Kenya, UN mend relations after South Sudan tensions

President Uhuru Kenyatta with 9th United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres at the African Union ...
President Uhuru Kenyatta with the 9th United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Kenya and the United Nations have agreed to reset their fractured relations caused by a dispute over military deployment in South Sudan.

The deal to reset relations was reached at a bilateral meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

The meeting, the first in a series of meetings between the UN chief and African leaders, focused on peacekeeping, peace and security, with focus on Kenya’s role, as well as events in South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and Burundi.

“I want the United Nations to be reconciled with Kenya. Let us make a fresh start. Kenya is a very important player in the region and I feel that we have to work together to secure peace and security. Let us put the past behind us,” Guterres told President Kenyatta.

“We want to move forward. We have full confidence in Kenya’s military. As a sign of our confidence in the Kenya Defence Forces, and in the Kenyan government, the UN would like to offer Kenya the Darfur command,” Guterres added.

President Kenyatta said he agreed to a reset in the relations, and would look forward to senior officials from both sides meeting in Addis Ababa to work out details of the new arrangements.

Guterres also invited President Kenyatta to join a small group of global leaders — drawn from countries with a strong democratic tradition — he is convening as “champions of accountability” in areas such as peacekeeping. The President accepted the invitation.

Kenya withdrew its troops from a UN mission in South Sudan last year after its mission commander was withdrawn without consultation with the Kenyan leadership.

President Kenyatta repeated on Sunday that such an affront to Kenyan dignity was unwelcome because it conveyed the message that Kenya’s efforts in keeping the region secure went unrecognised.

Mr Guterres and President Kenyatta also discussed Somalia and Burundi. Mr Guterres said it was necessary to continue to build capacity for Somalia so that the country could practically stand on its own feet again.

Responding to President Kenyatta’s concerns that the African Mission in Somalia (Amisom) needed to be effective, Mr Guterres said that the UN had no plans of asking Burundi troops to leave Somalia, but wanted the Burundi leadership to show greater transparency in its dealings.

On South Sudan, Guterres asked President Kenyatta to continue to be engaged and to urge the leadership of Africa’s newest nation to pursue inclusivity as a way of sustaining peace.

President Kenyatta also sought support from the new UN chief for the U.N. Office at Nairobi (UNON) and its key agencies, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN Habitat.

Mr Guterres said he believed there was strong backing for Nairobi to continue hosting the UN agencies — the only global headquarters in the South.

The meeting held at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, came after the new UN chief held a closed-door meeting with all African Heads of State and Government attending the 28th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly.

President Kenyatta was the first leader Mr Guterres held bilateral talks with and their talks focused on Kenya’s development as well current regional issues.

Later in the day, the African leaders went into a retreat where they discussed institutional reforms of the AU.

The objectives of the reforms is to put in place a governance system capable of addressing the challenges facing the Union.

Behind closed doors, the leaders were discussing a biting report by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, which candidly says that Africa remained unprepared to adequately respond to current global challenges because it needed to be made fit for purpose.

President Kagame said that chronic failure to see through African Union decisions had resulted in a crisis of implementation and a perception that the AU was not relevant to Africans.

He also lamented that the AU was a fragmented organisation with a multitude of focus areas, with over-dependence on partner (donor) funding.

His report urged African leaders to focus on key priority areas with continental scope; realign the African Union institutions to deliver against those priorities; manage the AU efficiently at both political and operational levels; and get Africans themselves to finance the AU Commission.

“We cannot leave the implementation of institutional reforms to chance or treat it as routine. Both in the Assembly of Heads of State and the AU Commission, the responsibility for delivery of the reform agenda must be clearly assigned,” President Kagame said.

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Story By Lisa Kamau
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