Kibaki-Raila meeting a turning point?

It may have essentially provided for just a photo-opportunity, but the first direct encounter Thursday between President Kibaki and Opposition leader Raila Odinga, since the disputed elections, may well have been a giant step towards resolving the political standoff and halting the slide towards anarchy and national disintegration.

Just getting the two protagonists to shake hands in front of cameras and publicly commit themselves to the search for a peaceful solution, is a significant achievement by the mediator, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

In their short addresses, both President Kibaki and Mr Odinga conceded that Kenya needed to resolve some very serious problems. Both also issued appeals for peace and calm while the talks that seek a solution proceed.

Yet, we must not delude ourselves that anything stupendous has been achieved. What we witnessed, at best, was just the first tentative step in a long journey. Even the brief speeches delivered indicated that there is still a deep gulf to be breached.

President Kibaki started with the reminder that he was duly elected president, the bone of contention, and littered his speech with references to “my government.” His speech also focused on security and the right of every Kenyan to live in peace anywhere in the country.

Mr Odinga’s speech, by contrast, focused not merely on peace but the need for justice, with emphasis on resolving the post-election dispute.

Maybe that was just both men staking out their ground before the real hard bargaining starts. It could be a long, hard, slog, as acknowledged by Mr Annan when he intimated that the talks could go on for weeks and months.

It would be unrealistic to expect a quick fix to a complex problem that goes way beyond who between President Kibaki and Mr Odinga won the right to State House.

Establishing the truth about the elections outcome, a probably impossible task given that documents may have been altered or destroyed, is just a small element in a process that may also involve investigations into the post-election violence.

Ultimately, the assignment is about the search for a new constitutional and social order that provides adequate rights and protections for all groups; addresses historical grievances and ensures equity and fairness in allocation and distribution of public resources. (editorial - 25 Jan 08)

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