Kenya’s Troop Withdrawal Could Seal the Fate of South Sudan’s Peace Process

Kenya’s Troop Withdrawal Could Seal the Fate of South Sudan’s Peace Process
A United Nations armored vehicle passes displaced people near a U.N. camp, Malakal, South Sudan, Dec. 30, 2013 (AP photo by Ben Curtis).

In a sharp rebuke to the United Nations, Kenya has started the process of pulling its troops from the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. To make matters worse, Kenya is simultaneously disengaging from peace efforts in South Sudan, where a 15-month-old agreement to bring together warring parties was already on the verge of collapse. The moves by Kenya, which has been a key regional force in pushing for South Sudanese stability, could cement its failure.

Kenya’s moves come in response to the firing of Lt. Gen. Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki, the Kenyan commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force in South Sudan, known as UNMISS, earlier this month. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sacked him in the wake of an independent investigation into UNMISS’ response to July clashes in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. The investigators determined that command shortcomings within UNMISS contributed to a “poor performance” among military contingents during the violence, which left more than 250 people dead, including two peacekeepers.

It was the latest in a string of criticisms that have been leveled against UNMISS since the beginning of South Sudan’s conflict nearly three years ago. The fighting began with skirmishes between troops loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar and government soldiers in a barracks outside Juba in December 2013. Violence spread quickly across the country, bringing with it horrific accounts of the rape, torture and targeted killing of civilians. Though UNMISS has opened its bases around South Sudan to people fleeing the violence, it has regularly been accused of not meeting its mandate to protect civilians.

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