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After two months of discord, finally a handshake

In January, one of Africa's most stable democracies was violently ripping itself apart. How was it saved? In Part 4 of a four-part special report, the key players tell what happened.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 8, 2008

AT LAST, A DEAL: Chief mediator Kofi Annan (l.) applauds as President Mwai Kibaki (c.) shakes hands with his new prime minister, Raila Odinga. On Feb. 28, five weeks of peace talks brought an end to the violence between political and ethnic groups.



Nairobi, Kenya

On Tuesday, Feb. 12, chief mediator Kofi Annan leaves the hotel to address a special session of Kenya's Parliament, where more than 200 newly elected parliamentarians have gathered for the purpose of getting an update on the peace talks.

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The two mediation teams are there, too. Both Mr. Annan and Graça Machel, South Africa's former first lady, brief the assembly.

"Africa cares. Kenya's pain is Africa's pain," Mrs. Machel tells them. This is a political crisis. It can only be addressed through a political solution."

A member of Parliament asks Annan where he sees the mediation process heading. Annan responds that a "grand coalition" – a power-sharing agreement between the president and Mr. Odinga's party – is one possibility for resolving the crisis. "I expect that we shall conclude our deliberations ... this week."

Visibly angered, President Kibaki's lead negotiator Martha Karua storms out of the room. Within hours, all the major newspapers receive a faxed photocopy of a stinging letter of protest signed by Ms. Karua.

"My team is alarmed at some serious inaccurate statements made by Your Excellency at the briefing of parliamentarians today. Namely you stated that 'the dialogue team had agreed to have a transitional government for two years after which we shall hold Presidential elections' which position has not been discussed or agreed upon," Karua's letter read.

"He was trying to preempt the decision," recalls Karua. "Instead of being the mediator, he was actively campaigning for a government of national unity. At that stage we had not discussed it. We were agreed on a shared government, but not the type that he [Kofi Annan] was discussing."

Kofi Annan is a famous workaholic. At night, he conducts staff meetings in the courtyard of the Serena Hotel, where a pond full of chirping frogs prevents conversations from being overheard. On weekends, he briefs foreign diplomats and meets separately with President Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to test their willingness to compromise. He has deliberately kept these two principals out of the direct negotiations. They're his fallback plan if the team talks hit a stalemate.

It would be hard to find someone better suited to the task of pulling Kenya back from the brink. He has global stature and continental credibility. A former UN secretary-general, he has experience in mediating conflicts in Iraq, East Timor, and Israel-Palestinian territories. At his side are mediation professionals who work for an independent Geneva-based group called the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue.