By Anne Kiruku, KENYA, Posted THEEASTAFRICAN, NOV/26/2016, SSN;
IN SUMMARY: East African Community, EAC, Secretariat and other partner states have remained worryingly silent on the issue. When a member state, Kenya in this case, negates on its mandate to promote peace within the bloc, should other partner states remain unconcerned?
In a highly insensitive move, Kenya has made good its threat to withdraw more than 1,000 troops from South Sudan despite the worsening security situation in Africa’s youngest nation. Already, more than 100 troops arrived in the country last week, with 100 more expected in the coming days.
Most of the troops that have been withdrawn were deployed in hot spots of violence where deaths, rape and fighting is the order of the day. A total of 995 of the soldiers had been deployed in Wau, 166 in Aweil and 304 in Kuajok.
Essentially, Kenya reneged on its mandate for humanitarian engagement, putting innocent lives at stake. Since the war broke out in South Sudan in 2013, more than 2.5 million people have fled their homes due to the brutal conflict. Out of these, 1.6 million are internally displaced, while more than 830,000 have sought safety in neighbouring countries — mainly Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.
Despite South Sudan’s historic independence in 2011, the country still remains divided. In December 2013, it descended into civil war when disagreements between President Salva Kiir and his former first vice president Riek Machar led to fighting between government soldiers in the capital, Juba. The violence, which later spread across the country, left thousands of people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Cases of human-rights abuse have been rampant, with women and children bearing the brunt of it. A report by the African Union cited rampant violation of basic rights, with civilians routinely raped, killed, dismembered, and even forced to eat and drink human flesh and blood. Tens of thousands of people have sought shelter at United Nations compounds, too afraid to return home.
Kenya’s decision was criticised by the country’s opposition coalition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) through its leader Raila Odinga, because it is in effect abandoning a fellow member of the East African region. Moreover, Kenya’s own peace and security is affected negatively by a crisis in a neighbouring country.
However, the EAC Secretariat and other partner states have remained worryingly silent on the issue. When a member state, Kenya in this case, negates on its mandate to promote peace within the bloc, should other partner states remain unconcerned?
The withdrawal of troops, who were seconded to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss), came as a response to the dismissal of Kenyan Lieutenant-General Johnston Mogia Kimani Ondieki, the Force Commander of Unmiss.
General Ondieki was dismissed by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, following an “independent special investigation into the violence, which occurred in Juba in 2016 and Unmiss’s response.”
According to the report, the violence caused the deaths of many civilians, two peacekeepers, and led to the collapse of the fragile peace agreement between President Kiir and Dr Machar.
Investigators attributed the shortcomings to “lack of leadership on the part of key senior mission personnel, which culminated in a chaotic and ineffective response to the violence.”
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta reacted with anger to the dismissal, saying the mission had failed in its mandate and had instead resorted to scapegoating Kenya.
But whatever the reasons are that led to Kenya’s withdrawal of troops, and regardless of the circumstances that led to the lieutenant general’s sacking, the innocent people of South Sudan continue to die as the world watches.
Already, there is an ongoing crisis in the health sector, with doctors in South Sudan staging a three-day strike every week to protest the poor working conditions, lack of medicines and poor security.
Cases of attacks by frustrated patients and their families have increased, and doctors have refused to perform non-emergency duties until their demands are met. Naturally, this has made a bad situation worse.
The lives and safety of regional citizens takes precedence over any diplomatic row. All partner states must actively participate in bringing about a peaceful resolution to the conflict in South Sudan.
Withdrawing troops is not part of that solution.
Anne Kiruku, East African News Agency.