Kenya President and opposition leader meet to unify country

Uhuru Kenyatta (File: AFP)
Uhuru Kenyatta (File: AFP)

Nairobi - Kenya's president and opposition leader said they met for talks on Friday, months after the presidential elections sparked turmoil as the opposition charged there was electoral fraud.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga launched a new initiative to unify the country as their rival parties largely divide the country along tribal lines, raising fears of ethnic violence.

It's not known if demands by Odinga for new elections were discussed and journalists were not allowed to field questions when the announcement was made. The meeting did not happen as the result of pressure from Western countries, there was no external pressure on the two leaders from western countries, specifically the US, for the leaders to hold the talks ahead US Rex W Tillerson's three-day visit beginning on Friday. "This is a purely domestic initiative," Odinga's spokesperson Dennis Onyango said.

Kenyatta and Odinga met publicly at a funeral service where they shook hands earlier this year, but they did not have talks. Odinga said Kenya has never dealt with the challenges "that our diversity (different tribes) was always going to pose to our efforts to create a prosperous and united nation ... The time has come for us to confront and resolve our differences. These differences are becoming too entrenched."

Odinga's and Kenyatta's fathers were allies in the struggle for Kenya's independence from British colonial rule and then became adversaries. Now President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga have extended the family rivalry by ethnic allegiances and personality politics.

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The two men, who also faced off in a 2013 election marred by opposition allegations of vote-rigging, are vying for power in East Africa's economic hub that plays a key role in the Western-backed fight against neighbouring Somalia's Islamic extremists.

For many observers, the historical divisions between the Kenyatta and Odinga dynasties and the ethnic groups they represent cloud the promise of Kenya's democracy.

On Friday, President Kenyatta said he and Odinga had reached an understanding "that this country of Kenya is greater than any one individual. And for this country to come together, leaders must come together."

Odinga pressed a lawsuit challenging Kenyatta's victory in last year's August election and the Supreme Court ordered a new election. Odinga boycotted the repeat election in October, saying adequate electoral reforms had not been made.

On January 30 Odinga held a protest event which was a mock inauguration in which he was sworn in as the "people's president." The government reacted by shutting down some broadcasters and arresting some participants.

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