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US seeks to mend Kenya coalition rift

Friday April 10 2009

US ambassador Michael Ranneberger (right) during a press conference at the Germany Ambassador's residence on Friday. He said that it impossible to hold fresh elections as the country does not have an electoral commission in place. Looking on is German ambassador Walter Lindner Photo/MICHAEL MUTE

US ambassador Michael Ranneberger (right) during a press conference at the Germany Ambassador's residence on Friday. He said that it impossible to hold fresh elections as the country does not have an electoral commission in place. Looking on is German ambassador Walter Lindner Photo/MICHAEL MUTE 

By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU and DAVE OPIYO

The stalemate between President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga has drawn international attention, with the US Government now seeking to mediate.

Addressing a news conference in Nairobi on Friday, US envoy Michael Ranneberger joined his German counterpart Walter Lindner in pushing for a quick solution to the impasse that threatens to split the coalition government.

Mr Ranneberger said he would soon meet both President Kibaki and Mr Odinga with a view to having them agree on the implementation of reforms.

The envoys said it was wrong for the church and civil society to push for fresh elections, even as the coalition government seems lax to implement key reforms. They described the calls for elections as “a recipe for sending the country back to ethnic chaos”, saying it was time for the President and PM to “honour their word and deliver on reforms”.

“Just because the coalition government is the most viable option, that does not mean it’s an excuse for inaction,” the US ambassador said.

The envoys also asked ODM not to go ahead with its planned public rallies as this would polarise the country.

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Lately, Cabinet ministers have been saying “a coalition is hard to manage” to explain government’s complacency in implementing police, land and judicial reforms.

Mr Ranneberger said President Barack Obama and the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were “watching closely the situation” and could intervene to prevent escalation of the problem.

“I care less about the small issues like salaries and protocol ... it is time for them to focus on real issues like extrajudicial killings that have attracted global attention,” the US ambassador said.

Important issues

“We meet leaders privately, but it is sometimes necessary to come out and speak when you see that they do not take you seriously,” Mr Lindner said.

Mr Lindner asked politicians to “tone down” on their language and instead “work on important issues”.

Elsewhere, Mr Ranneberger urged Kenyans to rule out elections before 2012, saying leaders should first bring reforms before polls are held.

He was speaking at Teremi Boys’ and Chwele Girls’ high schools in Bungoma West District, where he donated money for construction of dormitories.

He said the US was willing to help Kenya in its reform agenda but called for commitment from the two principals.

The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims also joined in condemning coalition partners over infighting, saying continued hostilities would plunge the country into “chaos and anarchy”.

Reconciliation

Led by chairman Abdulghafur El Busaidi, the leaders appealed to both Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga to lead their troops in seeking reconciliation that would consequently ease political tensions in the country.

“God forbid, if there’s no progress in the performance of the current government by the end of the year, President Kibaki should dissolve Parliament and we head back to the vote,” said Prof El Busaidi at a news conference in Nairobi.

“Kenya is currently at crossroads ... We are saddened by our political leaders with the way they are knowingly or unknowingly sinking the country into the depths of chaos and anarchy,” he added.

Additional reporting by Bernard Kwalia