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Mkapa helped pull Kenya from edge of abyss after 2007 polls

By Allan Mungai | July 25th 2020
President Mwai Kibaki (seated, left) and ODM leader Raila Odinga sign a coalition agreement outside Harambee House. Benjamin Mkapa is standing behind Raila. [File]

Former Tanzania President Benjamin Mkapa, who died yesterday aged 81, was instrumental in peace talks that ended Kenya’s post-election violence 12 years ago.

Mkapa, who ruled from 1995 to 2005, flew into the country in January 2008 following the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki, which was challenged by ODM leader Raila Odinga.

The former president was part of a mediation team led by Kofi Annan, and which included Graça Machel, sent to Kenya by the African Union to mediate between the two leaders after the 2007 General Election.

Mkapa’s recollections of the talks between Kibaki and Raila published in his book My Life, My Purpose gives an inside peek into how they helped end the chaos that claimed over 1,000 lives.

He dwells on the stubborn nature of the parties at the negotiating table, saying each side wanted nothing short of exclusive power. 

“We would meet each team separately, then together; when together they would have fierce arguments. Sometimes I thought they would literally go for each other’s throat,” Mkapa wrote.

Kibaki’s Party of National Unity side was represented by ministers Martha Karua, Mutula Kilonzo, Sam Ongeri and Moses Wetang’ula. Raila’s ODM had William Ruto, Sally Kosgey, Musalia Mudavadi and James Orengo.

Mkapa singled out then Justice minister Karua and Ruto, who was the Eldoret North MP, saying they were the most difficult to deal with, and the biggest threats to the mediation process.

He reckoned it would have been impossible to reach a deal to end the violence given the hard-line positions held by Karua and Ruto, who is now deputy president.

The Tanzanian leader said only by keeping the duo out of a proposed deal were they able to secure the power-sharing agreement where Raila was named premier and Kibaki remained president.

“The atmosphere changed when we got Kibaki and Odinga together without Karua and Ruto present.

“Eventually Kibaki and Odinga reached an agreement and we decided not to call in the negotiating team; rather, we would present that team with what’s done is done and force them to accept the outcome.

“When these two heard that they were being invited to witness the signing of the agreement, they were furious, saying there had been a conspiracy to persuade Kibaki to agree,” Mkapa recounted in the book published in November last year.

Kibaki and Raila signed the National Accord and Reconciliation Act on February 28, 2008.

It is estimated that up to 1,400 people died in the 59 days of chaos and over half a million were displaced from their homes.

Mkapa said the mediation was the toughest assignment he had handled outside Tanzania, and an experience that also left him with a heavy heart and questioning the nature of politicians.

He recalled the burnt remains of a church in Kiambaa, Eldoret, that had been set on fire on New Year’s Day, killing over 40 women and children who were seeking refuge in what was supposed to be inviolable ground.

There was also the sad spectacle of stadiums teeming with displaced citizens.

“This phenomenon of internally displaced persons and those injured and killed saddened me. What did uhuru mean to these suffering people who had lost loved ones, or been injured or had to flee their homes? How could any leader condone this?”

Yet during negotiations at the Nairobi Serena Hotel, Mkapa wrote that he was struck by the sense of amity between the politicians who were laughing and enjoying each other’s company while holding the country’s fate in their hands.

“… if the matters got very heated we would adjourn to have a cup of coffee and stroll outside together where they would mix as if they were compatriots or even friends, conversing easily and sometimes laughing.”

In a statement on Friday, Raila said Mkapa was a “pan-Africanist, a true believer in South-South cooperation and a global statesman.”

“In Kenya we retain fond memories of his mediation efforts alongside Dr Kofi Annan and Graca Machel that helped the country return to peace after the 2007-2008 election violence,” he said.

Karua said Mkapa was a “renowned statesman and a friend of Kenya who had left indelible footprints”.

She, however, disputed his description of her during the talks as ‘difficult to deal with’. “Those are his impressions, which are not necessarily true.”

Former Head of Public Service Sally Kosgey said she had known Mkapa for a long time, both as a journalist and a president.

“I mourn a good, humble and kind man. He was fair, unassuming and intelligent. This fitted well with his role at the peace talks. He stood next to me as Moi was pelted with mud at Uhuru Park. His remark, ‘sasa Kenya itakwisha’ was touching.”

Mkapa died yesterday in Dar es Salaam. His death was announced by President John Magufuli, who also declared seven days of national mourning.

He was born on November 12, 1938 in Lupaso in southern Tanganyika, near the border with Mozambique.

He was Tanzania’s third president, taking over from Ali Hassan Mwinyi. He was succeed by Jakaya Kikwete when his term ended in 2005.

Mkapa was a former journalist and diplomat who studied at Makerere University in Uganda and later Columbia University in New York.

He served in a number of diplomatic posts in Nigeria, Canada and the US. He also held several ministerial positions.

Although he helped guide Tanzania from a socialist state towards free-market reforms, a blot in his presidential tenure was the shooting dead of 21 protesters in Pemba Island in January 2001.

“These deaths were tragic, though I did feel strongly during the subsequent reporting that no one considered the pressures which the police were under when they chose to fire,” Mkapa said.

He began his career as an administrator in Dodoma when he was appointed district officer in 1962. He joined the Foreign Service later that year.

Mkapa embarked on a long career in journalism, serving as the managing director of three leading newspapers, The Nationalist, Uhuru and The Daily News.

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