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Kenyan President Urges Parliament to Back Power-Sharing Deal

By Derek Kilner
06 March 2008

Kenya's parliament has reopened, with President Mwai Kibaki urging lawmakers to enact power-sharing legislation agreed to with his challenger in December's election, Raila Odinga. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, both political leaders have strongly backed the accord, but concerns persist over how the coalition will operate in practice.

President Kibaki addressed Kenya's parliament, urging lawmakers to enact the power-sharing agreement he signed a week ago with his rival in the presidential election Raila Odinga.

"I believe honorable members will agree that the accord is a victory for all Kenyans, laying the foundation for peace and stability in our country," said President Kibaki. "The successful implementation of the Accord will require goodwill, unity, good faith and integrity from this House and all our country's leaders."

The agreement calls for the creation of a new prime minister's office, which is expected to be filled by Mr. Odinga, along with a cabinet split evenly between the two sides. The parliament will now be tasked with passing a law to put the agreement into practice, and amending the country's constitution to accommodate the changes.

It remains to be determined when the bills will be introduced. Sessions of parliament have traditionally begun with a week of debate on the contents of the president's speech, although party leaders have said that period could be shortened this time around. Government officials have said a draft of the bill should be made public tomorrow and will likely be introduced in parliament sometime next week.

Both leaders have urged support for the legislation, but key questions about how the agreement will work in practice, including the specific powers of the prime minister's office, have yet to be determined.

Another contentious issue will be how the various cabinet positions will be filled. President Kibaki has already appointed ministers for half the cabinet posts, including such prized portfolios as defense, foreign affairs, justice, and finance. Mr. Odinga will likely push for some of those jobs to go to members of his Orange Democratic Movement, but hard-liners in the government may be reluctant to give them up.

There are also concerns about what will happen if the coalition collapses. President Kibaki and Mr. Odinga signed a similar agreement before the elections that was never implemented, leading Mr. Odinga to leave the government.

In his address President Kibaki also discussed the violence that killed about 1,500 people and displaced more than 300,000, following the elections.

"The events of the last two months have offered us an opportunity to look inwards in order to fully comprehend both the weakness and threats on one hand and the strengths and opportunities we have as a nation," he said.

President Kibaki spent the bulk of the address outlining legislative goals for the session.

Meanwhile, international media rights organizations have released a report on the Kenyan media's performance during the unrest that followed December's elections. The report, prepared by Reporters Without Borders, International Media Support, and Article 19, faulted Kenyan media outlets focusing on appeals for calm and reconciliation at the expense of fully reporting events. The report also suggested Kenyan media, largely unfamiliar with reporting in such an environment, engaged in self-censorship.

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