Coalition deal may be skewed in several ways

WHEN CONDOLEEZZA Rice flew into town on Monday, it was clear that her mission was to put more pressure on President Kibaki to accept a power-sharing deal as the solution to Kenya’s post-election crisis.

The US, Britain and other major Western powers all seem to have come to the conclusion that the Kibaki government is becoming the impediment.

Before dispatching his Secretary of State to Kenya, US President Bush, speaking on a visit in neighbouring Tanzania, deliberately used the same terms, “grand coalition”, that had so irked Justice minister Martha Karua when first uttered by lead mediator Kofi Annan.

In Nairobi Ms Rice also used the term, and strongly suggested that her government did not consider the Kibaki Government to enjoy legitimacy.

Her words were something to the effect that the disputed electoral outcome did not produce a government that earns the confidence of the Kenyan people, which is a more diplomatic way of echoing the views of the British, who have said, they do not recognise the Kibaki government.

The British position has already been reinforced by Foreign Secretary David Milliband in a declaration of support for High Commissioner Adam Wood.

Ms Rice came to Kenya when many in government were still reeling from the US government’s notice that it would bar from entering the country Kenyan leaders it accuses of being impediments to the search for a negotiated settlement.

The Kenya government was particularly angry that the threats seemed to target Government officials more than the opposition leaders it accuses of fanning violence.

The British have also hinted that they could pursue a similar strategy, with Mr Wood hinting that sanctions could even be extended to freezing assets held in their country by those it has targeted.

The unprecedented pressure, which clearly aims to force the Government to accept the grand coalition being pushed by Mr Annan, could well force President Kibaki to give way.

But it could also force adoption of a laager mentality, especially if perceptions are reinforced that far from being honest brokers, the Western powers are taking sides and trying to enforce a settlement that favours the Opposition.

Indications so far are that a siege mentality is creeping in as hard-liners in government prevail with the view that the mediation process has become a device by which the Opposition, backed by the West, is using to force its way into what would amount to a virtual takeover of government though the route of an unelected executive prime minister.

ONE THING THAT IS BECOMING increasingly clear is that when it comes to public relations, the Government is being completely outmanoeuvred by a savvy ODM propaganda machinery.

The Opposition has made a grand show of dropping its earlier demands for resignation of President Kibaki and handover of power to Mr Raila Odinga.

They are trumpeting the concession they have made, instead agreeing to share power for an interim period pending fresh elections. With that alone, the Government’s hostility to the power-sharing formula leaves it looking like the impediment to any settlement.

Even the Government’s own proposals on how to share power — merely allowing the President leeway to appoint ODM members in the Government — do not seem serious measured against the “real” power-sharing deal floated by ODM, which would give the Opposition virtual control of the government.

As Prime Minister with executive powers, also commanding a majority in Parliament, Mr Odinga would have achieved through the mediation what he failed to win, or was cheated of, at the ballot box.

It is then no wonder that the Government is so hostile to the coalition idea, but being lost in reportage is that the ODM model, which has gained so much publicity is not necessarily the same model Mr Annan is pushing.

If there is already agreement in principle for power-sharing, it is important that the mediators come up with proposals that both sides can live with.

Increasing fears in government that the mediation and Western powers are keen to steamroller them into an agreement that would amount to surrender of power do have to be assuaged.

Macharia Gaitho

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