- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Opposition leader Raila Odinga was sworn into office as the country’s prime minister yesterday, fulfilling a key step in a power-sharing deal aimed at ending a deadly political crisis in the East African nation.

Within hours, a feared gang promised to heed Mr. Odinga’s call to stop its campaign of terror in the capital — one small sign that resolving Kenya’s political crisis could help return peace and stability to the fragile nation.

More than 1,000 people were killed and 300,000 displaced after the December elections that both Mr. Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki claimed to have won. With the violence escalating, the rivals agreed in February to share power — but then wrangled for weeks over how to divide up their coalition Cabinet.

Yesterday, ministers finally took up their positions, 20 each from Mr. Kibaki’s and Mr. Odinga’s camps. Mr. Kibaki’s party retained the key finance and internal security ministries, and Mr. Raila’s allies will head up agriculture and oversee local government.

The entire government, including Mr. Odinga, swore an oath of loyalty to the president.

“Kenyans will be watching your performance, and they’ll judge you by the services you deliver,” Mr. Kibaki said at the inauguration ceremony.

Mr. Odinga said Kenya was embarking on a new era of unity.

“We have been to hell and back. Never in our history will we return to this time,” he said. “We are not creating two governments in one: It is one government.”

He used his inauguration to address the Mungiki gang that has been terrorizing the capital. At least 14 people have died since the banned gang launched a protest against police Monday that paralyzed parts of Nairobi.

“I want to tell our brothers the Mungiki we shall talk to them. We should stop beating each other. We should stop killing each other,” Mr. Odinga said in Swahili. “We should speak together as Kenyans.”

Later, he told local Citizen TV that he was expressing a personal view that had yet to be decided as policy.

But the Mungiki responded by promising to call off their violent protests at Mr. Odinga’s request.

“We have waited for Raila to be prime minister for 20 years,” senior gang leader Stephen Njenga said, adding that gang leader Maina Njenga prophesied Mr. Odinga’s rise two decades ago. “Raila has asked us to call off the strike, and because we respect him, we will honor his request.”

“We will give him time to look into our issues.”

Kenya is a key U.S. ally and regional economic and military powerhouse that for years was one of the most stable nations in East Africa. But the disputed December elections laid bare frustrations over poverty and corruption — and ethnic rivalries in a country where Kikuyus, the tribe Kibaki belongs to, are perceived to dominate others, including the Luo, Mr. Odinga’s ethnic group.

The apparent olive branch offered to the Mungiki, a gang dedicated to spreading Kikuyu culture, by Mr. Odinga, a Luo, is another strange strand in Kenya’s web of politics, ethnicity and violence.

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