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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 January 2008, 16:56 GMT
Tough task for Kenya diplomacy
By Karen Allen
BBC News, Nairobi

John Kufuor (l) and Mwai Kibaki 09/01/08
John Kufuor is trying to break Kenya's political impasse
It is hard to be optimistic about mediation talks in Kenya less than 24 hours after President Mwai Kibaki appointed half of his new cabinet, giving top jobs to his closest allies.

The presence of African Union chairman President John Kufuor of Ghana has been widely welcomed, but diplomatic sources have expressed "grave doubts" about his ability to bring the two sides together.

The best he can probably hope to achieve is to start a process of dialogue.

His aides have been careful to describe him as a "facilitator " rather than a "mediator", a move clearly designed to dampen down high expectations.

President Kibaki's justification for announcing a partial cabinet was to enable the country to "function", but he said that he remained open to a "broad-based government" that would "represent the will of the people".

In contrast, opposition leader Raila Odinga's team are viewing the cabinet appointments as a "slap in the face" for the talks.

The appointment of presidential challenger Kalonzo Musyoka to the post of vice-president, though predictable, has been no less galling.

Waiting game

Pressure is being applied to both sides to reach a negotiated settlement and make some political concessions.

President Kibaki's publicly stated openness to a unity government may be tested by urging him to re-juggle the cabinet posts, enabling any future ODM (Mr Odinga's party) candidate to take one of the prize jobs.

Displaced Kenyans' fears about returning home

There is, however, little incentive for President Kibaki to do this.

He has not been challenged openly by the international community since announcing his cabinet, and in the cynical world of Kenyan politics, many politicians feel that if they sit it out for long enough, the Kenyan people, desperate for peace, will accept the status quo for the sake of stability.

With a civil war in Somalia, a 20-year insurgency in Uganda and an unravelling peace deal in southern Sudan, stability is a potent symbol here and something Kenya should be proud of. But it is also a form of blackmail.

Joachim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique - one of four former African leaders who have flown to Kenya to call for peace - said that, like Mozambique, Kenya was a "model democracy".

But he added that this was a position that could not be taken for granted and with the recent descent into violence "it's time to say enough is enough".

There is clear frustration at the lack of progress so far.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Fraser, has cut short her trip to the Comoros Islands in order to return to Kenya to continue with talks.

Possible options

President Kufuor's next few days will be characterised by salvage diplomacy - Mr Odinga has been invited to State House on Friday by President Kibaki, but says he will not accept unless it is part of mediation talks.

The options available and likely to be discussed include a change in the constitution to enable the creation of a strong prime ministerial post.

Raila Odinga supporters with burning tyre 09/01/08
Raila Odinga's supporters say he was robbed of victory
That seems an unrealistic possibility. Firstly, changing the constitution would take time.

Also, Mr Odinga was promised the prime ministerial role in the last government and when President Kibaki reneged on the deal he split from the party and set up the ODM.

A vote of no-confidence in parliament would require a two-thirds' majority.

Given that Mr Odinga's party and its allies have more than 100 seats, compared to the PNU's (President Kibaki's party) and its allies' 94, this looks like a difficult target for them to achieve.

We have also to await the appointment of 12 nominated MPs, whose votes Mr Odinga cannot automatically count on.

And there is the question of whether the ODM's law-makers will actually take up their seats when parliament is convened on 15 January.

Turning up will, in the eyes of many, legitimise the Kibaki presidency and there have been threats that opposition MPs will plant themselves firmly on the government seats, stating they have the majority in parliament and Mr Odinga had the presidency "stolen" from him.

Riot police and protesters in Kibera, Kenya 05/01/08
Over 600 people were killed in post-election violence
The final option is a re-run of the election.

Loud calls have been heard from the Law Society of Kenya for President Kibaki to stand down and for fresh elections to be held.

It is hard to see how this could satisfy either side.

Aside from deep suspicions of "repeat rigging", many Kenyans have become deeply disillusioned by their electoral experience, threatening to never vote again, which could yield a depressingly low turnout damaging all sides.

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