US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday met President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga separately and sought assurance that Kenya’s next elections will be free and fair.
During the meetings in Nairobi, Mrs Clinton is understood to have emphasised the need for the government to put measures in place for a democratic election and avoid a repeat of the deadly violence witnessed four years ago.
“We urge that the nation comes together and prepare for elections that will be a real model for the entire world,” Ms Clinton said after talks with President Kibaki at State House, Nairobi.
“The US has pledged to assist the Government of Kenya ensure that the upcoming elections are free, fair and transparent.”
A statement from the Presidential Press Service said President Kibaki said the country was ready for the first elections under the new Constitution.
The meetings were held amidst accusations from either side of the coalition government over failure to hold a joint meeting with America’s most senior diplomat.
The Sunday Nation was told that Mrs Clinton wanted to meet President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga jointly but the Office of the President refused.
A source at the US Embassy close to the prior arrangements said last evening that the President opted to meet Mrs Clinton alone.
“That was the original plan but somehow things changed hours to her arrival. I do not know why the President changed the arrangement but maybe because of other issues we do not know,” the source said.
Mr Odinga’s Spokesman Dennis Onyango could not be reached for comment but a source in the office confirmed they had received an invite to jointly meet the US top diplomat.
The change of plan was also apparent in the change of times in her itinerary. Journalists had on Friday been told she would visit State House at 9.30 am, an hour and a half after her arrival. But she was there at 11 am. That also altered her timings of meeting Chief Justice Dr Willy Mutunga.
Reached for comment, Presidential Press Service head Isaiah Kabira said: “The programme we had, and which we sent to newsrooms, was that she was to hold talks with the President. That was what we went with.”
Other sources said the PM had turned down an invitation for a meeting at State House. However, the Sunday Nation could not independently confirm this.
After meeting Mrs Clinton, President Kibaki reaffirmed the government’s commitment to ensure a transparent, free and fair election devoid of the violence witnessed in 2007/2008.
“So much has happened since you last visited Kenya in 2009. What, however, stands out above all other developments is the promulgation of our new constitution in August 2010,” the President said.
He also sought to reassure Kenyans and the international community that the process of implementing the Constitution was on track as all the necessary laws prescribed for the first two years have been passed.
Mrs Clinton, who left for Malawi on Saturday, also held talks with officials of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Mr Mutunga, a parliamentary team led by National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende and representatives of civil society.
“We urge the commission (IEBC) to come together and prepare for elections that will be a real model for the entire world,” she said after a meeting with Chief Justice Mutunga for about 45 minutes.
Kenya plunged into violence following the announcement of the disputed results of the December 2007 presidential election.
Mr Odinga — the main opposition candidate in that election — accused President Kibaki of having rigged his re-election.
The post-election violence killed 1,133 people and uprooted more than 600,000 from their homes.
A negotiated power-sharing arrangement between President Kibaki’s PNU and Mr Odinga’s ODM party, which led to the current grand coalition government, is credited with ending the violence.
Mrs Clinton’s latest visit came against the backdrop of growing public concerns over preparations for the elections by IEBC.
IEBC is on the spot for halting plans to use biometric voter registration for the March 4 polls.
IEBC officials announced last week that they were resorting to the manual registration system after efforts to acquire a biometric voter registration kit ran into a tendering dispute.
The Kriegler Report on the disputed 2007 elections had warned that going back to the manual system was dangerous.
President Kibaki is set to meet the IEBC officials during which he is expected to implore the commission to reconsider its decision.
The Cabinet on Friday supported a biometric voter registration kit in a meeting chaired by the President.
Mrs Clinton, who arrived at State House at 11 a.m. for the one-hour meeting with President Kibaki, said they also held comprehensive discussions on humanitarian issues, development, security, governance, and Somalia.
Ms Clinton appreciated the frontline role Kenya continued to play in efforts to stabilise Somalia and the Horn of Africa, and pledged her government’s support for such initiatives.
She said the US will support Kenya’s efforts to upgrade the United Nation’s Environmental Programme (Unep) offices in Nairobi in the spirit of the Rio+20 Conference at the forthcoming UN Heads of State Summit set for New York in September this year.
President Kibaki noted that the insecurity posed by the disintegration of Somalia to Kenya’s economic interests and her people prompted the government to send troops across the common border.