By Mike Ssegawa
Is Kenya genuinely leaving South Sudan because the United Nations Mission in South Sudan ejected its unfit commander Lt Gen Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki from UNMISS?
Of course not. That is just a cover up.
What however is unfortunate is the fact that Kenya didn’t consider the repercussions of its decision on the region, having witnessed and helped in arbitrations of the Sudan conflict for the last three decades.
The vacuum left by the Kenyan troops in South Sudan and especially in areas such as Kuacjok, Wau and Aweil could further spiral a humanitarian crisis in this fragile country, its spill off effect have always returned to haunt the region, specifically Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.
The Kenyan commanding general in United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Lt Gen Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki was found wanting to head a United Nations peace keeping force in South Sudan. UN secretary general Ban ki-moon dismissed him on grounds his leadership was lacking during the regrettable July attacks on the UN compound which led to civilian and UN staff deaths and injuries.
The investigation showed that there was “lack of leadership” which culminated in “a chaotic and ineffective response to the violence”.
Contrary to common norms that when soldiers bring disgrace to their home or UN flag, they are properly investigated and punished, accordingly, for President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya was insulted.
The response to his general’s dismissal has actually become more alarming than the dismissal of the general from UN command.
Mr Uhuru Kenyatta decided to recall his troops from the frail South Sudan.
Kenya’s troops made the biggest component of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) since Ugandan troops left the country as the two rival groups asked for a neutral force to take guard in order to give peace a chance. Uganda had been in South Sudan since December 2013 when war erupted between president Salva Kiir troops and forces loyal to his former deputy Dr Riek Machar. The war became tribal and there was fear an ethnic cleansing was about to happen. President Museveni, with experience of the Rwandan genocide still fresh on his mind, moved in his troops before the international community could hold conferences to resolve on whom can avail troops to send in. UPDF stopped, albeit, temporarily, a possible genocide.
Kenya, whose businesses had profited more than any other country from independent Sudan Sudan, replaced Ugandan troops, as they were seen to be neutral and worked under a UN mandate.
Now, like United Nations peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous says, he regrets Kenya’s decision to withdraw troops from South Sudan since Kenya has been a solid contributor to UN peacekeeping efforts in South Sudan.
Watchdog understands that Nepalese forces who are not accustomed to the politics or circumstances of South Sudan are replacing Kenyans.
Why Kenya pulled out
Military analysts however say the move by Kenya to withdraw its troops has nothing to do with South Sudan or UN embarrassing their military by sacking their general. However, fingers point to the fragile security situation in Kenya itself.
According to security experts on the region, Kenya is moving to the general election next year and Kenyans elections have become highly risk in the recent past and it affects its stability rating.
The election is a do or die, after the five years of the Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto. The duo successfully fought off the International Criminal Court cases which accused them of organizing the 2008 post election violence. The last thing Kenyatta wants to happen under his charge is a possible election related violence as the international community is now more alert to compile evidence themselves against him.
Kenya has also battled terrorism insurgencies in the last five years, especially in Nairobi, Mombasa and Northern Kenya. The government has however not properly managed to show they could bring Al Shabab attacks to an end.
The most urgent thing for Mr Kenyatta’s government is to manage the next election without tearing the country apart, and yet, guard against Al Shabab atrocities.
For that matter, the president wants all his boots on the ground, save for those in Somalia which strategically are offering buffer zone against Al Shabab notoriety.
Al Shabab has exposed Kenyatta’s security record in one term and left him in tatters.
However, he can politically maneuver and explain himself away if Al Shabab don’t him again to resurrect the pain and fear the terrorists have sent down the Kenyan society. And his troops should be more vigilant to neutralize or repulse any attack, or else, his opposition in Raila Odinga might just take advantage of the fresh memory and pain to turn the ugly Kenyan election on Uhuru’s head.
There is no room for error.
For that matter, charity begins at home and President Uhuru who is seeking a second term, and wants it very badly, deems Kenya’s security more important ahead of any international duty.
For that reason, the dismissal of Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki, was godsend and offered him a chance to beef up security in his country.
However, in Uganda, Kenya pulling out of South Sudan further opened up to double catastrophe. Ugandan troops have to watch the frail political situation in South Sudan critically as well as monitor the Kenyan situation, a neighbor who holds our gateway to the sea, and on whom we depend on for most of our supplies.