Kibaki, Raila ceasefire
It took a phone call between Nairobi and Tokyo for coalition principals President Mwai Kibaki (left) and Prime Minister Odinga to set up a meeting and also ask their loyalists to halt the warlike rhetoric.
By BERNARD NAMUNANE
Posted Thursday, February 18 2010 at 22:30
High level intervention from key foreign powers has persuaded President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to call a ceasefire on their war of words as they prepare to meet and discuss the rift in the Grand Coalition Government.
The two coalition principals spoke on the phone on Wednesday night and agreed to meet as soon as Mr Odinga comes back on Sunday from an official visit to Japan. They also agreed to ask their respective supporters to tone down the rhetoric that has suggested the coalition was on the verge of collapse.
The phone conversation came as it emerged that former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who mediated the Kenya post-election conflict, had no intention of immediately responding to Mr Odinga's invitation to help resolve the rift in the coalition, although he also called and spoke to the two principals.
It is understood that Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga had come under pressure from a number of foreign powers calling themselves "Friends of Kenya", among them the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, to end the crisis. Each of them was called separately before they agreed to talk on the phone.
Sources said during the 10-minute conversation which started at 8pm, the two agreed to ask their allies to tone down hard-line public statements. President Kibaki's allies said they agreed to the meeting but did not set a date and time.
Mr Odinga's camp said the conversation was "extremely cordial and very useful" and said that the meeting was scheduled for Sunday. "President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga will meet on Sunday to chart the way forward out of the impasse that has created a notion of crisis in recent days," said Mr Salim Lone, the Prime Minister's communications adviser.
Mr Lone said they agreed to hold talks and explained that there were no serious issues that could block their cohabitation in the coalition. "This cooperation has been most striking in the still ongoing negotiations on ... a new constitution, a process which has been deeply divisive for more than a decade," he quoted the PM.
However, President Kibaki was more bold and declared there was no crisis in the coalition in spite of the salvos that were being fired from key leaders of PNU and ODM.
In a statement, the Presidential Press Service said: "President Mwai Kibaki has assured Kenyans that there is no crisis in the Grand Coalition Government. There has been heated debate about the cohesion of the Grand Coalition Government, President Kibaki said the Government is stable."
The stand-off between PNU and ODM escalated into a political fire-ball last Sunday when Mr Odinga suspended Agriculture minister William Ruto and his Education counterpart, Prof Sam Ongeri over allegations of corruption. President Kibaki reversed the suspensions on the same day, saying the PM had no powers to suspend them.
On the previous day, the President had announced the suspension of permanent secretaries Karega Mutahi (Education), Romano Kiome (Agriculture), and Ali Mohamed (Special Programmes) and National Cereals and Produce Board boss Gideon Misoi, together with the PS in Mr Odinga's office, Dr Mohamed Isahakia, and the principal administrative secretary, Mr Caroli Omondi. The President's action came hours after the officials in Mr Odinga's office had stepped aside.
As the matter escalated, Mr Odinga on Monday said he had written to the African Union and Mr Annan, asking for mediation. This was followed by ODM's declaration that it would boycott Cabinet meetings until the dispute was resolved. On Thursday, Mr Annan, in response to questions e-mailed by the Nation to his Geneva office, said he was concerned that the stand-off could derail the implementation of wide reforms stipulated in the National Accord.
The Panel of Eminent African Personalities, which oversees the Kenyan settlement under Mr Annan's leadership, said it was "calling upon President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga to meet urgently to agree on a practical and workable application of the principle of collaboration, the continued need for investigation of the alleged acts of corruption, and on the imperative of joint sustained efforts to implement the reform agenda".
Mr Annan listed the challenges facing the coalition as investigations into corruption scandals and the race to implement the reform agenda. Mr Annan is expected in Kenya at the end of next month to assess the performance of the coalition after two years in power. In Washington, President Obama's administration released a statement showing concern at the impasse and urged the President and the PM to urgently meet to end the crisis.