KIRUKU: Juba’s too far, the wails of women and kids didn’t reach Uhuru


south sudan
U.N. peacekeepers stand guard at a demonstration by people in Jebel, near South Sudan's capital Juba, September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jok Solomun

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Most of the troops withdrawn had been deployed in hotspots of violence where deaths, rape and fighting is the order of the day.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, allowing innocent lives to be lost. 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.

Since the historic declaration of independence by South Sudan in 2011, the country has remained divided. In December 2013, it descended into civil war when disagreements between the president and vice president led to fighting among 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 all. 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 are still sheltering in United Nations compounds, too afraid to return home.

 

Reports indicate that women have been raped and beaten by both government and opposition soldiers; thousands of houses have also been burnt down. Civilians are killed simply because of their ethnicity or perceived political alliances the ongoing conflict. Whole towns have been ransacked and essential civilian infrastructure looted, including clinics, hospitals, and schools.

 

Kenya’s decision, which has been harshly criticised by the official opposition coalition CORD through its leader Raila Odinga, effectively abandons a fellow member state of the East African Community. Moreover, Kenya’s own peace and security is obviously affected negatively by a crisis in a neighbouring country.

 

It is instructive that the EAC Secretariat and other partner states have remained silent on the issue. When a member, Kenya in this case, negates on its mandate to promote peace within the bloc, should other partner states remain unconcerned?

 

The withdrawal of the troops, who were seconded to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), came in response to the dismissal of Kenyan Lieutenant-General Johnston Mogia Kimani Ondieki, the Force Commander of UNMISS.

Ondieki was dismissed by Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, following an “Independent Special Investigation into the violence which occurred in Juba in 2016 and UNMISS 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 the President Salva Kiir and his former first vice president Dr Riek 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.”

Quite unfortunately, President Uhuru Kenyatta reacted with anger to the dismissal, saying that the mission had failed in its mandate and resorted to scapegoating Kenyans.

But whatever the reasons that led to Kenya’s troop withdrawal 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 for doctors. There have been increased attacks by frustrated patients and their families, and the 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 isn’t part of that solution.

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Story By Anne Kiruku
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