World / East Africa
Friday, 04 Nov 2016 18:58 EATnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.com
The Kenya government took two drastic steps in the South Sudan conflict this week that experts say will raise threats to the lives of Kenyans living in the country. On Wednesday, Kenyan authorities arrested and deported a leading South Sudanese opposition official who was immediately arrested and detained on his arrival in Juba.
Mr James Gatdet Dak, the spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO), and who by virtue of that position was former Vice President Riek Machar’s main spokesman, was picked up at the Nairobi house where he was staying by three police cars and deported.
The unstated reason was the spokesman’s support on social media for the suspension of the Kenyan commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in South Sudan a day earlier. The Kenyan soldier, Lieutenant General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki, was relieved of his duties on Tuesday by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
Ugandan and South Sudanese media reported Tiaty MP Asman Kamama, who is a member of the ruling Jubilee coalition, asserting that South Sudanese officials had paid Sh100 million ($1 million) bribe to the Kenya security officials for the spokesman’s deportation. The Kenya Free Press could not reach Mr Kamama on phone this evening to verify the report.
Kenyan officials were incensed at the sacking of Lt. General Ondieki, who UN sources reported was removed from his duties for incompetence. The commander had failed to prevent a number of security lapses, including attacks on civilian positions, the sources told the Kenya Free Press. On Wednesday, Kenya formally announced the withdrawal of its 1,050 peacekeepers from South Sudan.
Dr Riek Machar, the exiled former vice president of South Sudan whose forces have clashed with government troops since the war broke out in December 2013, condemned the deportation by Kenya which he said violated the Geneva Convention.
“The deportation… is a violation of the Geneva Convention. Moreover, the Kenyan Govenrment is a guarantor to the peace agreement that was signed in august 2015 and we do not expect that it would put in danger the life of an innocent person. The SPLM (IO) therefore condemns this act in the strongest terms possible,” he said in a publicly-issued letter to his force commanders.
The rebel leader also addressed concerns for Kenyans in the country that the government decision could put them at risk, saying in the letter: “On the other hand, make sure that you protect all Kenyan workers in our areas of control. They are innocent. They have no role in what their government did. We will continue engaging the Government of Kenya.”
The withdrawal of the Kenyan troops, like Mr Gatdet’s deportation, were interpreted as steps by Kenya to reinforce the Salva Kiir government’s position against the rebel leaders. The withdrawal of 1,050 soldiers had a direct negative impact on the capacity of international peacekeepers in the region, whereas Mr Gatdet’s handover implies the Kenya government’s full confidence in the Juba government to provide justice to an opponent in a civil war that has been internationally mediated.
“It's juvenile for Kenya to bloviate and withdraw troops from South Sudan because its force commander was sacked for incompetence,” said Prof. Makau Mutua, Kenya’s leading international law expert who teaches in the United States.