Rice arrives in Kenya to push crisis talks

Updated on Feb 18, 2008 06:49 PM IST
George W Bush, who is on the second leg of a five-nation Africa tour, says Washington wants to help the talks, not dictate a solution.
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Reuters | By, Nairobi

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Kenya on February 18 to push talks to end the post-election crisis but can expect a lukewarm welcome from the government, bristling at Western pressure for a quick deal.

Rice, who was sent by President George W Bush, is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the country since a December 27 vote triggered ethnic clashes that killed 1,000 people.

Bush says she will be bolstering efforts by former U.N. boss Kofi Annan to mediate a lasting political solution to one of the darkest chapters in Kenya's post-independence history.

But on the eve of Rice's visit, Kenya's foreign minister had strong words for anyone trying to force a deal on the government.

"We encourage our friends to support us and not make any mistake of putting a gun to anybody's head and saying 'either/or', because that cannot work," Moses Wetangula said.

"Even if we get visitors to help us in any way possible, the answer to the problem in Kenya lies with Kenyans themselves."

His comments looked to be a pointed reference to Bush's statement of support for a power-sharing arrangement to end the turmoil that has affected one of the West's allies in its fight against al Qaeda and ruined Kenya's reputation for stability.

Bush, who is on the second leg of a five-nation Africa tour, says Washington wants to help the talks, not dictate a solution.

Reinforcing that, a White House spokeswoman said Rice did not expect to come away with a final deal, nor would she offer incentives to encourage the feuding sides to strike a pact.

"But I do think ... they are inching their ways closer and they need a little bit of help to get there," she said.

"BUYING TIME"

Rice is expected to meet Annan, President Mwai Kibaki and his opposition rival, Raila Odinga, on February 18.

From the outset, Kibaki's government has been wary of what it views as foreign meddling in the affairs of a country that gained independence from Britain in 1963. Odinga says Kibaki stole the election.

Although Annan reported considerable progress in last week's talks - including agreement on an independent review of the disputed poll - most Kenyans are waiting for a breakthrough on the contentious "grand coalition" idea he has advocated.

Government officials have said the only power-sharing being considered is giving opposition members top jobs in ministries in Kibaki's half-filled cabinet. But that proposal is unlikely to satisfy the opposition when talks resume on February 19.

In an interview published on February 18, the man who blew the whistle on one of Kenya's biggest graft scandals said deeper issues like perceived tribal inequalities in land rights, power and wealth needed to be addressed - not papered over.

"The elections were merely a trigger for the crisis, with the subsequent mayhem simply symptomatic of a wider leadership failure," John Githongo, Kibaki's exiled former anti-corruption adviser, told the East African newspaper.

"This will not change and we should not pretend it will. Putting all the belligerents into one government merely buys time. We need to be prepared to think outside the box."

Githongo quit Kenya in early 2005 after he revealed details of a scandal in which state contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars were awarded to phantom firms.

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