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Kenyan leaders sign power-sharing agreement as children hope for peace

© Reuters/Njuguna
Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki (front left) and opposition leader Raila Odinga (front right) talk after signing a power-sharing agreement in Nairobi. Witnessing the occasion are (left to right) Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, chief mediator Kofi Annan and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa.

By Anwulika Okafor

NEW YORK, USA, 29 February 2008 – Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odiniga yesterday signed a power-sharing agreement to restore peace to a country that has been engulfed by violence since the disputed presidential elections there in December.

The plan, which was brokered by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, calls for the creation of a Prime Minister position for Mr. Odinga, fair and balanced cabinet appointments and a review of the Kenyan constitution.

Speaking at the signing, Mr. Annan stressed the importance of a unified stance behind the agreement. He noted that both sides had made compromises necessary for the survival of Kenya and the security of its population.

“I commend all those whose efforts have made this possible,” Mr. Annan said. “They kept the future of Kenya always in their sights and reached a common position for the good of the nation.”

Heavy cost of violence

More than 1,000 people have been killed and another 300,000 displaced since the violence began two months ago. In the face of escalating tensions, Kenyans saw their homes burned, their property confiscated and their lives turned inside out. The effects of the crisis on the country as a whole have yet to be fully tallied, but it is clear that the fighting has taken a disastrous toll on the safety and well-being of children.

“We as children ask ourselves: ‘Why are we the ones suffering so much?’” said Charles, 17. “Does it mean that every time we vote this kind of violence will happen again?”

When the school year began in January, many classrooms held a mere fraction of the previously enrolled students. Thousands of children had fled with their parents to safety in makeshift displacement camps, their education and lives on hold.

In response, UNICEF set up temporary tent schools in some of the camps, serving a total of 15,000 children. However, many others were so scarred by the violence they had witnessed that they were afraid to come to school, or even to leave their homes.

“At this very minute, I should be in school. I go to school in the Western province, but I have not been able to go back. I am terrified of going back,” said another 17-year-old, Anne Lucy.

‘All we want is peace’

Since the fighting began, UNICEF has been on the ground in Kenya providing supplementary food, water and shelter to tens of thousands of people. Yet even as UNICEF and its partners moved to provide assistance, their primary aspiration was a peaceful resolution to the crisis – a sentiment echoed by many.

“Life is so difficult now. All we want is peace. We do not even care who the leader is. We want things the way they were,” said Lillian, 18, who was forced to leave her home by a violent faction in the days immediately following the elections.

Even as the world applauds the agreement signed by Kenyan leaders, peace is not yet assured. Until it is, the vulnerable women and children of Kenya must survive one day at a time, waiting until it is safe to return to their homes and lives.





28 February 2008:
Kenyan children talk about the effect of recent fighting on their lives.
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