Rice Travels to Violence-Plagued Kenya

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Kenya on Monday. Washington wants President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to strike a power-sharing agreement to end violence that has plagued the nation since the December presidential election.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Kenya has fallen into deadly violence after a disputed presidential election last month. And that's where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is today. She says she will push the country's leaders to come to a power sharing deal

Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State): Kenya's got to overcome this current political crisis with a government that can gain the confidence of the Kenyan people.

MONTAGNE: But Kenyan officials have bristled at the Western pressure for a quick deal. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from Nairobi.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: When President Bush announced last week that he was sending Condoleezza Rice to Kenya, he said she'd be carrying a tough message to Kenya's leaders and people that the violence must stop and democracy must be restored. Washington had said it was not planning to dictate terms but to help speed up the negotiating process, hopeful of a power sharing agreement.

But Kenya's Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula warned against outside pressure to force a deal.

Foreign Minister MOSES WETANGULA (Kenya): We encourage our friends to support us, to encourage us, but not to make any mistake of putting a gun on anybody's head and say either/or, because that cannot work.

QUIST-ARCTON: The foreign minister added that the answer to the crisis must be homegrown. Political analyst Kwamchechi Maquoha(ph) says that's just public relations.

Mr. KWAMCHECHI MAQUOHA (Political analyst): The matter is not exactly in the Kenya government's hands. The first demonstration of that was when it failed to keep law and order, and so it has to take instructions and suggestions from other people.

QUIST-ARCTON: After unprecedented ethnic and communal violence, triggered by December's disputed presidential election results, there's been mounting international pressure on Kenya's feuding leaders, President Mwai Kibaki and his opposition rival Raila Odinga, to reach a settlement.

Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's mediation efforts have made some progress. But after three weeks of negations, there's still no agreement on sharing power.

Analyst Kwamchechi Maquoha says it's unlikely Secretary Rice will deliver a deal, but her visit should act as a prod, a little tough love.

Mr. MAQUOHA: Yes, there is a need for her to be there, because I think it brings a bit of bribery and a few threats, in fairly undiplomatic language, behind closed doors. And America is concerned that the region does not go to seed entirely.

QUIST-ARCTON: Kenya is hugely strategic. So Washington and other governments want to see the trouble here end. Chief mediator Kofi Annan said he welcomed the backing of Condoleezza Rice. But will her presence add muscle?

Mr. KOFI ANNAN (Former U.N. Secretary-General): Obviously she's coming from a powerful country and this is not one of those situations where muscles always play a role. She's coming to let the Kenyans know they're not alone and they have friends in the international community bleeding with them and they want to see this issue settled as quickly as possible.

QUIST-ARCTON: On whose terms? Again, Kenya's Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula.

Foreign Minister WETANGULA: We have many examples from all the world where hurried, rushed agreements (unintelligible) have collapsed as soon as they're signed, before even the ink dries.

QUIST-ARCTON: Words that could be interpreted as brinkmanship, or a warning against a quick fix.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Nairobi.

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