Thursday, February 28, 2008
Congratulations are due all around in Kenya, now that President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga have agreed to a coalition government to end a bloody post-election crisis that threatened the very existence of one of Africa's greatest national success stories. The two rivals, who ran against each other for president in a close election in December, signed a deal today that they hope will put an end to ethnic violence that killed more than 1,000 and displaced more than 300,000 Kenyans. In fact, Kenyans danced in the streets today when the agreement was announced. Odinga will take a newly created role of prime minister in the new government and cabinet seats will be based on each party's seats in parliament, according to the Reuters international news service. Today's agreement resolves what had been a nearly intractable dispute between Kibaki's Party of National Unity and Odinga's Orange Democratic Union following the Dec. 27 election, in which Kibaki claimed re-election but Odinga claimed was stolen from him. Kibaki said he won fairly and blamed Odinga for encouraging unrest instead of going to court to challenge the result. The protests that followed the balloting turned violent after police opened fire on demonstrators, and normally orderly Kenyan society began to break down on old tribal lines. The violence and unrest damaged Kenya's reputation as a regional economic and transportation center. The parties also agreed to rewrite the country's constitution in an effort to redress long-standing political and economic grievances that apparently were behind the ethnic violence. The U.S. State Department applauded the deal Thursday, but said Kenyans who promoted violence still could face travel bans. Congratulations apparently were especially due to former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan of Ghana, who acted as mediator and kept negotiations from breaking down completely despite some perilous moments.