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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Disputed election proves to be too hot for Anan

Finally, the hotly disputed presidential votes tally, responsible for the post-election falling out which touched off mayhem on a scale never witnessed before in independent Kenya, found its way to the mediation talks table. "It was too hot," Kofi Annan, the former UN chief tasked with brokering a deal out of the crippling impasse, declared soon after adjourning the afternoon session.

So high-strung was the afternoon sitting that the respected Ghanaian mediator conceded that he could not proceed without the assistance of former South African First Lady Graca Machel and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa — both of who were unavailable. They began on the presidential election dispute by looking at the state of affairs now and how to resolve the problem. Proper talks, however, begin today. Like hot bricks, ODM is said to have dropped the matter of the allegedly stolen presidential election complete with alleged evidence and a raft of demands for electoral reforms. Sources also intimated that the issue of a transitional government briefly featured, forcing an immediate stalemate.

For the first time, the two teams ate lunch separately.

Earlier in the day, the delay to put the issue of the disputed presidential vote, which to a large extent is to blame for the crisis that has engulfed the country, was beginning to cause jitters within sections of the mediation circles. The sense of unease appeared to stem from concerns — according to sources — that someone or a group of people seemed to be succeeding in bogging down the talks with the unfolding humanitarian crisis at the expense of the equally more urgent matter of what triggered it. It was inevitable, therefore, that the matter, according to a source, "forced its way onto Annan’s table like a hot potato".

Simmering differences, mistrust and suspicion between the two warring camps — the Party of National Unity (PNU) and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) — played around the dialogue table, the re-enactment of the hardline positions each group has taken. ODM stood its ground that President Kibaki steps down, arguing that its candidate, Raila Odinga, won the election but it was stolen from him. ODM’s clarion call has been: "Truth, Justice and Reconciliation" — which they expound to mean that though the party is for peace and reconciliation, truth and justice must first prevail. On its part, PNU dug in with the oft-repeated call that the Orange party should take its grievances to court. Both sides are said to have tabled proof of a stolen election. Evidence and exchanges prompted Annan to adjourn the session and said they would be examined once Machel and Mkapa rejoined the team today.

Justice minister, Martha Karua, Foreign Affairs minister, Moses Wetangula, Mbooni MP, Mutula Kilonzo, and Education minister, Prof Sam Ongeri, make up the PNU team. On the ODM side are MPs, Musalia Mudavadi (Sabatia), William Ruto (Eldoret North), Dr Sally Kosgei (Aldai) and James Orengo (Ugenya). Like Orengo, Wetangula was also a belated inclusion. Gichira Kibara and Karoli Omondi are the liaison persons for PNU and ODM respectively.

Annan demanded the position of a co-chair to help him, as it appeared the slow pace of the talks had began to take toll on him. Before Annan called for a time-out to refocus and wait for reinforcement, ODM had tabled not just what they said was evidence of a rigged election, but also a raft of demands — among other things the disbandment of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), claiming its composition was skewed and that it was solely responsible for the disputed election. ODM also demanded key reforms in the Office of the President and a review of electoral laws before a new calendar guiding the re-run of presidential elections. But in a spirited fight-back, the Government team also presented reports allegedly implicating ODM of rigging in parts of Rift Valley and Nyanza. Both teams, however, did find some common ground and agreed that the constitution of the ECK was not representative and needed comprehensive reforms to guard against future flaws in elections. On this account, Annan stated: "The MPs should be able to get to work and carry on with legislative agenda for the reforms required."

Earlier, the peace teams on both sides met Internal Security Permanent Secretary, Cyrus Gituai, in the morning session to address concerns over restoration of peace countrywide. Gituai was asked to explain the circumstances in which the police used excessive force, resulting in more than 80 deaths from police gunshots. The PS is said to have admitted that excessive force was, indeed, used, but clarified that the situation was now under control. Gituai was asked to explain alleged skewed deployment of the police during protests, but he explained that the police were overstretched and would not cope with sporadic violence that rocked parts of the country. He promised the team that more officers would be deployed in clash-torn areas. The PS defended the deployment of the military, saying they were only helping with humanitarian services.

Annan insisted that the parties must avoid provocative statements touching on the matters in discussion. "We have agreed that no leakage to the media should be made on matters discussed before the mediation table," the chief mediator stated. He also insisted that mass action be shelved to give peace talks a chance. "Nobody has said anything that can stop us from going on with talks and I’m satisfied with the progress so far made," Annan said. The former UN chief called for strengthening of institutions like the ECK and the Constitution in an effort to strengthen democracy and good governance. "We must move quickly and resolve the contentious issues to overcome the political crisis," Annan added.

He also clarified that the team he chairs is the only mandated authority to negotiate and that the meeting of the IGAD Council of Ministers had nothing to do with the talks. He stressed the need to implement the short-term measures for peace within seven to 15 days, adding that the deadline must be strictly observed. The mediator hinted at his temporary exit, saying: "Even if I’m out of town, I want to leave a structure that would ensure the talks go on." He added: "I want to leave no gap in the mediation. The panel will be structured with two other co-chairs that will be named so that he or she can carry on with the mantle."

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