of sad situation again.

MARGARET WARNER: As holy week begins in this deeply Christian country, it's a prayer the vast majority of Kenyans share.

Parliamentary approval

JIM LEHRER: Judy Woodruff talked to Margaret in Nairobi shortly after that report was filed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret, thanks for that report. Tell us, what are the latest -- what's the latest on these power-sharing negotiations?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Judy, after a rough weekend, Kibaki, President Kibaki, and Odinga met today privately with a few aides to try to iron some of this out.

And I'm told that it was a fairly reassuring meeting for Odinga, even though there's nothing really on paper still about what this prime minister's job will be. But Kibaki assured him that he's ready to accept a prime minister, who has essentially independent status.

The parliament is taking it up tomorrow. I'm told the two men agree that their respective parties would try to fast-track all the approval processes so that this new government could actually be sworn in by next Tuesday. That would be a week from tomorrow.

That said, there does remain distrust between the two sides. On the Odinga people's part, it's, one, does Kibaki really mean it, what he says? And, two, even if he does, will some of the hard-liners around him, like Martha Karua, the woman we interviewed, minister, try to frustrate it?

Popular in Kenya, U.S. intervenes

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret, U.S. officials have traveled to Kenya. Tell us about the U.S. role in everything that's going on there. And what's the U.S. stake in the outcome in Kenya?

MARGARET WARNER: Judy, the U.S. actually has a major stake in Kenya. Kenya is regarded by Washington as a kind of island of stability in East Africa.

It borders some very unstable countries that are very important for the U.S. fight against terrorism, Somalia and Ethiopia and Sudan, to name three. It's also a transport hub for countries to the east.

And Washington has looked to Kenya as both a model for democratic development, also economic development. It's been growing at 6 percent a year. So when Washington, in the view of many people here, belatedly realized how fragile this all was after the election and how serious this violence was, several U.S. officials came here, and Condi Rice finally came, as part of the Bush trip to -- President Bush's trip to Africa.

And the story makes the rounds that when -- she met with Odinga, and then she met with President Kibaki. And in the meeting with Kibaki, she was talking to him about the U.S. position, five or six minutes about why he needed to get serious about these talks with Kofi Annan.

And he apparently said something like, "Oh, well, I really want to work with these people, and we'll do what we can." And there was silence. And she apparently leaned forward and said, "Mr. President, that is not acceptable."

And then she went on to tell him in so many words that, in the view of the United States, Kenya was becoming ungovernable, that he couldn't put his head in the sand and deny that this violence was tearing the country apart, and that he simply had to get serious about sharing power.

And one fascinating note, at least for me here, is that, interestingly, the United States is incredibly popular in Kenya with the Kenyan people. The U.S. has like an 85 percent approval rating.

And in the view of the U.S. officials, that made it particularly hard for Kibaki to ignore the United States and, in fact, gave the U.S. leverage. So Kofi Annan's achievement was huge, but the United States' intervention at a critical time was also really important.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And quickly, Margaret, we heard you speak with the high school teacher there at the end of your report. What are other ordinary Kenyans saying, people on the street, about what's going on?

MARGARET WARNER: Ordinary Kenyans, Judy, are relieved that a deal was struck, at least a handshake deal, but they're very anxious that it come to fruition.

And as I think I may have reflected in my piece, what I hear from people is, "You know, these politicians, it's always what they do. They're more interested in divvying up the jobs than addressing the serious issues."

So this country is consumed with this debate going on right now. This country has about an 80 percent to 85 percent literacy rate. So everybody is reading the papers; everyone is talking about it. It's on the radio. It's on television.

But I would say there's hope for the future, but there's also a kind of -- it's kind of a wary optimism.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret, thanks very much. Margaret will be reporting all this week from Nairobi. Thank you.