Kenya: only a fragile start
Kenya: only a fragile start
Op-Ed

Kenya: only a fragile start

Kenya's 10th Parliament opened on March 6 this year, with upbeat expectations that a "new dawn" would end the violence and turmoil that wracked the country after December's presidential election.

It is set to endorse, in the coming weeks, the different elements of the political solution brokered by Kofi Annan's African Union mediation team and to legalise a new coalition government that will push through the constitutional, economic, legal and institutional reforms needed to address the root causes of the crisis. But, the political accord and its codification in law represent only a beginning; critical steps must rapidly follow to pull Kenya from the edge of an abyss.

The February 28 agreement between President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement is an arrangement between two leaders and their inner circles. They agreed to share power by creating a position of prime minister that will include some executive powers. The first problem is the definition of these powers is so vague as to almost guarantee debates between the two parties.

On March 10, Kibaki's faithful head of civil service announced that the power-sharing deal did not apply to civil service jobs and that Kibaki's ally, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, not Odinga, would be the leader of government business in Parliament. Working out a successful modus operandi will require considerable political will on the part of the principal actors and their supporters, characteristics of which both camps are regrettably short.

The creation of three commissions to review the electoral framework, investigate injustices committed since independence and shed light on the post-electoral violence are also, on paper, steps in the right direction. But, they could easily become yet another set of commissions whose reports will be shelved after being bogged down by politicking.

The challenge remains to turn the deal between Kibaki, Odinga and their elites into an opportunity for all. Commitments by the parties to end the violence, dismantle militias and resettle internally displaced persons will not impress those who are now in displacement camps, especially as there is still no clear mechanism for redressing their situation.

Most worrying of all is that Kibaki and Odinga do not really control those who are causing the violence. The local strongmen who have been involved in the violence are not going to be brought under control by a power-sharing deal that only empowers the lead actors.

Unless underlying grievances are tackled with a renewed sense of urgency and rival militias and vigilantes disarmed, there remains a risk that an isolated violent incident could spark large-scale revenge killings in the Rift Valley; more than 30 people have already been killed in the areas of Molo and Laikipia since the February 28 agreement.

These grievances include the uneven land distribution, wealth and economic opportunities, concentration of political power in the hands of the elite, especially within the presidency, and continued ethnic animosity.

The mobilisation, training and arming of militias and vigilantes, including Kalenjin and Kikuyu youths continued unabated during the talks, and a creeping war for control of ethnically delineated territories carries on, resulting in de facto ethnic cleansing.

Under such circumstances, an elite power-sharing agreement may be a welcome first step, but it must also usher in ethnic harmony and essential reforms. Leaving out the wider society and ignoring deeper issues would be a huge risk.

There is a chance to restore state authority and prevent renewed fighting only if local leaders accept that their grievances are being addressed.

Civil society and economic stakeholders should also be associated with the negotiations on institutional reforms and economic policy.

Continued international engagement will be critical. The future of the country cannot be left in the hands of politicians alone.

The elements of a solution are in place. But implementing them will require vision often lacking in our approach to crises in Africa. However, the alternative -- a deepening of political and ethnic divisions -- is unthinkable.

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