Kenyan Deal: A compromise between Britain and America

On February 27, 2008, Kofi Annan acting under US tutelage announced a power-sharing deal to solve Kenya’s political crisis. The key points of the deal are:-

  • Kenya will create the post of prime minister
  • The prime minister will have the power to "coordinate and supervise" government affairs
  • Parliament will reconvene in one week to pass the agreement into law.
  • Kenya will have two deputy prime ministers, one nominated by each member of the coalition

The announcement of the deal is an attempt by the US not only to assuage Odinga’s criticisms of Kibaki, but also to accommodate British interests in Kenya. The British galvanized by their support for Odinga threatened further violence, if a compromise political solution between Odinga and Kibaki could not be reached. Unsurprisingly then that the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown said: “Kenya’s leaders have reached a power-sharing agreement that represents a triumph for peace and diplomacy, and a renunciation of the violence that has scarred a country of such enormous potential. The Kenyan people have the outcome for which they have hoped and prayed.”

However, from the outset of the Kenya’s parliamentary elections the US supported both Kibaki and Odinga. Kibaki was America’s preference, but because of his sagging popularity the US also supported Odinga, even though he was aligned with the British and the Europeans. After the election result, the US publicly praised Kibaki, but then shifted and aided Kibaki behind the scenes–the World Bank was one of the instruments used by America.

Amongst American policy makers there was a realization that Kibaki’s control only extended to Nairobi and central parts of Kenya, the remainder of the country was dominated by Odinga and his allies. The US also feared that Odinga persistence with political protest posed a real danger to Kibaki’s rule, paralysis of political life, and a grave threat to America’s war on terror. Hence, in early January 2008, the US dispatched US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs, Dr Jendayi Frazer, Kofi Annan and other pro-American regional leaders to push for a compromise solution. The role played by Annan and other African leaders was to dispel the notion that the US was dictating solutions to Kenya–the actual role played by leaders from Ghana, Tanzania etc was to implement US plan to solve the dispute.

Annan’s plan was very similar to the one prepared by Dr Collins of the WB. During this period the British were extremely critical of Kibaki and called for his removal, while the Americans never once called for Kibaki to relinquish power. On the contrary, they issued statements supportive of Kibaki, but at the same time, insisted that Kibaki should cede some of his powers. For instance, Frazer told Odinga that the disputed election results should be decided by the courts. It is well known that the courts are loyal to Kibaki.

However, Kibaki refused to budge on the matter of redistribution of power, continued to appoint his supporters as ministers and ignored US pleas to share power with Odinga. The US reacted by threatening to cut off aid to Kibaki’s government. The British responded by calling the Kibaki government illegitimate. On February 13, 2008, British High Commissioner Adam Wood said that the Government, as currently constituted, did not reflect the wishes of Kenyans.

Meanwhile talks between Annan, Kibaki and Odinga headed towards an impasse, as positions of both Kibaki and Odinga hardened. Odinga demanded a recount of the electoral votes, creation of the post of prime minister, changes to the Kenyan constitution and a rerun of the parliamentary elections within two years. At this juncture, President Bush dispatched US Secretary of State Dr. Rice to press Kibaki to yield some of his presidential powers.

Rice arrived in Kenya on February 18, 2008 and during her stay persuaded Kibaki to agree to the post of prime minister and two deputy prime ministers. However, there is vagueness about how much power the Prime Minister will have. Rice also dismissed Odinga’s concerns about the parliamentary election results and ignored his demands to convene elections after two years. She is reported to have said, “We have everything on the elections; let us not waste time on it.” She further pressurised Odinga to accept a grand coalition which should be granted time to thoroughly examine the constitutional reforms, and complete its tenure of five years. It was Rice’s efforts that allowed Annan to broker the deal between Kibaki and Odinga. Welcoming the agreement the US State Department Spokesman, Mr Tom Casey said, “That’s an important and very positive step forward. We are very pleased to see that this agreement has been reached. We want to see this agreement implemented … We certainly appreciate the good will shown by President

Kibaki and Mr Odinga in reaching this agreement. We hope that everyone associated with their political parties would work with them to support this deal and move it forward.”

For the time being the Anglo-American struggle over Kenya has subsided, but a lot rests on the formation of the coalition government, the redistribution of Presidential powers and US policies put forward by Kibaki for the new parliament to approve.