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Kofi Annan: Hero of the Republic of Kenya

Mar 02, 2008 Leadership, Sunday Nation

I am writing this article in state of semi-euphoria, so you will forgive its breathless tone. It is Thursday night, and I have been witnessing something that seemed impossible at the beginning of the week: Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga sat down in front of the world’s cameras and signed a power-sharing deal.

It is clear to me that we have got this far mainly due to the indefatigable efforts of one man: Kofi Annan. I would go further and state that this Ghanaian is a true hero of the Republic of Kenya, and deserves the highest accolade we can offer as a nation. Most of the elders of the burning hut or morans of the broken spear that we have honoured over the years are not fit to carry this man’s bag, let alone criticise him.

Before you dismiss this as sycophantic rambling, let me explain. I have no doubt that Dr Annan was fulfilling the agenda of the international community. I suspect that a lot of his effectiveness in getting a deal finally hammered out comes from having the ‘big stick’ of the USA behind him. But that bothers me not a jot. For in this instance, the interests of the international community and those of the ordinary Kenyan were identical.

We have notoriously short memories in this country. Five or six weeks ago, we were on the brink of outright civil war. An unstoppable bloodbath seemed set to ensue. We ourselves, and our fabled ‘leaders’, seemed to have no way of stopping this. We were in the grip of power-crazed politicians, and in real danger.

Kofi Annan flew in and took charge of a mediation process viewed with much disdain and suspicion by many. The man himself carried some less-than-useful baggage: as a former UN Secretary-General, he is accused by some of failing to prevent the Rwanda genocide and the Bosnia conflagration. He came in dismissed as a career diplomat and gentleman who would have no clue as to how to deal with thuggish and deceitful Kenyan politicians.

Well, he did have a clue; quite a big one as it turned out. His performance as a mediator so far has been nothing short of masterful. Students of the art should throw away their textbooks and learn from this remarkable performance.

For a start, he turned the attention of Kenyans and the world away from the killing fields and onto the negotiating table. There was great scepticism at the outset: the PNU side was thought to be merely humouring him and playing along with no real commitment to the talks; ODM was thought to be taking a break from its preferred negotiation tactic of mass hooliganism.

But Kofi had these characters worked out. He maintained a studied politeness and diplomatic mien throughout, but made it clear he was not going to brook any nonsense. He marshalled the international community behind him to give backing to his authority. He gently but firmly sat through hours of puerile accusations being lobbed by either side, and kept repeating his mantra: a deal must be found, for the sake of Kenya.

At many stages, the talks seemed to be on the verge of breaking down. At each such point, a big gun was wheeled in: Ban Ki-Moon, Condoleeza Rice, Jakaya Kikwete. Each time the consequences of failure were ratcheted up. And for a change, the African and global community managed to speak with one voice: visitor after visitor came with the same message for the protagonists – a deal must be found.

Throughout, Annan played the PR game with aplomb. No matter how unsavoury the day’s proceedings, he put out only positive messages: we are close, we will get there, there is no choice. He managed the expectations of Kenyans and got them behind him, until they were his cheerleaders.

And yet, early this week it seemed to be all over. The government side played a final ugly card, reportedly subjecting the venerable Dr Annan to a torrent of personal abuse. A lesser mortal would have taken great exception. But here too the mediator was ready: he raised the stakes a final time, suspending the talks and escalating matters to the two principals, with a chorus of support from key regional and international stakeholders. In the end, a deal had to be struck, and was.

Will it work? It is too early to tell, and by the time you read this on Sunday morning some malcontents will undoubtedly have poisoned the atmosphere with some unnecessary mutterings. But, for the first time, we have the much-needed Prime Minister position. For the first time, we have done something to contain the imperial presidency that has been the bane of our post-independence history.

Dirty tricks, recriminations and evasions are no doubt yet to come – our politicians have not changed their spots in a day. But for now, may I humbly record my gratitude to one Kofi Annan. We need more Africans like you.

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