NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya's political rivals agreed Thursday to share power in a coalition government and to work together to rebuild a country shattered by violence after December's disputed election.
Ending weeks of often acrimonious negotiations with a warmth-filled ceremony, President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga signed a deal that would make Odinga the prime minister, a post that was abolished in Kenya 44 years ago but which became the linchpin of the talks.
Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who's spent more than a month in Nairobi mediating the talks, said the agreement was a major step toward restoring stability in Kenya. More than 1,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in ethnic fighting since the deeply flawed election, which Odinga and many international observers allege that Kibaki stole.
"Let the spirit of healing begin today," Annan said. "Let it begin now."
Kenyans across the country cheered the news, filling the streets of Kisumu, an opposition stronghold, and packing the bars of Nairobi to hoist beers and to watch replays of the signing ceremony.
The two-page agreement left major questions unanswered, such as what powers each leader would have and how two men who ran for president on vastly different platforms — and whose negotiators were trading insults just days before — would steer the government together.
Experts said Kibaki and Odinga also must disarm tribe-based militias that reportedly have been training in flash-point areas such as the Rift Valley and certain ethnically mixed Nairobi slums.
"The end game was not to have power sharing for the sake of it, but as an instrument to end the violence and bring the parties together to lead the country," said Francois Grignon, the Africa director for the International Crisis Group, a conflict-prevention research center.
"They campaigned with different agendas, and now they need to merge their agendas into a coherent program."
Just days ago, the negotiations appeared near collapse after Annan accused the negotiating teams of delaying the process and began meeting directly with Kibaki and Odinga. With much of the blame falling on Kibaki's team, the United States and Europe vowed penalties for Kenyan leaders who obstructed the talks.
Grignon credited international pressure — from Western countries as well as the African Union — with forcing the deal.
"The consistency of the messages coming from Washington, Brussels, Addis Ababa . . . have been very helpful," Grignon said.
U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger praised the agreement and pledged to provide more American assistance to an overstretched humanitarian-relief operation.
"I do expect this agreement to be implemented," Ranneberger said. "I think that Kenya will emerge out of this crisis a stronger country."
The crisis has destroyed Kenya's tourism-driven economy and its reputation as one of the most stable democracies in Africa, and has exposed deep fault lines over tribal, land and economic differences. It also has demonstrated how Kenya, like many African nations, concentrated nearly all political power in one office.
Kenya's president has had near-imperial authority since 1964, when the first president, Jomo Kenyatta, abolished the post of prime minister soon after independence from Britain. One of the opposition's major demands was for the prime minister post to be reinstated, with significant executive powers.
If enacted by Kenya's parliament, which is scheduled to meet next Thursday, the agreement creates a prime minister who will "coordinate and supervise the execution" of government affairs and can be removed only by a majority vote in parliament.
In a powerful symbolic gesture, Odinga addressed Kibaki on Thursday as "President," the first time he's done so publicly since the election, and as "my countryman."
"We are completely committed to ensuring that this agreement will succeed," a beaming Odinga said at a ceremony on the steps of Kibaki's presidential office, flanked by dozens of lawmakers and diplomats.
"This process has reminded us that as a nation there are more issues that unite than divide us," Kibaki said. "Kenya has room for all of us."
Weary Kenyans remember that Kibaki reneged on a power-sharing arrangement with Odinga after he was first elected in 2002. But they're savoring the first bit of good news in a while.
"For the time being, this is enough for Raila," said Michael Ngetich, a 33-year-old security guard and Odinga supporter. "Now there can be peace everywhere, so we really hope for the best."