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Kenya Considers German Coalition to Resolve Political Crisis

Kofi Annan, chief mediator between Kenya's feuding parties, has asked a German politician to explain the workings of Berlin's left-right coalition as a possible power-sharing model to break Kenya's political deadlock.

A man walks past a burning shop during tribal clashes at Chebirate trading center in Borabu District, Kenya, on Feb. 2, 2008.

Post-election violence has claimed the lives of an estimated 1,000 Kenyans

Closeted in a safari lodge in the Tsavo National Park in Kenya to focus on ways to search for peace, Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga had a surprise visitor this week -- a high-ranking politician from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition.

Gernot Erler, Germany's deputy foreign minister, was secretly flown in to Kenya at the request of Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General who is mediating between Kenya's warring factions to resolve a crisis sparked by Kibaki's disputed re-election last December.

Former UN chief Kofi Annan

Annan has brought Odinga and Kibaki to the negotiating table

Annan had turned to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to ask for an expert to assist in talks between Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) and Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). Steinmeier entrusted the job to Erler.

The nuts and bolts of power-sharing

Erler's task was to explain the workings of Merkel's grand coalition between her center-right Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, of which the minister is a member.

"My visit was a surprise to all," Erler told German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung on the last day of his mission. "But then everyone was really interested and had a lot of questions."

Erler said his job was to explain the complicated arithmetic underlying the power-sharing model in Germany and how such a consensus-based system worked. Germany's grand coalition came into being after federal elections in 2005, ending two months of political uncertainty after Merkel's conservatives won a wafer-thin majority.

German deputy foreign minister Gernot Erler

Erler said it Kenyans need to see if the German political model could be adapted for Nairobi

"My job was to present the model so that the Kenyans can see if a similar system could work for them," Erler said. The minister had also brought along an English version of Germany's coalition agreement with him so that the Kenyans could spend time studying it.

Though Berlin has never had to deal with the levels of violence that followed Kenya's election last month, the grand coalition model is considered a useful one in deadlocked political situations. Erler is expected to back in Berlin by Friday.

No quick answers to Kenya's problems

Kenya went through weeks of violence after Kibaki's party claimed victory in a Dec. 27 poll that observers said was hugely flawed by rigging. The crisis is estimated to have killed 1,000 people and made more than 300,000 homeless. The turmoil has shattered Kenya's image as one of Africa's most stable democracies.

Experts have said that Annan is impatient for progress and in favor of holding a new election and some form of shared government.

Kibaki and Odinga have already missed a mid-February deadline set by Annan to reach a political agreement. The former UN chief had said he wanted underlying problems including land and wealth disparities tackled in a year.

Annan said Friday that an agreement that would put an end to political chaos was "very close" and added that he hoped that the "last difficult and frightening" step would be taken next week.

Other than Annan, however, few expect Kenya's political deadlock to be resolved swiftly, saying the two sides have yet to strike a deal on the most contentious issue -- the structure of the government.

Kibaki, center, shakes hands with opposition leader Raila Odinga, right,

Kibaki, center, shakes hands with opposition leader Raila Odinga, right,

Analysts have pointed out that division of cabinet and civil service jobs would likely be a source of wrangling between Kibaki and Odinga as well issues such as reforming the constitution and a new electoral law.

"A power-sharing system in which the principal participants are deeply suspicious of each other is difficult enough to manage," Kenyan political columnist, Macharia Gaitho told news agency Reuters.

In a bid to shore up Annan's mission, US President George W. Bush this week said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will head to Kenya to tell its leaders there must be a return to democracy.

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