- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s president and the opposition leader signed a power-sharing deal yesterday to bring the country back from the depths of violence and ethnic hatred that followed the disputed presidential election two months ago.

After weeks of frustrating negotiations, President Mwai Kibaki and his rival Raila Odinga gave terse smiles for the cameras and shook hands as onlookers applauded enthusiastically.

Under the agreement, the opposition leader will become prime minister and have the power to “coordinate and supervise” the government. That is more authority than Mr. Kibaki wanted to yield.

Mr. Odinga referred to Mr. Kibaki as “my countryman, President Mwai Kibaki,” an important sign of acceptance from a man who has said Mr. Kibaki’s re-election in the Dec. 27 vote was a sham.

“For the last two months, Kenyans have known nothing but sadness,” Mr. Odinga said.

Mr. Kibaki added: “This process has reminded us that as a nation there are more issues that unite than that divide us.”

In a reminder of the chaos of the past weeks, police fired tear gas to disperse dozens of people gathered outside Mr. Kibaki’s office to witness the signing.

Both Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga claim to have won the country’s presidential election, which observers say was marred by rigging on both sides.

The dispute set off street violence that killed more than 1,000 people and eviscerated the East African country’s economy. Postelection violence has largely subsided in recent weeks, but the country remains on edge.

Mediator Kofi Annan said earlier yesterday that “compromise was necessary for the survival of this country.”

As prime minister, Mr. Odinga will have the power to “coordinate and supervise” government affairs, but whether he will have executive authority that the president cannot overrule is still an open question.

It was not clear when Mr. Odinga would take up the position. Mr. Kibaki said he will reconvene parliament on Thursday to begin work on the constitutional changes necessary to make the deal into law.

In western Kenya, scene of the some of the worst postelection violence, many people said it will take years to recover. Residents in Nairobi’s Kibera slum celebrated what they saw as a chance for peace.

“The general mood among people is that of happiness,” said Nelson Ochieng, whose barbershop was destroyed during the postelection violence.

The conflict has tarnished the reputation of this once stable and prosperous country, bringing sharp rebuke from Western powers. Diplomats from the U.S. and across Africa, many of them exasperated with the slow movement in discussions, have jetted to Kenya to urge progress.

The State Department welcomed yesterday’s announcement but said work remains to ensure long-term success. “We want to see this agreement implemented and much will depend on its implementation,” spokesman Tom Casey said.

“We will be watching very carefully to see how this progresses,” he said.

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