Kenya’s president and opposition leader pledge to heal divisions

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta called opposition leader Raila Odinga “his brother” on Friday and promised they would both start the process of bringing the people together after last year’s contentious elections.

In a live television address jointly with Kenyatta on the steps of the president’s office, Odinga said time had come to resolve “our” differences.

It was the first public appearance by the two politicians together since a repeat presidential election last Oct. 26.

Kenyatta and Odinga had agreed to establish a new office staffed by advisers to tackle the divisions ranging from opposition complaints over the election to tensions between ethnic groups and corruption, they said in a statement.

“We have a responsibility as leaders to find solutions. Elections come and go but Kenya remains,” Kenyatta said.

Kenyatta was sworn in for a second term in November after an extended election season which saw the Supreme Court nullify an August presidential poll and order a re-run in October, which Odinga boycotted.

Around 100 people died mainly in clashes between the security forces and opposition supporters during months of acrimonious campaigning and protests. The election season blunted growth in Kenya, East Africa’s richest economy and a Western ally in a volatile region.

In January, Odinga took a symbolic presidential oath in a Nairobi park in a direct challenge to Kenyatta.

Before the Friday meeting, the two men had defied calls from Kenyan civil society, religious leaders and Western diplomats to hold talks to overcome deep divisions opened up by the disputed elections.

Odinga said the opposition had decided to change tactics for the sake of the country’s unity. “We refuse to allow our diversity to kill our nation,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in the Kenyan capital later on Friday as part of a seven-day visit to Africa as the United States seeks to bolster security alliances on a continent increasingly turning to China for trade.