Kenya’s withdrawal from South Sudan will be detrimental to peace process

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[Nairobi, Kenya, TCT] Kenya’s threat to withdraw from peacekeeping in South Sudan and in the envisaged Regional Protection Force should not be taken lightly by the United Nations.

Kenya made the announcement soon after the sacking of commander of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Lt-Gen. Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki, based on what the UN said was failure to protect civilians when violence erupted in July in Juba.

Lt-Gen Ondieki was seconded to UNMISS by Kenyan government. Kenya feels that the UN mistreated the commander and punished him for the weaknesses of the UNMISS systems and not for his personal failure. Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday insisted that Kenya will no longer continue to contribute to a mission that has failed to meet its mandate and was instead scape-goating a Kenyan. He also announced that Kenya will henceforth disengage from the South Sudan peace process. He said that peace will not come to South Sudan by blaming the wider failings of UNMISS on a Kenyan commander.

President Kenyatta has been the Special Rapporteur for Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in the South Sudan peace process. He said that even though Kenya was keen on having peace in South Sudan, it should not come at the expense of the dignity of its people.

Kenya feels slighted by the UN, perhaps because it has played a crucial role in trying to bring stability and peace in the region, and South Sudan in particular. Since Kenya has been one of the major players in the South Sudan peace process right from the days of Dr. John Garang and Omar Al Bashir., then its threats should not be ignored specially at this crucial time that South Sudan deserves help. 

Kenya has also been instrumental in trying to bring stability in Somalia, another country that has been unstable for more than two decades. In Somalia, Kenya has paid a heavy price in terms of the death of its soldiers and attacks from the Al Shabaab.

It is perhaps these considerations that have made Kenya to react strongly to the decision by the UN. According to the Kenyan president, the world body is taking for granted Kenya’s participation in international peace missions. If President kenyatta will keep is word and stop being IGAD's Special Rapporteur, this may mean that IGAD will have to go to the drawing board to try and find another person to play that role. This will only end up draging the process of bringing the warring parties together, and the implementattion of the peace agreement signed in 2015 in Ethiopia. Presient Kenyatta had already won the confidence of the two sides to the country's conflict. Getting someone who will be agreeable to all players may not be easy.

In a televised show on Citizen TV in Kenya, South Sudan ambassador to Kenya Jimmy Makwach supported Kenya’s position. He said that South Sudan was surprised and shocked by the dismissal. He said that the UN should have consulted Kenya before sacking the commander. The UN, as the main funder of UNMISS operations, has the obligation to see that any decision it makes will not hamper the peace process. Its latest decision seems to have been made without due consideration of the repercussions it would have on South Sudan and its people.

Any decision that is made by any party that is interested in restoring peace in South Sudan should be done with the interest of the people of South Sudan in mind. Any other considerations should be secondary.

I am aware that the decision to sack Lt-Gen. Ondieki was done after a special investigation that came up with a damning conclusion that the mission failed the people of South Sudan at their hour of need in July. That is understandable.

However, the UN ought to have thought about the consequences of its action. It should have implemented the recommendations of the investigation report by first consulting the countries that are involved in South Sudan, before making announcing a decision whose repercussions will be detrimental to the already fragile situation in the country.

I shudder to think what would happen to the peace process in South Sudan if the other countries in the region were to follow Kenya’s example, and withdraw their forces from the country in sympathy with Kenya.

But it is not too late for UN. It can still mend fences with Kenya and other players who might have been offended by its decision that was made early this week. It should also try to streamline its operations so that we do not have a recurrence of what happened in July in South Sudan. kenya has been providing refugees for people from South Sudan and other places. If it does not agree with the decisions by the UN, this may be to the disadvantage of South Sudan refugees in Kenya, who need a government in Kenya that is sympathetic to what is happening in their country, and not one that is antagonistic and ambivalent.

As Kenya rightly pointed out, the failings of the system cannot be pinned on an individual. It is the whole UNMISS system that needs an overhaul. Therefore, all people of good will should engage UN and Kenya to come up with a solution that would benefit the people of South Sudan. Kenya has been a major player in the South Sudan peace process and needs to continue being a part of it. Going about this issue and ignoring Kenya's critical role may be detrimental to the peace building process.

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