Bitter rivals shake hands on historic Nairobi deal

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It was the sight few Kenyans had dared to believe they would witness. At just after 5pm yesterday afternoon President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga appeared on the steps outside Harambee House in downtown Nairobi and signed a power-sharing agreement which could end months of violence. Crowds of office workers gathered outside clapped and cheered as the two men beamed and shook hands.

The ceremony, broadcast live on national television and radio, prompted celebrations across a country torn apart by clashes sparked by a disputed election result that have left more than 1,000 dead and up to 600,000 homeless.

The agreement, which will see the creation of the position of prime minister – a job expected to be taken by Mr Odinga – surprised many. Just two days earlier the mediator, Kofi Annan, had given his gloomiest prognosis yet, suspending the formal negotiations because they were "going around in circles".

He decided to instead negotiate directly with Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga. Helped by the new chairman of the African Union, Jakaya Kikwete, Mr Annan managed to hammer out a final agreement.

The deal, which will also see the two sides equally share cabinet posts between them, will be put to parliament when it is reconvened next Thursday (6 March). It is expected to pass comfortably.

"Compromise was necessary for the survival of this country," Mr Annan said after the two leaders had signed the agreement. "Let the spirit of healing being today."

Mr Odinga said the deal "opened a new chapter" for Kenya, while Mr Kibaki said it showed Kenyans that "there is more that unites us than divides us".

The deal will be seen as a personal triumph for Mr Annan. He has been in the country for 38 days, a far longer period than he spent on any similar negotiations as secretary general. It was his status as both an African and a global leader that helped push the process along, even when it looked as if intransigence on the side of the government could derail his efforts.

But it should also be seen as a triumph for African diplomacy. Just a handful of African leaders formally congratulated Mr Kibaki on his dubious re-election. Many privately urged Kenya's president to find a compromise, and the presence of Mr Kikwete clearly helped persuade him to accept a compromise deal.

One of the biggest issues is whether the two sides can work together. Both have accused the other of human rights abuses – the term "genocide" has been used by both camps.

The last time Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga were on the same side was in 2002 when they were part of the coalition which ousted Daniel arap Moi's handpicked successor. Mr Odinga was promised a similar prime ministerial role but Mr Kibaki reneged on the deal.

However, that agreement was never made public – the signing of this one was carried out in front of the world's media.

An agreement between the leaders is only a first step, Mr Annan said. They now have a job on their hands rebuilding a country that has become segregated along tribal lines.

Further talks will form part of that process. The negotiators have agreed to discuss the long-standing issues over land, wealth and power that go to the heart of Kenya's current crisis.

"The journey is far from over," Mr Annan said. "In fact, it is only beginning." He reminded negotiators he expected them bright and early at Nairobi's Serena hotel this morning.