Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Rai la Odinga held talks late Thursday and effectively paved the way for dialogue th a t will lead to the end of the country’s post-poll stalemate. The two, who have been at logger heads since 27 December’s elections in which in cumbent Kibaki was declared winner, urged Kenyans to embrace peace as they sough t a lasting solution to the violence.
Violence erupted 30 December, the day the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) chair, Samuel Kivuitu declared Kibaki winner in controversial circumstances.
Odinga, the main opposition challenger and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party, rejected the results, saying they were rigged to favour the 76-year-old Kibaki. The situation was further complicated by Kivuitu’s declaration that he did not even know if Kibaki won.
As tension hit fever pitch, angry opposition supporters in different parts of th e country who felt cheated unleashed terror on those on the other side, burning h ouses, destroying crops and business premises.
The mainly youthful demonstrators clashed with anti-riot police in different par ts of the country, culminating in the death of about 80 demonstrators. In all, the skirmishes — the worst political violence in independent Kenya — h as so far claimed 682 lives and displaced 255,000 people from their homes.
Kibaki and Odinga met during the peace talks brokered by former UN secretary-gen eral Kofi Annan who is leading the mediation talks under the aegis of the Africa n Union (AU).
Odinga, 63, and a son of a former Kenyan Vice-President and freedom fighter, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, had said that he could only enter dialogue broke r ed by international mediators. Annan is heading the three-some team which also has former Tanzanian President B enjamin Mkapa and ex-Mozambican First Lady Graca Marcel.
Thursday’s talks which lasted slightly over an hour at the President’s Office in downtown Nairobi, was restricted to the Annan team, Kibaki and Odinga.
Their respective followers, some of them “stiff-necked” hardliners, were locked out.
Addressing the press after the meeting, Kibaki reiterated that he would remain committed to dialogue and reconciliation at all levels of the society.
“As I pointed out after being sworn in as your duly-elected President of Kenya, I will personally lead our country in promoting unity, tolerance, peace and harm o ny among all Kenyans,” President Kibaki said.
He said “Government welcomes the eminent African Statesmen and Woman, His Excellency Kofi Annan, His Excellency Benjamin Mkapa and Her Excellency Mama Graca Machel who have come to facilitate dialogue within Kenya’s constitutional and legal framework.”
“As government, we are determined to get to the underlying causes of these unprecedented events and to lead the nation in a process of healing, reconciliation and lasting harmony.”
President Kibaki emphasized that his government remained committed to its primar y duty of protecting the lives and property of all Kenyans and providing an environment to enable them enjoy all their fundamental freedoms.
He appealed to all Kenyans to remain calm and to shun violence as efforts to find solutions continue.
On his part, Odinga called on his supporters to be patient and uphold peace as t hey work towards a speedy resolution of the political problem.
“Everyone should be patient and uphold peace as parties work day and night to en sure that negotiations do not take longer and a solution is found through dialog u e,” the ODM leader said.
Odinga said he was grateful to the AU team for facilitating the ongoing dialogue between the government and the ODM.
Speaking during the occasion, Annan, said he was optimistic that a sustainable solution to the current political situation would be found.
He commended President Kibaki and Odinga for agreeing to engage in dialogue as a way forward in resolving the political problem.
The former UN Secretary General joined President Kibaki and Odinga in appealing to Kenyans to remain calm and respect the sanctity of human life by upholding the rule of law.