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Kenyan rivals agree to share power

Kofi Annan's persistence yields a power-sharing deal between Kenya's President Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

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Kenya's political crisis began Dec. 27, after a deeply flawed presidential election gave Mwai Kibaki the presidency. But the roots of the conflict go back much further, to the early days of Kenya's liberation from British colonial rule. Longstanding resentment over politicians giving land and contracts to their ethnic groups and families, and the charges of opposition politicians who said that President Kibaki would continue that tradition with a second term, were just the spark to set off a firestorm of violence and ethnic hate.

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The power-sharing agreement may be the crucial starting point toward peace, but it is perhaps the easiest step. Many analysts anticipate greater difficulty in the days ahead, as the new Kenyan government of national unity takes up the more contentious issues, such as rewriting the Kenyan constitution, balancing the distribution of wealth and land ownership, reining in politically connected militias, and punishing those persons who have instigated or promoted ethnic violence.

"The danger here is that people will say we have an agreement, so let's carry on with our lives," says Jacqueline Klopp, a political scientist and Kenya expert at Columbia University. "The politicians have their agreement, but their militias and their supporters have not demobilized. Until we have some peace-building, some recognition that what we did was wrong, people are not going to just start going back to Eldoret."

The town of Eldoret, in the Rift Valley, was the site of some of the most horrific violence of the conflict, including the burning of a church that was sheltering ethnic Kikuyu villagers from the armed crowds of Kalenjin neighbors. During the election, most Kenyans voted along ethnic lines, with Kikuyus supporting their fellow tribesman, Kibaki, and ethnic Luos, Kalenjins, and others supporting opposition leader Mr. Odinga.

François Grignon, Africa director of the International Crisis Group, says the agreement was an important step forward and would help ease tension in the Rift Valley. But he warned that there it would take a lot more work to heal Kenya's ethnic and social divisions.

"The implementation of all the agreements is the key issue," he says. "Consultation with community leaders to craft a realistic process of reconciliation is going to be very important."

In some ways, the fact that Kenya's deal took so much effort and time to hammer out is a testament to how much power the international community – including the United Nations – can have.

"Kenya was so close to dissolving," says Ms. Klopp. "That very fact shows how the concerted effort, the real support of the international community, can make a difference. We can never say again that there is nothing to be done."

Freelance reporter Muchiri Kioi contributed to this story from Nairobi.