Some secret details have emerged of what exactly transpired behind the scenes as the United States government forced retired President Kibaki and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga to agree to share power in the heat of 2008 post-election violence.
Kenyans may not have known it at the time, but declassified secret cables, between the US Embassy in Nairobi and the State Department in Washington DC, reveal how America arm-twisted the two leaders to sign a political agreement, and the tactics each tried to employ to avoid power sharing.
The cables, declassified three years ago but just made available, show how the US worked hard to break the resolve of both camps, including going behind the scenes to negotiate with their allies to convince the two leaders to relent.
One of the cables sent by then US Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, dated January 2, 2008, read: “I am in close touch with a group of Kikuyu businessmen, who want to work out a solution. I am also in close contact with members of Odinga’s inner circle who want to see a deal worked out.
We are facilitating contacts and helping pass messages. At this point, however, the bottomlines are still very far apart. Odinga is insisting that Kibaki lost the election.
He is demanding a transitional government for four months, during which the independence and competence of the electoral commission would be strengthened, and new elections then held.”
On the Kibaki side, Ranneberger wrote in another cable that both the retired President and Raila were surrounded by hardliners in their Party of National Unity (PNU) and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) parties respectively, each not ready to budge and believing they had been handed the mandate to lead the country.
The former US envoy wrote in another cable, whose subject line was titled ‘Kenyan elections — working for a political solution amid voting irregularities and violence’: “During the past three days I and my team have met with dozens of key interlocutors and talked on the phone with dozens of others.
Kibaki and Odinga are, in some respects, in similar positions. But both are surrounded by a number of hard-line people who see the current situation as winner-take-all. Both believe that time is on their side.”
According to Ranneberger, Raila was insisting on a Kibaki commitment to constitutional reforms and on a commitment to implement the law requiring that Opposition parties must be consulted before any ODM MPs could be offered ministerial positions as had become a trend during Kibaki’s first term.
On the other side, Kibaki’s inner circle was also demanding that accepting him as President for another full term was a must condition before any political deal could be signed.
It emerges, it was Ranneberger who first floated to both sides the possibility of forming a government of national unity, which would include Raila as Vice President or as Prime Minister, with Kibaki as president.
The ambassador suggested that Raila could also be given leadership of constitutional reforms on which both sides were in agreement. Wrote Ranneberger: “While each side is resisting moving from their declared positions, changing dynamics and mounting pressure on both may provide openings for progress in the coming days.”
It was shortly after this communication that Rice herself travelled to Nairobi to directly bring American pressure to bear on the two leaders to sign a deal. Even though an audit of election results conducted by the US embassy in Nairobi had been concluded, there was no certainty as to who won the hotly-contested presidential election.
As it turned out, Raila was eventually given the position of Prime Minister in a Grand Coalition Government in a 50:50 power-sharing arrangement that was born out of protracted Serena Hotel talks mediated by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who was picked by African Union to lead a panel of eminent personalities.
While the US and other western powers backed the Annan team, it emerges that Ranneberger was initially not in support of external support even as he said the US was trusted by many Kenyans and thus stood in a better position to find a political settlement.