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The East African : May 12th 2014
4 The EastAfrican NEWS MAY 10-16,2014 THE JUBA DEAL Kenya’s winning neutral stance in South Sudan Kenyatta has navigated a middle g≥ound, engaging both sides and avoiding moves likely to deepen the divide between the two p≥otagonists By JAINDI KISERO The EastAfrican F rom the outset, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta sent clear signals that he intended to play a central role in the search for a solution to the crisis in South Sudan. Just days after the crisis broke out in December last year, the president thrust himself into the middle of intense backroom negotiations that culminated in the release of seven detainees by President Salvar Kiir. Coming as it did when the sit- uation in Juba was still very fluid and political temperatures were running high, the release of the detainees whom President Kiir has accused of having plotted a coup against him was a major diplomatic coup. Anecdotal evidence now filter- ing in from diplomatic sources suggests that the release of the detainees happened against the backdrop of intense haggling. It took constant engagement and protracted negotiations between Kenyatta and Kiir. Insiders say that decisions and points agreed were changing unpredictably. President Kiir’s advisers in Juba turned out to be a major stumbling block. Insiders talk about the time when emissaries sent by President Kenyatta to Juba to bring the ex-detainees to Nairobi — Internal Security Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku and the director of National Intelligence Service Michael Gichangi — returned empty handed. Eventually, things worked out and the seven detainees were flown to State House Nairobi where they were received by the president. President Kenyatta has stren- uously staked out a middle ground, constantly engaging both sides and avoiding moves and statements likely to deepen the divide between the two protagonists — Kiir and former vice president Dr Riek Machar. Initially, diplomatic authori- ties in Kenya feared that the presence of the ex-detainees in the country would undermine its neutral stance. But those fears were dispelled when the ex-detainees said that even though they were in agreement with Riek Machar that President Kiir had mismanaged the country, they did not support the violent activities by the rebels. Speaking on behalf of the ex- detainees when they were paraded at Nairobi’s State House, former justice minister John Luk took a conciliatory tone — referring to Kiir as “our president” and pointing out that they did not regard him as an enemy. The statement by the ex-de- tainees served to bolster President Kenyatta’s standing as a honest broker in the South Sudanese conflict. Even though it is not stated openly, Kenya’s hope is that these ex detainees — most of them former ministers and generals in the SPLA — will emerge as the middle ground in the South Sudanese conflict and play a key role, especially in reconciling SPLM as a political party. According to our sources, Ken- ya has adopted the position that reconciliation of the leadership of the SPLM must remain an integral part of efforts towards sustainable peace in South Sudan. HONEST BROKER During a recent visit by Igad Council of Ministers to Juba, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Amina Mohamed persuaded security authorities guarding the detainees to release into her custody one of the sons of Dr Machar who was being held. Two close friends of the young Machar, who were also in detention, were also allowed to travel to Nairobi in the company of Ms Mohamed. That gesture sent a clear signal to Machar that Kenya was not keen to take sides. This context explains the sig- nificance of Thursday’s visit to State House Nairobi of the last lot of detainees to be released. They are Gen Okiech Pag’an Amum, Ezekiel Gatkuoth Lol, Gen Ajak Oyay Deng, and Gen Dr Atem. Insiders have also narrated how a small, almost mundane gesture by Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Amina Mohamed has also served to bolster Kenya’s honest broker status in the South Sudanese conflict. It is said that during a recent visit by the Igad Council of Ministers to Juba, where they were allowed to interview detainees who were then still incarceration, Ms Mohamed persuaded security authorities guarding the detainees to release into her custody one of the sons of Dr Machar who was being held. Two close friends of the young Machar, who were also in detention, were also allowed to travel to Nairobi in the company of Ms Mohamed. That gesture sent a clear signal to Machar that Kenya was not keen to take sides. Yet as the conflict intensified, and especially after the massacre in Bentiu in April, signs are that Kenya may be modifying its neutral stance, Close observers will have no- ticed from his rhetoric, especially after Bentiu, that President Kenyatta is going to be more assertive. It seems that Kenya’s actions in the South Sudan crisis will now be driven more by the president’s expressed determination to prevent genocide in the country. The evidence can be gleaned from two major statements South Sudan President Salva Kiir meets President Uhuru Kenyatta, when he visited Nairobi in April. Uhuru has expressed his determination to prevent genocide in the country. Picture: File President Kenyatta has recently made. The first was the emotional address he made in Kigali during the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. He not only — on behalf of the region — apologised for not having intervened to save lives in the county in 1994, but also pledged that it will not stand by and allow another genocide to happen in the region. On April 25, President Keny- atta repeated the pledge to stop genocide at all costs. He also called for a stronger and more sustained focus on bringing the crisis to an end. Country in a freefall South Sudan is a country in free-fall from an escalating war fought along ethnic lines. Already, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces, which has deployed troops alongside government soldiers, are beginning to withdraw substantially from their forward positions. The South Sudanese govern- ment, with the exception of parts of the security sector, has also virtually collapsed. On their part, the rebels are Following the April 15 massacre, the rebels have more or less lost all their international support.” coming through as stronger militarily, capable of overrunning a substantial portion of the oil fields, thus undermining the financial position of the government in Juba, setting the stage for the entry of Khartoum’s forces into the South. The problem for the rebels is that following the April 15 massacre of civilians and prisoners of war after they recaptured Bentiu, the capital of Unity State, they have more or less lost all their international support. Further proof of the escalating crisis is the fighting that has started in previously peaceful parts of the country. There is now violence in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, in Wau, the capital of Western Bahr el Ghazal State, and in Tonj in Warrap State. The Equatorians, who have previously studiously refused to take sides, are also starting to become restless; it can only be a matter of time before they engage and turn the majority of the region closest to Kenya into a battle zone. Another worrisome trend is the fact that after the Bentiu killings, the conflict is trending towards being internationalised — something Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda have spoken against. Analysts now say that any more killings of the magnitude witnessed in Bentiu are likely to spark intervention by the ICC and Western powers, with Igad and EAC becoming sidelined. As it is, neither the govern- ment nor the rebels are in a position to foster a national consensus. Then there is the fact that the protagonists have not approached the peace talks in Addis Ababa with commitment, treating them more or less as a public relations exercise. Analysts argue that with both Kiir and Dr Machar, through the actions of troops under them, having delegitimised themselves; so, whether they agree or not in the planned reconciliation talks in Addis Ababa, it may not mean much in terms of the search for a sustainable resolution of the conflict. Opinion is almost unanimous that the country must start a transition process that will feature new leadership and a new political dispensation.
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