Kenya: Kofi Annan and Kenya - Hero to Some and Villain to Others

President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, shakes hands with opposition leader Raila Odinga during peace talks in Nairobi, Kenya, January 2008. Peace talks have been ongoing, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
19 August 2018

For at least two months in 2008, Kofi Annan, who died on Saturday aged 80, was the only hope for Kenya's future. Even MPs mulled giving him automatic citizenship and having a major road in the capital Nairobi named after him.

If you believe former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete, he will tell you how former President Mwai Kibaki begged him - through the then Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang'ula - to plead with Kofi Annan not to leave Kenya. The high-level pleading is a signal to how important Annan was to the mediation talks between Kibaki and Raila Odinga in the aftermath of the 2007-08 post-election crisis.

"Nilipofika, Rais Kibaki akaniambia ... kwanza, nimwambie Kofi Annan asiondoke kwani wakati huo walikuwa wameshavunja mazungumzo. Na, aliyeniletea ujumbe huo ni Moses Wetangula," Kikwete revealed in October 2015 when he addressed Kenya's Parliament.

Kikwete's recollection dovetails with Raila's memory of how much hope Kenyans had in Annan: "... when Dr Kofi Annan decided to suspend negotiations, there was gloom all over the country. Kenyans were in a state of despair. They did not know what was going to happen next," Raila recalled in 2008 as the House debated the National Accord and Reconciliation Act.


Prof George Saitoti, who died in 2012, recalled his private conversations with Annan at the time, which paint Annan as a person with a messianic zeal to save a country in trouble.

"I remember talking to him and he told me, as a friend: 'I am not going to leave Kenya. I am going to be patient until some agreement has come up". He said so because Kenya is a strategic country. He said that if this country broke down, the economy of the neighbouring countries would collapse, and Africa would have a very bad name," said Saitoti.

The widely held view was that the talks had collapsed because of the intransigence of the two rival camps at Serena, and therefore Annan suspended the talks in order to directly talk to the principals. But if you asked Martha Karua, who was also in the talks, she will tell you that the two camps had done their job, and whatever was left was for the principals.

"Those issues were the sharing of Cabinet positions, the proportionality and the issue of entrenching the matter in the Constitution," she said.

Annan, with Kikwete as his able messenger, then began negotiating with the principals.


"Kwanza, nilifanya mkutano na Mheshimiwa Raila. Tukazungumza baadaye nikaenda kumwona Rais, tukazungumza. Nikiyatoa huku, nayapeleka huko, na nikayatoa huko, nayapeleka huku," said Kikwete. "Mpaka tukafika mahali tukaelewana. Mwafaka ukapatikana - kwa lugha ya kule kwetu. Tukatoka pale nje tukakutana na wakubwa wale wakatia sahihi".

According to Raila's recollection, echoed by former Attorney-General Amos Wako, after Kikwete's shuttling from one corner of Nairobi to another talking to the principals, he went to Harambee House to meet Kibaki. In the room were Annan, Kibaki, Kikwete, Mkapa and Raila. Whenever Raila would accuse Kibaki of electoral theft threatening to derail the talks, Mkapa, Annan and Kikwete stepped in to bring sobriety.

"Mr Kibaki said, 'We must finish this matter today before we leave this room,'" Raila recalled.

In Parliament, Asman Kamama, then MP for Tiaty and a Cabinet minister - a job in which he served very briefly - and Jamleck Kamau, the MP for Kigumo, lauded Annan and even suggested that Processional Way next to Nairobi's Serena Hotel (the venue of the 2008 Annan-led talks) be named after Annan.


"I recommend that in honour of Kofi Annan, it would be fair if we remembered him for quite some time in the future," Kamama said. "We could also give him automatic citizenship of this country."

Kamau said Annan's handling of the crisis and the mediation success had made him a role model.

"I would like to support one of the speakers who ... said that we should recognise Kofi Annan by, perhaps, naming one of the roads in Nairobi after him. He actually talked about Processional Way. I support that recommendation. It could be called 'Kofi Annan Way'."

Profuse thanks to Annan also came from Cabinet minister Kipkalya Kones, who died in 2008, and Alfred Sambu, then Webuye MP.

"(Annan) meant his words when he said he would not leave this country until things were on the right track. Evidently, he did not leave this country until things were on the right track. I would like to thank him most sincerely for elevating the talks to the Principals. That is when we were able to strike a balance. I hope this country now will be one and that it will not have to go through the problems it went through. I also hope that we have learnt some lessons," said Kipkalya.


When the Constitution was promulgated, Annan was invited to the party, and Kalonzo Musyoka, the then vice-president, pleaded with the Speaker Kenneth Marende to hurry the parliamentary sitting so that MPs could "at least have lunch" with Annan.

"It is in order that after promulgation we, at least, afford them some lunch," said Mr Musyoka.

Unfortunately for Annan, no road in Kenya has been named after him. Kikwete got a road in Nairobi's affluent Milimani area named after him.

Annan's history with Kenya begins on late January 2008 when he arrived in Nairobi with all the backing of the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, and United States. He had come to broker a deal after disputed elections that had Mwai Kibaki, the incumbent, declared the winner against Raila Odinga.

The process led to constitutional amendments, a coalition government, setting up of commissions of inquiry that investigated the electoral malfeasance and the post-election violence, and a process to review the Constitution and electoral system. In the end, there were reviews to the country's laws, including a new Constitution, a damning list of masterminds of the post-election chaos, and hitherto unimplemented reports gathering dust in the shelves of Parliament.


In October 2017, as Kenya teetered dangerously on the brink of yet another post-election conflagration, Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a terse warning to Kofi Annan: "Sisi tumesema, safari hii (we've said, this time round) Kofi Annan you are not welcome to Kenya. You are not welcome!"

Raila and Kenyatta took the lessons to negotiate directly, got their rapprochement that is now called a handshake, and are now slowly, if unconvincingly, trying to implement reforms based on the force of their personality and not the institutions that the Annan process put in place. Meanwhile, the report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, which is the beginning point to address the historical injustices, remains untouched in Parliament.

As Prof Anyang' Nyong'o, now Kisumu Governor, quipped: "Mr Maina Kiai reminded Dr Annan that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. Dr Annan retorted by saying: "When they make love, the same grass suffers". But if they had asked Jomo Kenyatta, he would have said: "Yes, the grass suffers, but it is suffering without bitterness ..."

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