On the 27th of December 2007, Kenyans turned out in large numbers to vote in civic, parliamentary, and presidential elections. The unexplained delays in announcing the results of the presidential contest led to heightened tensions and suspicions on the part of the main opposition party (ODM) that the ruling party (PNU) was attempting to rig the outcome. Amidst allegations that tallying at the national level was flawed and that rigging had taken place, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) announced Mwai Kibaki as the winner on the 29th of December. Later, the Chairman of the ECK publicly admitted that the tallying of votes at the national level was flawed, making it difficult for ECK to determine the actual winner. This threw the entire nation into chaos, immediately followed by widespread conflict and extensive coverage by local and international media.
The political stalemate and skirmishes continued in the absence of dialogue. Kibaki (PNU) claimed that he won the presidential election fairly and was sworn in officially as the President of Kenya. The opposition leader, Raila Odinga (ODM), insisted that the election was rigged by Kibaki refused to recognize Kibaki as President. A dangerous political divide emerged, violently pitting supporters of Kibaki against those of Raila. What followed was an orgy of violence, witnessed in many parts of the country, leaving over 1,200 dead and close to 400,000 others displaced. These have continued to live as Internally Displaced Persons—IDPs. The uncertainty that held sway during the period polarized the country along ethnic lines with serious economic consequences, costing the country an estimated 100 billion (Kenya Shillings) in two months.
Though the crisis was the worst that Kenya has experienced, with the potential to reduce the country to total chaos, many maintained the view that it presented a golden opportunity for Kenya to re-engineer herself. Kenyans could seize the opportunity to address the various crises that faced their country (including political, economic, socio-ethnic, religious, cultural and constitutional) laying a firm foundation for a peaceful, united, and stable nation.
The post-electoral political stalemate that started in Kenya on 28th December ignited brutal violence and entered the limelight of local and international media. It attracted the attention of the African Union, European Union (EU), most of the leading developed nations (including USA, Canada, Britain, and Germany) and the United Nations (UN). On 22nd January 2008, the UN intervened and sent former UN Secretary General, Dr. Kofi Annan, as the chief mediator to reconcile the two antagonistic political leaders. Annan was to work with a Panel of Eminent African Personalities constituted by the African Union and including the former First Lady of South Africa, Gacia Machel, and the former President of Tanzania, Mr. Benjamin Mkapa. Each of the two political parties (PNU and ODM) nominated four representatives to form a mediation team –Kenya National Dialogue & Reconciliation (KNDR)—that was chaired by Kofi Annan. The mediation process was strongly supported, internally and internationally, and was considered a genuine roadmap to peace and stability in Kenya. As the mediation process started, Annan emphatically requested the two parties to declare a ceasefire and begin a dialogue. When KNDR began to meet, the skirmishes subsided but continued in some parts of the country.
After its formation, the mediation team negotiated a four part agenda that guided its deliberations. The first was to undertake actions aimed at stopping the wave of violence, enhancing security, protecting people and property, ensuring freedom of the press, and upholding the right to peaceful assembly. The second agenda was to take immediate measures to provide assistance to affected communities and individuals, undertake impartial, effective and expeditious investigation of gross and systematic violations of human rights, and beginning the process of national healing. The third agenda was the most controversial: to overcome the political crisis arising from the flawed presidential electoral results and the ensuing violence. It was noted that to a large extent, the crisis was based on issues related to distribution of power and functioning of the state institutions. Finally, the fourth agenda was to tackle long-term issues involving constitutional, legal and institutional reforms, poverty and inequality as well as regional imbalances, unemployment, land reforms, and transparency and accountability.
Initially, the mediation team agreed that Agenda items 1 to 3 would be resolved within a period of between 7 and 15 days from the date of commencement of the negotiations. However, the mediation process proved more challenging than initially expected and took more than 15 days to cover these three items. At some point, due to delays in reaching consensus on these items, the ODM threatened to switch back to “peaceful” mass protests as a way of forcing PNU negotiators to yield. However, the international community – led by the USA, Britain, Canada, Germany and Denmark – continued to pressure the two parties to tone down their demands and conclude the mediation process amicably. In particular, international pressure was put on the two parties to 1) end violence and 2) share power through the formation of a coalition government.
Despite continued political wrangling and sharp differences of opinion, the mediators led by Kofi Annan successfully covered the first two agendas. As expected, however, agenda 3 was highly controversial since it touched on power sharing. At one time, discussions grew so heated that they threatened to break the entire mediation process: on the 26th of February, 2008, Kofi Annan was forced to suspend the negotiations and engage the two leading protagonists (Kibaki and Raila) directly.
On 28th February, 2008, after sustaining a fragile and explosive mediation for one month, Kofi Annan and his Panel of African Eminent Persons succeeded to have the two protagonist leaders (Kibaki and Raila) sign a peace agreement – the National Accord & Reconciliation (NARA) agreement. The Panel was strongly backed by President Kikwete of Tanzania who also witnessed the signing of the pact. The aggressive intervention of the international forces (especially the USA, which threatened to take tough actions if the two parties failed to agree on a power-sharing system) helped to sustain and facilitate the mediation process. Eventually, Kibaki and Raila yielded, toned down their demands, and entered into a New Deal that specified (1) a Prime Minister with two Deputies each from PNU and ODM; (2) the Prime Minister and deputies only removable by a motion of no confidence in parliament; (3) a cabinet consisting of the President, the Vice president, the Prime Minister and his/her two deputies and other ministers; (4) a government with a portfolio balance of ministries reflecting the parliamentary strength of political parties; (5) the National Accord and Reconciliation Act of 2008 enacted in the constitution
For most Kenyans, the specifics of the New Deal are not an issue. They are simply grateful that months of uncertainty and unrest have cleared, giving them an opportunity to return to their normal lives. As Kofi Annan suggested, the greater task lies ahead, for parliament, civil society, and even the Inter Religious Forum. After signing the New Deal, Kibaki (PNU) and Raila (ODM) agreed to form a Grand Coalition Government. Kibaki remained the President and Raila was appointed as Prime Minister. The cabinet that normally has a size of around 30 ministers was expanded to 42, accommodating as many politicians as possible from the two competing political parties (PNU versus ODM). Kibaki appointed Kalonzo Musyoka (a leader of the third influential political party) as his Vice President. To date, a grand coalition has successfully been formed as per the stipulation of the national accord but without opposition in parliament.
Despite the existence of the coalition, there are simmering political issues that continue to threaten the (cold) peace that has been forged. To what extent has the formation of the grand coalition government resolved the challenge of ethnic differences and hostilities in Kenya? It is quite clear that the skirmishes experienced after the 2007 elections were largely ethnic based. It is therefore important to establish whether or not the formation of the grand coalition has stemmed down ethnic hostilities exemplified through political campaigns and voting patterns in 2007. The eventual success of the coalition government will depend on how Kenyans rating its performance in meeting socio-economic and political needs. The coalition government may have facilitated the ceasefire and ended the post election violence, but development and poverty reduction are more difficult problems.