Governments gave strong backing today to Kenya’s power-sharing agreement and promised support to help the country emerge from two months of ethnic violence sparked by a disputed presidential election.
Kenya’s feuding politicians shook hands yesterday, smiled for the cameras and finally agreed to share power.
However, the real test for President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga is whether the reluctant partners can work together to heal a divided nation.
Under the agreement, the opposition leader will become prime minister and have the power to “coordinate and supervise” the government – more authority than President Kibaki wanted to yield.
The bitterness between them runs deep, however, and both men have been attacking each other since the December 27 election. They have traded accusations about inciting violence, stealing the vote, and destroying the nation.
Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, the mediator, had to prompt them to shake hands yesterday as the cameras rolled.
As the deal was signed, the international community rallied behind its leaders.
“The Kenyan coalition government and people can count on our support as they move forward to implement the agreement and reform agenda,” US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.
The European Union, which had also condemned the lack of progress and threatened unspecified action to pressure Kenya’s leaders, was similarly effusive.
President Kibaki and Mr Odinga “have shown the wisdom and vision to choose the path of compromise and reconciliation,” the EU’s humanitarian chief, Louis Michel, said in a statement. Both the EU and the US had said previously that they were reviewing their international aid to Kenya because of the crisis.
“This power-sharing deal means that once again Kenya is back on a path of peace and mutual understanding,” Mr Michel said.
With war-fraught northern neighbours like Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan, Kenya has long provided an economic and political anchor in a restive region.
The parade of international figures who aided the negotiations – including Mr Annan and Ms Rice – indicated the importance foreign powers put on Kenya’s stability.
Now, Kenya’s leaders will start the hard work of repairing a country, a task even harder than securing an agreement which took a month of often bitter negotiations.
More than half a million people have been displaced from their homes and require food, water and medical care.
There is also the matter of restoring one of Africa’s most promising economies. Kenya, one of the most prosperous and tourist-friendly countries in Africa, has seen up to £500 million in losses linked to the turmoil.
While Kenyans welcomed the deal yesterday, there were also reminders of previous weeks’ chaos. Police fired tear gas to disperse dozens who had gathered outside President Kibaki’s office to witness the signing.
Much of the bloodshed pitted ethnic groups, such as President Odinga’s Luo tribe, against Mr Kibaki’s Kikuyu people, long resented for their domination of the economy and politics. In many regions, the violence broke apart cities and towns where Kenyans had lived together – however uneasily at times – since independence from Britain in 1963.
The two leaders have a complicated relationship. Both ran for president in 1997, and both lost to incumbent Daniel arap Moi. Mr Odinga then joined in a rare cross-tribal coalition that brought President Kibaki to power in 2002 and served in his Cabinet – though the two later had a falling out.
It was unclear when, exactly, Mr Odinga would take over as prime minister. President Kibaki said he is reconvening parliament on March 6 to begin work on the needed constitutional changes.