Kenya’s rival leaders broke their tense standoff on Thursday, agreeing to share power in a deal that may end the violence that has engulfed this nation but could mark the beginning of a long and difficult political relationship.
The country seemed to let out a collective hooray as Mwai Kibaki, the president, and Raila Odinga, the top opposition leader, sat down at a desk in front of the president’s office, with a bank of television cameras rolling, and signed an agreement that creates a powerful prime minister position for Odinga and splits cabinet positions between the government and the opposition.
The two sides, which have been bitterly at odds for the past two months, will now be fused together in a government of national unity.
But there are still many difficult issues to resolve, starting with how the government will function with essentially two bosses and how it will go about the delicate business of reassigning the choice posts already given to Kibaki’s allies.
There is also a deeply divided country to heal. More than 1,000 Kenyans have been killed, and hundreds of thousands driven from their homes in an uncharacteristic burst of violence set off by a deeply flawed election in December. Much of the fighting, like the voting, has been along ethnic lines.
The two-page power sharing agreement, which came after intense international pressure and mediation by Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary general, seemed to serve as a contract to pull Kenya back from the brink. Both leaders urged their supporters, who have battled viciously across the country in recent weeks, to respect it.
“I call on Kenyans to embrace the spirit of togetherness,” Kibaki said.
Odinga was beaming next to him. He said that Kenyans should “celebrate and love each other” and “destroy the monster that is called ethnicity.”
Kenyans were glued to their television sets and radios across the country as the news broke. In downtown Nairobi, the capital, a crowd poured into the streets and danced and cheered until they were run off by tear-gas shooting police officers. In offices across town, business executives, who have watched their profits fall and the investments tank over the past two months, finally exhaled.
“Yes, I’m relieved; you don’t know what we’ve been through,” said Ngovi Kitau, the managing director of a large car dealership.