Annan spills the beans on Kibaki

Published on 04/04/2009

By Oscar Obonyo

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan speaks candidly on his peace-making mission in Kenya and gives insight into the key players and secret power intrigues as Kenya burnt.

It is the riveting story not only of how he brought President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to symbolically shake hands before cameras but also the burdensome task behind the scene.

His sojourn to Kenya began with a call from former Ghanaian President and Africa Union leader John Kufuor. Then there was a hitch as he was about to take off to Nairobi. He woke one morning — thousands of miles away in Geneva — and had a 15-minute meeting in his office ahead of his peace assignment in Kenya. “At the end (of the meeting) I was shaking like a leaf. So I called the doctor and went to hospital. They discovered I had a microbe infection and said I needed to be on antibiotics for 10 to 15 days,” recounts Annan.

But the former UN boss could hear none of this. Kenya was up in flames and he could not afford ten more days! He negotiated with the doctors to be put on intravenous medication for five days and then left for Africa with his tablets safely in his bag. Unknown to the world he also bore the cure for Kenya’s wrenching belly, spewing innocent lives to early graves, and displacing and dispossessing thousands of others.

Throughout the period he was in Kenya, Annan had massive doses of antibiotics. In fact he left hospital on a Monday and proceeded to Kenya on a Tuesday.

Privy to secrets

Annan granted the interview to Mr Martin Griffiths, the Director of Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a Geneva-based international humanitarian organisation.

The interview dubbed The Prisoner of Peace: An interview with Kofi A Annan was carried out in Geneva.

The top diplomat, who is privy to secrets of the peace deal, lays bare his efforts and frustrations during the exercise — especially as a result of frequent stand-offs among members of the Serena negotiating team.

“There were moments when I got gross and irritated. There were moments I would say, ‘Gosh, why are they doing this? This is serious, people are dying and they are going through these silly games,” says Annan.

Annan divulges details of tense closed-door deliberations between Kibaki and Raila. Noting that President Kibaki and his team provided the biggest impediment to his mission, Annan hints at the fact that the President appeared a prisoner of members of his PNU brigade.

However, he observes that the President did not want to take responsibility for the collapse of the talks and accordingly credits him for eventually taking charge of the process.

At some point Annan says he was ready to throw in the towel had the President not budged: “I was really determined to bring it to a head. I probably would have told him, ‘I think you need a new mediator.”

Annan speaks of the acrimony of members of “the President’s team”, who insisted on hanging around the PNU leader with a view of either maintaining the status quo or protecting their political interests.

ODM-Kenya leader and Vice President, Kalonzo Musyoka, who was co-opted into Government, and who has lately been highly critical of Annan, is among those who reportedly tried in vain to be part of the final deliberations.

Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula also signalled to Annan that he would attend a critical meeting Annan would have wished to only have the Group of Eminent Persons with Kibaki and Raila. “I’ll be at the President’s office tomorrow, we have a meeting” he told Annan and added emphatically, “I will be there”.

Unknown to PNU politicians, the former UN boss and the President had agreed the meeting would only involve five people. The following day, however, the VP led virtually all the 17-member Cabinet to Harambee House.

“He kept them out, because normally in this sort of thing he would bring them in. He gave them all the impression that they would be in the room, but he kept them all away,” Annan says of the ministers had to wait in the chambers during the five hours of deliberations by the five-member team.

President Kibaki asked that Attorney General Amos Wako be called in when he finally agreed to constitutional amendments that would accommodate Raila. The ODM leader on the other hand also asked that Mr James Orengo, also a lawyer, be called in. The real business then began – Kibaki having been assured by President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania – who Annan had hurriedly invited – the model of power-sharing would still give him a upper hand over Raila.

Duly Elected President

Annan recounts a similar incident that nearly paralysed the talks at its initial stages, during the first public meeting between the two bitter rivals. Then, Annan met the two leaders at Harambee House and they spoke, it was decided they come out to meet the Press for a “photo-opportunity”. The trio had no idea that the entire Cabinet was waiting outside.

“(William) Ruto was there with Odinga, the President, myself and the entire (half) Cabinet, which upset ODM. And of course they were also upset by the President when he said, ‘I’m a duly elected President’,” Annan is quoted in the interview.

He explains he had to call off the talks as a strategy to confront the Principals directly and move faster. That is when he asked Kikwete to come to Kenya and “explain to the President (Kibaki) that you live with a Prime Minister and that you are thriving. Your Presidency hasn’t exploded”.

“I’ll try and come,” the Tanzanian leader said on phone, as Annan implored: “Please be flexible, you might have to stay a day or so”.

PM’s New Role

When Kikwete came he immediately embarked on this assignment, discussing with Kibaki — just the two of them — and explaining to him the powers of his Prime Minister and how they operate in harmony. In fact he explained that his Prime Minister “even had more power than the power we are thinking for Odinga”.

It is at this point that the President mellowed down and agreed to the idea, including giving a nod to the drafters of the national accord to include the word “supervise” in detailing the PM’s new role. The efforts paid off when Annan eventually led the five-members at the President’s Harambee House Office to hammer out the all-important pact that saved Kenya.

During what Annan refers to as “the five-hour pentagon session”, the former UN boss pushed a reluctant Kibaki to submission.

Editor’s Note: For more stories on Annan interview, get your Standard on Sunday tomorrow.

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