Jeffrey Gettleman: Kenyan Opposition Leader Says Foreign Pressure Must Continue

Raila Odinga is a happy man.

On Sunday, he went to the beach and was pictured on the front page of Kenya’s leading newspaper, The Daily Nation, lounging by the waves, wearing shorts and argyle socks.

On Monday, as he polished off a bowl of vegetable soup and sautéed fish at the Nairobi Club, he seemed relaxed, chatty and upbeat — for the first time in weeks.

“Better half a loaf than no bread,” Mr. Odinga said of a power-sharing agreement struck on Thursday that marries his political party to his rivals in the Kenyan government.

Mr. Odinga, 63, is Kenya’s top opposition leader, and his decision to drop his claim to Kenya’s presidency — which he says he rightly won — and to accept the newly created position of prime minister has helped pull this country back from the brink of chaos.

Last week, the governing party agreed to form a coalition government with Mr. Odinga’s party, a breakthrough in a dangerous political crisis that erupted in December with a flawed presidential election. The incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, was declared the winner, despite widespread evidence of vote rigging.

The election set off weeks of bloodshed, destruction and ethnic balkanization, which for a moment put Kenya’s future in doubt.

The political violence has mostly calmed down, though on Sunday night more than 10 people were killed in western Kenya in clashes over contested land. Mr. Odinga, in an interview on Monday, credited the unstinting pressure by the European Union and the United States government with forcing Mr. Kibaki to compromise.

“They knew the game was up,” Mr. Odinga said, referring to Mr. Kibaki’s side, which had insisted for weeks that it would not share power with the opposition, but finally conceded to just about all of Mr. Odinga’s demands except for the presidency.

Mr. Odinga said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been especially influential — and tough. She visited Kenya last month, and by the accounts of Mr. Odinga and others with knowledge of her meetings, she spoke sternly to Kenya’s president, telling him that his plan to prevent Mr. Odinga’s team from getting any real power was “unacceptable.”

People close to Mr. Kibaki have conceded that the foreign pressure had played a role in Mr. Kibaki’s about-face, especially from donor nations like the United States, which has provided Kenya with more than half a billion dollars of aid each year. And, Mr. Odinga says, that pressure must continue.

“We’re still at a very critical stage,” he said.

The next step is for Parliament to ratify the political agreement signed by Mr. Odinga and Mr. Kibaki. There are many questions to sort through, like how the government will function with essentially two bosses and what will happen to the vice president, a position that now seems to be eclipsed by that of the prime minister. Parliament is to meet Thursday.

But the biggest question seems to be how Mr. Odinga and Mr. Kibaki will get along. The two teamed up in 2002, when Mr. Kibaki won his first term as president. But they soon had a bitter falling-out.

Mr. Odinga said he had no problem working with Mr. Kibaki. He said his only potential problem was “the clique around him.” He said the clique could persuade some Parliament members to skip the vote on the power-sharing agreement.

The agreement needs a two-thirds majority to be put into Kenya’s Constitution through an amendment. So far, Mr. Kibaki’s political allies have said that they will support the agreement, though some have continued to grumble about its ramifications.

Mr. Odinga seems cautiously optimistic. He spoke Monday of the ministries his party wanted to take over, including finance and internal security, and how he planned to provide better housing to improve conditions in Kenya’s slums, which had been incubators of violence during the election crisis.

He also said that he was excited about the American presidential race, and that he was rooting for Barack Obama, who is half Kenyan and whose father was Luo, Mr. Odinga’s ethnic group.

Luos have felt marginalized for years. There is an old joke in Kenya that has caused a lot of chuckles lately, that a Luo will be president of the United States before being president of Kenya.

“We beat them to it,” Mr. Odinga said, laughing so hard that his eyes watered. “I just wasn’t sworn in.”

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