Kenya offered UN Darfur command in bid to ‘reset’ relations

President Uhuru Kenyatta has won a consolation prize for his military after an earlier embarrassing incident in which the UN fired a Kenyan general in South Sudan without consultation with the Kenyan government.

The Kenyan leader says that the removal of the Kenyan commander was “an affront to Kenyan dignity,” insisting that Kenya deserves greater recognition for its efforts in contributing to regional security.

Last November a UN special investigation found that a lack of leadership by the the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), spearheaded by Lt Gen Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki, culminated in a “chaotic and ineffective response” during heavy fighting in the capital between 8 and 11 July.

Peacekeepers abandoned their posts and failed to respond to pleas for help from aid workers under attack in a nearby hotel compound, according to a summary of the report.

Aftier Ondieki’s sacking, an outraged Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the removal of Kenyan troops from UNMISS and declared that Kenya would also stop cooperating in mediation efforts for South Sudan.

Yet during a breakfast meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on January 29th, the new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres offered Uhuru to put a Kenyan in charge of the UN peacekeeping forces in Darfur, Sudan, saying this was meant as a gesture of confidence in the Kenyan military.

The Kenyan presidency subsequently announced, “Kenya and the United Nations have agreed to reset their fractured relations caused by a dispute over military deployment in South Sudan.”

Guterres is quoted by the presidential communications unit as saying, “I want the United Nations to be reconciled with Kenya. Let us make a fresh start. Kenya is a very important player in the region and I feel that we have to work together to secure peace and security. Let us put the past behind us”

“We want to move forward. We have full confidence in Kenya’s military. As a sign of our confidence in the Kenya Defence Forces, and in the Kenyan government, the UN would like to offer Kenya the Darfur command,” Guterres added.

Kenyatta assented to the ‘reset’, according to the statement, saying that officials will meet later in Addis Ababa to work out details of the new arrangements.

The events leading to the eventual sacking of the Kenyan general took place in Juba, the South Sudanese capital, where rival factions who had signed a ceasefire suddenly began fighting in July 2016, also attacking civilians at UN bases.

According to a report by research organization CIVIC – the Center for Civilians in Conflict – the UN peacekeeping mission there suffered serious command and control problems that inhibited its response to this violence. It identified systemic problems such as a mission-wide lack of contingency-planning, which Kenya’s government says should not have been blamed on one Kenyan.

But the UN’s own investigation, led by retired Dutch Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert concluded that “a lack of leadership on the part of key senior mission personnel culminated in a chaotic and ineffective response to the violence.”