What you need to know:
- New study reveals the behind-the-scenes talks that pulled the country back from the brink
When chief mediator Kofi Annan arrived in Kenya at the height of the post-election crisis, he hoped to arrange a quick meeting with President Kibaki and his rival Raila Odinga in a bid to end the widespread violence in the country.
But his efforts to secure an early appointment with Mr Kibaki on January 22, his first full day in town, were frustrated when the President opted to meet his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni first as part of PNU’s strategy to avoid “internationalising” the mediation effort .
This is one of the revelations contained in a detailed study of the tense negotiations that resulted in the current grand coalition government and ended the worst political standoff in post-independence Kenya.
A Search for Peace: The Story of 41 days of Mediation in Kenya goes behind the scenes to reveal the high-level brinkmanship employed by Mr Annan to edge the two sides towards compromise and the numerous tactics the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and the Party of National Unity (PNU) employed to gain an upper hand in the negotiations early last year.
The research paper by Columbia University scholars Elisabeth Lindenmayer and Josie Lianna Kaye portrays Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki as political players who began the talks with no appetite for compromise, despite the dire humanitarian crisis triggered by the post-poll violence.
“Thousands of people were trapped in Kibera without access to medical aid, houses in the Rift Valley continued to be subjected to arson attacks, and gangs which had been operating largely underground re-emerged in Nairobi to offer protection to slum-dwellers living in fear.
As students and teachers alike fled to safer areas, with many victims forced to live under tents, international airlines cut the number of flights to Nairobi almost by half in response to the sharp drop in tourism, a terrible blow to the Kenyan economy.
Kibaki and Odinga, however, continued to refuse to engage in dialogue — the former insisted upon his rightful place as President of Kenya, who would manage this crisis internally, while the latter stated that the election had been rigged and his win stolen away,” the paper says.
The initial PNU strategy was to reject ODM’s calls for an international mediator by reaching out to regional leaders. In addition to talks with Mr Museveni, who is thought to have frosty relations with Mr Odinga, Mr Kibaki dispatched then Foreign Affairs minister Raphael Tuju to Rwanda to meet with President Paul Kagame.
This effort to keep the wider international community at bay was not successful, and a series of high-profile personalities showed up in Kenya to seek an end to the crisis.
After the failure of several attempts at mediation by such figures as then Ghanaian president John Kufuor and South Africa’s Desmond Tutu, Mr Kufuor made a decisive contribution when, on January 10, he asked Mr Annan to come and lead the mediation process.
The former UN secretary-general, who is currently in the country in part to assess the progress made since the deal he brokered was signed, could not come immediately because he was rushed to hospital on January 16 with a high fever.
This setback ultimately proved beneficial to the peace process.
“While the country and those watching held their breath as Annan was rushed to hospital (on) the very day he was due to fly to Kenya—the week-long delay may actually have proved to be a three-fold blessing in disguise.
From his hospital bed, the week provided an opportunity for Annan to lay a solid foundation for what would become one of the central components of his strategy: a single mediation, as well as the full, undivided support of the international community.
He would only begin work once a unified support base had been formed, relying especially on prominent African figures, the US, and key European actors. This time in the hospital allowed him to speak extensively with leaders and key political actors around the world to bolster support for the process he was about to embark upon,” the paper says.
Mr Annan called his contacts in major western capitals and told them that the key condition for his involvement in Kenya was that ‘there would be one mediation and one mediation only’; there could be no possibility for alternatives if the compromise being proposed did not suit the parties to the conflict. The previous absence of coordination in the first few weeks of crisis, could not be repeated; there should be no interference in the mediation, and the mediator would decide whom to ask for support and when. This point was stated clearly by Mr Annan on multiple occasions.”
Mr Annan arrived in Kenya on January 22, and he soon achieved what all the mediators before him, including then US under secretary of state for African affairs Jendayi Frazier, had failed to do — he got Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga to agree to a face-to-face meeting and to shake hands on the steps of Harambee House in Nairobi on January 24.
They also agreed to appoint teams of negotiators to meet with Mr Annan and thrash out details of a deal that would break the political deadlock and end the violence. The talks got off to a difficult start.
The first obstacle was a failure to agree on what the process would be named. PNU wanted the talks labelled “national dialogue” reflecting the party’s insistence on a local solution, while ODM preferred the term “international mediation effort”. Mr Annan ruled in favour of PNU, according to the research paper, “no doubt building on the fact that an international mediation had been accepted, downplaying the importance of its (name); such a concession to the government side at this early stage would keep them on board and make the process more about the parties involved, rather than the mediators who were guiding the process.”
