Euphoria over election peace deal brings Kenya back to work

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The Independent Online

Bernard Nyabaga has spent the past two months of his life at the centre of a battleground. The 35-year-old, who has four children, owns a small electrical shop in Kibera, the sprawling Nairobi slum that is home to almost one million people. As Kibera erupted in violence following the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki, Mr Nyabaga's shop became part of the frontline.

Gangs of Kikuyus armed with machetes and sticks faced off against a similarly armed group of Luos and Luhyas. Mr Nyabaga, a Kisii, found himself stuck in the middle. "I couldn't go 200 metres that way," he said, pointing up the hill towards the railway track that runs through the middle of Kibera. "I couldn't go far that way either," he said, pointing the other way. "Everyone could kill me."

But this weekend, following the signing of a power-sharing agreement between President Kibaki and his rival, Raila Odinga, Kibera appears to have returned to something approaching normality.

"There was very big trouble in this area," said Mr Nyabaga. "Two guys were killed just outside the shop. I had to send my children away – it wasn't safe for them. Now it is okay though. You can move anywhere."

At the barber's shop next door, Vincent Wambua, a Kikuyu, shaved the head of Jospeh Otieno, a Luo. "I had no Luo customers when there was violence," said Mr Wambua. "That violence really dragged us back, but everything looks okay now."

The man who brokered the deal, Kofi Annan, left Kenya yesterday, 41 days after he arrived. Since the televised signing on Thursday afternoon, Nairobi has been awash with a sense of euphoria mixed with relief. Office workers wished each other "Happy New Year" on Friday morning, something they had been unable to say honestly on New Year's Day.

But some question marks are already hovering over the deal, which is set to be ratified by Parliament on Thursday. The most important is: what happens if the coalition is dissolved?

The agreement states that it will be dissolved if one of the coalition partners pulls out. What it fails to specify is what happens next. Would fresh elections be called or, if Mr Odinga's party is the one to pull out, would Mr Kibaki's party remain in government? No one has provided an answer. Aside from the power-sharing deal, Kenya's leaders still need to find a solution for the 600,000 people displaced by the violence. The negotiators are also braced for a talks on land and wealth discrepancies, which contributed towards the unrest.

Mr Annan told Kenyans yesterday that he would return if necessary. "I am not fading away," he said.