Kenya’s rival leaders sign power-sharing deal

 

Governments gave strong backing on Friday to Kenya’s power-sharing agreement and promised support to help the country emerge from two months of ethnic violence sparked by a disputed presidential election.

 

Kenya’s feuding politicians shook hands on Thursday, smiled for the cameras and finally agreed to share power. But the real test for President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga is whether the reluctant partners can work together to heal a divided nation.

 

Under the agreement, the opposition leader will become prime minister and have the power to “coordinate and supervise” the government – more authority than Kibaki wanted to yield.

 

The bitterness between them runs deep, however, and both men have been lashing out at each other since the December 27 election. They have traded accusations about inciting violence, stealing the vote, and destroying the nation.

 

Kofi Annan, the mediator, had to prompt them to shake hands on Thursday as the cameras rolled.

 

Still, a deal was signed, and the international community, that had watched once-stable Kenya slip toward political meltdown, rallied behind its leaders.

 

“The Kenyan coalition government and people can count on our support as they move forward to implement the agreement and reform agenda,” US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement. Rice, who visited Kenya earlier this month to urge progress, had previously warned that US relations with any future Kenyan administration were at stake.

 

The European Union, which had also condemned the lack of progress and threatened unspecified action to pressure Kenya’s leaders, was similarly effusive.

 

Kibaki and Odinga “have shown the wisdom and vision to choose the path of compromise and reconciliation,” the EU’s humanitarian chief, Louis Michel, said in a statement. Both the EU and the United States had said previously that they were reviewing their international aid to Kenya because of the crisis.

 

“This power-sharing deal means that once again Kenya is back on a path of peace and mutual understanding,” Michel said.

 

With war-fraught northern neighbors like Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan, Kenya has long provided an economic and political anchor in a restive region.

 

The parade of international figures who aided the negotiations – including Annan, Rice, the Tanzanian president and African Union head – indicated the importance foreign powers put on Kenya’s stability.

 

Now, Kenya’s leaders will start the hard work of repairing a country, a task even harder than securing an agreement which took a month of often bitter negotiations.

 

More than half a million people have been displaced from their homes and require food, water and medical care.

 

There is also the matter of restoring one of Africa’s most promising economies. Kenya, one of the most prosperous and tourist-friendly countries in Africa, has seen up to $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) in losses linked to the turmoil.

 

While Kenyans welcomed the deal Thursday, there were also reminders of previous weeks’ chaos. Police fired tear gas to disperse dozens who had gathered outside Kibaki’s office to witness the signing.

 

Much of the bloodshed pitted ethnic groups, such as Odinga’s Luo tribe, against Kibaki’s Kikuyu people, long resented for their domination of the economy and politics. In many regions, the violence broke apart cities and towns where Kenyans had lived together – however uneasily at times – since independence from Britain in 1963.

 

The two leaders have a complicated relationship. Both ran for president in 1997, and both lost to incumbent Daniel arap Moi. Odinga then joined in a rare cross-tribal coalition that brought Kibaki to power in 2002 and served in Kibaki’s Cabinet – though the two later had a falling out.

 

It was unclear when, exactly, Odinga would take over as prime minister. Kibaki said he is reconvening parliament March 6 to begin work on the needed constitutional changes.

 

Their uneasy coalition will also have to work together to disarm militia groups and, most difficult, restore Kenyan’s trust in their government. (AP)

 
 
 
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