The former UN secretary-general, who was joined by Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania and Mozambique’s Graca Machel, fellow members of the Panel of Eminent African Personalities, next tried to demonstrate to the negotiators the seriousness of the crisis by inviting the Red Cross to offer a briefing.
Aware that failure to strike a deal would be catastrophic, Mr Annan told the negotiators he would not be in town for long and suggested the appointment of top South African businessman and experienced negotiator Cyril Ramaphosa to take over the talks once he had left. This proposal was rejected by PNU, who accused Mr Ramaphosa of being close to some ODM leaders.
The talks then hit a stalemate with the two parties trading accusations that they would repeat throughout the negotiations: ODM wanted an immediate re-tallying of votes and fresh elections. PNU accused ODM of fanning the wave of violence gripping the country and demanded that perpetrators be punished. It also said reports of rigging were not credible because foreign observers had visited only three per cent of polling centres.
Mr Annan resorted to a number of manoeuvres to get the negotiations moving. He invited experts from the UN’s Department of Political Affairs to explain that a recount would “require opening all 27,500 ballot boxes, a phenomenal task that would not give any results fast and could not be guaranteed to be any fairer than the elections themselves; a rerun implied that the former election was flawed and would therefore be divisive and politically dangerous; new elections could take a year and so did not offer a solution to the current crisis”.
As a way forward, the panel suggested formation of an independent review committee to investigate the conduct of the elections, a team that was eventually headed by South African Judge Johann Kriegler.
The panel also sought to defuse the tensions that characterised the talks in Nairobi and decided to shift the negotiations to Kilaguni Lodge in Tsavo West National Park, a holiday resort that had not received a single tourist for a month before the mediation team arrived on February 12, due to the political crisis.
A day earlier, at a Speaker’s kamukunji (gathering of MPs outside formal sessions in the House), Mr Annan had raised the possibility of formation of a grand coalition as a way to break the stalemate. The decision to broach that subject before the gathered throng of journalists and the diplomatic corps was deliberate. It was intended to plant the idea in people’s minds that a coalition was the most viable option. But the very mention of a grand coalition infuriated PNU negotiators.
At the Kilaguni retreat, the mediators again sought to break the deadlock by calling in an expert. This time, Gernot Erler, minister of State of the Federal Republic of Germany, was brought in to explain how coalition arrangements in his country worked.
PNU was not convinced. They declined to agree to a coalition, “suggesting that power-sharing would mean the de facto end of the multiparty system in Kenya”.
At this point, Mr Annan, who as UN secretary-general had championed the Responsibility to Protect doctrine which requires the international community to act to avert mass murder, decided to make his move. He was concerned by reports of the re-arming of militia in the Rift Valley, the area worst hit by the violence.
The panel members felt the Kenyan negotiators, who kept leaving the meetings midway, had forgotten the urgency of the talks. The mediator also realised that some of the PNU negotiators were reluctant to embrace the idea of a coalition because they already occupied ministerial positions and stood to lose them under a power-sharing arrangement.
On February 26, Mr Annan suspended the talks. He released a statement saying he had decided to engage directly with the principals, Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga.
“ODM (which) was ‘more skilled at using the press to their advantage,’ blamed PNU for the impasse. Combined with Mr Annan’s statements and actions, President Kibaki seemed increasingly cornered: the prevailing perception was that the impasse lay directly on the shoulders of the PNU; but, if failure lay on their shoulders, the possibility for success was in their hands. Mr Annan was handing the possibility to create peace in the country over to Kibaki: it was up to him to rise to the challenge. He could no longer hide behind his representatives,” the paper says.
Mr Kibaki proved to be a more flexible negotiator than the PNU representatives at the talks at the Serena Hotel.
On February 28, President Kibaki sat down with Mr Annan, Mr Odinga and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete for five hours and agreed to work with ODM in a coalition. And he crucially agreed to have the Constitution amended to entrench the position of prime minister.
We have a deal
The parties emerged late in the afternoon, and Mr Annan made his famous declaration that “We have a deal”. It was, according to the report’s authors, a milestone in the history of peacemaking in Africa: “The signing of the agreement came across as anything but an act of submission. This was neither dictated to them from above nor the result of coercion from outside forces. Mr Annan had gone to the only two people who could decide the fate of the nation: the process was no longer about the appointed teams at the Serena Hotel, or the Panel of Eminent African Personalities: it was about President Mwai Kibaki and the Honourable Raila Odinga’s ability to use dialogue to come to an agreement.
The perception — real or imagined — was that the leaders of the country unequivocally chose peace. Consequently, when the agreement had been signed and people rushed into the streets to celebrate the new year which had been stolen from them by the tragic crisis two months before, there was no doubt that the agreement had been brokered by Kofi Annan, but that peace itself had been chosen and embraced by the Kenyan people,” they said.”