Thursday, February 28, 2008

February 28, 2008 - Big news in Kenya!

In the "Emergency Operations Center" where I do my work at UNICEF, there is a TV that we keep on news channels like CNN, BBC, or Al Jazeera throughout the day. I suppose that during the first days of the emergency it was extremely necessary for updated news as the situation was changing so rapidly, but now it is just sort of for our own convenience, entertainment and distraction. Four of us were sitting at our laptops working while the news buzzed in the background a little after 3pm today when the "breaking news" music started playing. We all turned our attention to the TV as soon as we heard the word "Kenya" because Kofi Annan had just announced that the government and the opposition had reached a power-sharing agreement!

They finally made a deal! That's right! We had to wait 2 hours more, but at 5pm we watched it live on TV as President Mwai Kibaki and the Honorable Raila Odinga signed a power-sharing agreement to end the political stalemate. In the last few days it has been so tense here, and it truly could have gone either way (the other way pretty much being civil war). Kofi Annan had given up talks with party negotiators in favor of dealing directly with the two leaders, and the media has increasingly reported on militias being trained throughout the country to begin fighting as soon as the talks break down. Needless to say, with the news of an agreement we could almost hear a collective sigh of relief throughout the country.

The agreement essentially gives Raila Odinga the position of Executive Prime Minister and establishes that he will be Head of Government while Mwai Kibaki, as President, will be Head of State (I am not yet sure which one is Commander in Chief). It established a 50/50 Cabinet giving both parties equal power. There were lots of details about how the Constitution will be amended, Parliament's role and how the government will be structured in the future. The bottom line, though, is that progress has now really begun.

The negotiations are not over, as tough issues of land and equity still need to be addressed, but the most immediate problem between these leaders, who many people felt were holding the country hostage (Kofi Annan included), has been addressed. Now we just need to see them implement the agreement as it was intended. The press conference was sort of funny because Kofi Annan and the President of Tanzania, who is the new Chair of the African Union and had arrived yesterday to support Kofi Annan and put additional pressure on the leaders, gave comments congratulating everyone on their hard work and leadership. Leadership?!?! Are you kidding? If they were real leaders, these old men and their cronies would have put their selfish interests aside and resolved the issue 4 weeks ago! I suppose Annan had to say such niceties, as he must be so thankful that the country didn't plummet into total chaos again, but I did find the camaraderie somewhat comical. Kristoffer says that it feels like that Southwest Airlines commercial in the US which says, "You are now free to move about the country."

That doesn't mean that all violence is over and the country is back to a normal level of security, but it certainly gives us hope that we are heading in that direction. All 4 leaders who spoke today encouraged people around the country to support the agreement, remain calm and not to act on any disappointment or anger they might feel about whatever their party conceded to reach this agreement (remember that Kenyans have extreme party/tribal loyalties). I suppose time will tell if the people heed these guidelines and begin the healing process.

We have seen no dancing in the street yet, but Kristoffer thinks our guards were smiling a little wider than usual when we arrived home tonight. It was actually very cool for us to sit with a random group of people (the office became crowded because of the TV!) and watch this pretty significant moment in Kenya's history as it happened live. In the room there were: 4 Kenyans, 2 Americans, 1 or 2 French guys, and a Dane. Not too shabby, eh? I think the best reaction out of anyone was from this one Kenyan guy who walked into the room and said, "What's going on?" When someone told him, "They're signing an agreement," he responded, "Oh Shit! That's serious!" Serious indeed!

The next few days will give us a better picture of how this power-sharing government will play out in real life, as opposed to just on paper, and how the people of Kenya will respond to a coalition government. For us, if this agreement makes everyone safer and facilitates more and quicker assistance to Kenya's displaced population (estimated at UNICEF to be well over 1 million people, despite the media's figure of 600,000), then we wish for nothing but its success in the coming months. Cheers to Kenya today!



Anonymous said...

Ouah ! That is great news Lisa ! I am just printing out your blog for G. Sense is prevailing at last and as you say, let's hope that the Kenya can smile again for real. I'll drink to that (champagne and all !) Cheers !!!! Monique.

Joanna said...

Yay! We are so excited for Kenya, even in these early stages of agreement and peace. And we are also excited for our favorite residents of Kenya. (Yes, you.) Congratulations on being witnesses to such a landmark victory for compromise.