Angry opposition youths oppose Kenya compromise

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Kenya Monday to press for a power-sharing agreement.

Radu Sigheti/Reuters
Peace talks: Ms. Rice shook hands Monday with President Mwai Kibaki She's pushing both sides to agree on a power-sharing deal.

The pile of stones blocking the road here in this western Kenyan city is part tribute to a fallen comrade and part challenge to Kenya's politicians as they talk peace.

"We cannot remove the stones until we know that [opposition leader Raila Odinga] is the president," says Eliazar Otieno Oluga, one of the unemployed youths who hang out in a corrugated iron shed at the edge of a slum.

This area is the heartland of support for Mr. Odinga, who narrowly lost the disputed Dec. 27 presidential election that most observers say was deeply flawed.

Odinga has made conciliatory statements during recent peace talks brokered by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Kenya Monday to urge both sides to agree to powersharing measures that diplomats hope will stem the violence that has killed more than 1,000 people and displaced more than 600,000. But Odinga faces pressure from his own supporters not to be too accommodating.

Angry youths don't want to compromise

The youths from his Luo ethnic group who burned buildings in Kisumu in the wake of the election say they will accept little in the way of compromise. The stones in the road – marking the spot where one their friends was shot by riot police – could quickly become missiles.

"We voted for a president, not a prime minister," says one. "The least we can accept is an interim government with a revote in six months."

The young men, who spend their days drinking or smoking bhang, the local name for marijuana, are typical of the dispossessed from whom Odinga draws much of his support.

He campaigned on a policy of majimbo – a form of devolved government that promised to share the benefits of Kenya's booming economy with those who felt they were missing out to members of President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe.

In short, he offered his supporters hope.

Jaguba Nyabanda Anyango, a mechanic, says: "[Mr. Kibaki] has taken his people to the government. Now we want [Odinga] to take all Luos to government and provide jobs."

Without Odinga in the State House, they all say they will rip up their voting cards and turn their backs on Kenya's political system.

But first, they will burn what is left of Kisumu's once pretty city center.

"That is automatic if [Odinga] betrays us," says one of the young men.

Sharing power is key to a peace deal

On Friday, Mr. Annan announced a 10-point plan for electoral and constitutional reform agreed to by both sides.

But there was no word on the crucial question of a deal to share power.

Ms. Rice spent an hour Monday being briefed by Annan ahead of meetings with Odinga and Kibaki.

"There needs to be a governance agreement that allows real power sharing, that will allow a coalition – a grand coalition – so that Kenya can be governed," she said.

The two sides are deadlocked over a new position of prime minister, which probably would be offered to Odinga.

Opposition supporters want the position to assume much of the president's executive powers, but Kibaki's government sees the prime minister as a much more modest position.

Meanwhile, the international community is doing its best to keep pressure on the rivals to reach an agreement.

The US, Britain – Kenya's former colonial ruler – and several other countries are considering travel bans and asset freezes for individuals implicated in stoking violence.

Kibaki has tried to maintain a policy of "business as usual" since being sworn in at the end of December, playing down the scale of the crisis and cementing his position as head of state.

That leaves Odinga as the key to a deal, says Philip Ochieng, a columnist with The Daily Nation newspaper.

"There's intransigence on both sides – but especially on the government side," he says. "So it seems it's up to [Odinga] to save the country by yielding more ground."

But Odinga's supporters are not making it easy for him to yield, and there's no telling how they'll react if Odinga signs an agreement that they think gives Kibaki too much power

Whatever happens during the political talks, Kenya will be left with open wounds that need long-term solutions.

Thousands of Kikuyus have been forced to flee towns in the western Rift Valley, a process described as "ethnic cleansing" by Jendayi Frazer, Washington's top Africa official.

It will take a year for some of the people displaced by violence to return home, says Sir John Holmes, the UN's most senior humanitarian official.

"There needs to be a very major effort to reconcile communities, to get them to start talking to each other, to address some of the problems between them in ways that do not involve them driving each other out with machetes and bows and arrows," he said after returning from a recent tour of the trouble spots. "That's a long-term effort."

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