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Why East Africa can now smile as Kenya leaders seal political deals

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Putative presidential candidates (clockwise from bottom) Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth and James ole Kiyiapi. Photos/FILE

Putative presidential candidates (clockwise from bottom) Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth and James ole Kiyiapi. Photos/FILE  Nation Media Group

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO The EastAfrican

Posted  Saturday, December 8  2012 at  18:15

In Summary

  • The sometimes shockingly cold-hearted Kenyan political deal-making has done much to remove the risk of a repeat of the 2007-8 post-election violence that did so much harm to East Africa’s economies.
  • The region has been biting its fingers over the possibility of violence, and beyond that the prospects for continuity of the generally pro-regional integration policies of President Mwai Kibaki.
  • The second concern for East Africa, and internationally, about the next Kenyan poll is whether there will be a committed continuation of the Kibaki-era policies; especially in respect of economic integration and peace and security.
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There was a dramatic rush in Nairobi last Tuesday to beat the deadline for registering coalitions for the March 4, 2013 General Election.

When the dust settled, the rest of East Africa, which had been worrying itself to death about Kenya having another violent election as it did in 2007/2008, thus throwing the region over an economic cliff, had reason to breathe easier.

Not only did the sometimes shockingly cold-hearted Kenyan political deal-making remove the risk of violence, but long-term regional stability also got a lift from Ethiopia.

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn gave a hint that he might be more flexible than his successor, the late Meles Zenawi, when he said he was willing to hold talks with neighbour Eritrea.

Ethiopia fought a bloody border war with Eritrea that ended in 2000, with nearly 100,000 people dead. This would be the first time an Ethiopian leader held talks with Eritrea’s strongman Issaias Afeworki since the end of that war.

"The most important thing for us is to fight poverty ... to have regional integration. If we two do that, it will be much more productive," Hailemariam said in a statement Wednesday.

Not only will a return to a less hostile relationship between Addis Ababa and Asmara allow Ethiopia to pursue its increasingly deeper political ties with Kenya, it will improve the chances of securing the gains that the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, Amisom, made in helping stabilise the country.

Eritrea has been accused by Kenya, and more loudly by Ethiopia and the UN, of providing backing to Al Shabaab militants in Somalia, a charge Asmara denies.

For the region, then, with South Sudan and Sudan finally getting businesslike and agreeing on how to share the oil in the south and manage its export through the north; and the government of the DR Congo agreeing to talk to the M23 rebels, the remaining possible party-wrecker of the next few months was the Kenya election.

The region has been biting its fingers over the possibility of violence, and beyond that the prospects for continuity of the generally pro-regional integration policies of President Mwai Kibaki.

Uhuru, Ruto and Mudavadi

The main key to preventing violence lay mostly with two men: Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, and former minister and wily political operator William Ruto.

The two men formally sealed a coalition, the Jubilee Coalition, bringing together Uhuru’s The National Alliance (TNA), and Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP). They were joined just as the curtain came down by Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi’s United Democratic Front (UDF).

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