Speaking on Negotiators podcast, Meredith Preston McGhie shared her experiences and the challenges faced during the mediation process.
The 2007–2008 political crisis in Kenya was a period of intense turmoil and violence that shook the country to its core. It all began when former President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the presidential election in December 2007. The election results were immediately disputed, with allegations of voter fraud and irregularities.
The aftermath of the election was marred by violence, protests, and clashes between rival political factions. People took to the streets, burning buildings, looting shops, and engaging in deadly confrontations. The situation quickly escalated, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives and displacing thousands from their homes.
The international community recognized the severity of the crisis and the urgent need for a resolution. One of the key figures in the mediation efforts was Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations. Annan, along with other prominent diplomats and leaders, including US Secretary of State Condi Rice, took on the task of brokering a deal between the rival political factions in Kenya.
Meredith Preston McGhie, an experienced diplomacy expert who was based in Nairobi at the time, played a significant role in the negotiations. Speaking on a podcast, she shared her experiences and the challenges faced during the mediation process. McGhie revealed that there were moments of unease and tension, particularly when the elections commissioner declared Kibaki as the winner despite concerns about the counting and tallying of votes.
The hasty swearing-in ceremony of Kibaki only served to exacerbate the violence and ignite further unrest. McGhie and her team understood the gravity of the situation and the urgent need for a resolution. They embarked on a series of intense negotiations, shuttling between the rival factions, and engaging in marathon mediation sessions.
The negotiations were complex and fraught with difficulties. The rival factions, led by Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, were deeply entrenched in their positions and demands. McGhie and the mediation team had to navigate through the political dynamics, personalities, and deep-rooted grievances to find a common ground that could bring peace and stability to Kenya.
After weeks of negotiations, a breakthrough finally occurred. The rival factions agreed to a power-sharing deal that would establish a new unity government in Kenya. This meant that both Kibaki and Odinga would hold key positions in the government, sharing the responsibilities and decision-making powers.
The signing of the power-sharing agreement marked a turning point in Kenya’s political crisis. It was a testament to the resilience and determination of the Kenyan people, who, despite the violence and chaos, were able to come together and find a peaceful solution to their differences.
The implementation of the power-sharing agreement was not without its challenges. There were instances of political wrangling, delays, and setbacks along the way. However, the commitment and determination of the Kenyan people, as well as the support and pressure from the international community, ensured that the agreement was upheld.
Over time, the new unity government in Kenya gradually brought stability and reconciliation to the country. It laid the foundation for political reforms, including the promulgation of a new constitution in 2010. This constitution introduced checks and balances, devolved powers, and strengthened democratic institutions, signaling a new era of governance in Kenya.
Following the outbreak of mass protests in Kenya, law enforcement authorities were compelled to respond to the violent demonstrators, resulting in unfortunate casualties. In response to the escalating violence, numerous high-level delegations swiftly arrived in Nairobi, offering various forms of assistance aimed at mediating the situation, calming tensions, and initiating a comprehensive process to address the crisis, as explained by McGhie.
McGhie went on to provide insights into her collaborative efforts with the esteemed negotiator, the late Kofi Annan, a distinguished diplomat and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, who served as the Secretary General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006. She recounted the anticipation surrounding Annan’s arrival in Kenya, as he boarded a plane from Geneva. However, Annan experienced a sudden health setback on the tarmac, which necessitated his hospitalization for a few days. During his recovery, Annan engaged with leaders in Kenya and across the continent to gain a comprehensive understanding of the gravity of the crisis.
McGhie further described the demand for Annan’s negotiation skills upon his eventual arrival in the country. Amidst the chaotic and fast-paced environment, Annan possessed the ability to create moments of pause, displaying his elegance, warmth, and genuine humanity. This personal touch was an additional aspect of his mediation approach.
McGhie elaborated on Annan’s strategic efforts to involve the people of Kenya in the resolution process. This included regular communication with the press, as well as engaging with political parties in swift action to curb the violence. Annan and the members of the Panel of Eminent African Personalities actively sought the input of various stakeholders, such as faith leaders, traditional leaders, youth leaders, women leaders, NGOs, editors, media personalities, and other eminent individuals across Kenya. By prioritizing these engagements from the outset, they ensured that the voices of the Kenyan people were heard and considered throughout the mediation process.
At a certain juncture, Annan and a group of diplomats convened the political parties in order to achieve a consensus. “We were promptly transported to an aircraft and flown to an undisclosed location – a splendid lodge situated in a game park,” McGhie recounted. “We were secluded in this lodge alongside the parties, their technical teams, Annan, and his advisors. Numerous rounds of discussions took place, however, the progress we aspired to make was not attained, prompting our return to Nairobi.”
During the talks, US President George W. Bush was engaged in a state visit to Tanzania, accompanied by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Annan sought American support and President Bush dispatched Condoleezza Rice to meet with President Kibaki and his team, as well as opposition leader Raila Odinga and his team. “President Kibaki and his core team were deeply affected by the pressure exerted on them by the United States,” McGhie recollected.
Annan also extended an invitation to Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to participate in the discussions. “Tanzania, being an exemplar and a regional ally, held significant importance,” McGhie emphasized. “President Kikwete was regarded as a trusted figure and a statesman within the region.”
Ultimately, an agreement was reached to resolve the crisis that had resulted in the loss of approximately 1,300 lives and the displacement of over a million Kenyans from their homes. “The parties affixed their signatures to the agreement on February 28, 2008,” she stated. “The respective delegations of the parties were not privy to the contents of the agreement until after President Kibaki and Raila Odinga had signed it and exchanged handshakes.”
The final agreement in Kenya encompassed the establishment of a grand coalition government, the introduction of the position of prime minister, power-sharing arrangements across the cabinet, and, crucially, an agreement among the political parties to engage in consultation and collaboration moving forward.
McGhie acknowledges the significant contribution of former U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan’s extensive experience in conflict resolution to the successful establishment of a unity government in Kenya during a critical period. She highlights that Annan’s approach was shaped by the numerous tragedies and failures he witnessed during his tenure at the UN, both as Secretary General and as the leader of peacekeeping operations in the 1990s. Notably, the devastating Rwandan genocide and the subsequent lack of action deeply influenced his perspective.
“The Negotiators,” a podcast produced in collaboration between Doha Debates and global affairs publication Foreign Policy, delves into the intricate process of achieving resolutions through expert negotiators, often in confidential settings. Hosted by Jenn Williams, the deputy editor of Foreign Policy and former senior foreign editor at Vox, this podcast offers valuable insights. Doha Debates is a production of the Qatar Foundation.
The resolution of the 2008 political crisis in Kenya was a remarkable achievement that showcased the power of diplomacy and negotiation. The efforts of individuals like Kofi Annan, Condi Rice, and Meredith Preston McGhie played a pivotal role in bringing peace and stability to a nation on the brink of collapse. It serves as a reminder that even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, dialogue and compromise can lead to transformative change.