UN panel blames Kenyan MP for incitement in S. Sudan conflict

A panel of United Nations experts on South Sudan has blamed Roysambu MP Weston Wanjohi Wahome for compromising Kenya’s position as a neutral broker in the South Sudan conflict, citing his activities last year on behalf of the Juba government, including incendiary remarks.

In a report to the UN Security Council last week, the Panel of Experts cited the arrest and repatriation last year by Kenyan authorities of the spokesperson of SPLM/A in Opposition, James Gatdet Dak.

Both the UN Panel and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) consider the deportation illegal. At the time, UNHCR spokesperson Cécile Pouilly stated, “Mr Dak had previously been granted refugee status by the Kenyan authorities. Mr Dak’s forced return is a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, which is the cornerstone of international refugee law.”

Subsequently, in January 2017, two South Sudanese citizens Aggrey Idri and Dong Samuel Luak, who were both also members of the SPLM/A opposition group, disappeared in Nairobi. Human Rights Watch says, “The men are believed to have been abducted by or at the request of South Sudanese officials and taken illegally to South Sudan, where they are likely to have been abused as so many other detainees before them.”

According to the UN experts’ group, MP Weston Wanjohi Wahome is prominent among Kenyan politicians who have campaigned against South Sudanese opposition groups, thereby compromising the position of Kenya as a neutral regional broker.

Wanjohi calls himself the regional coordinator of the ‘Friends of South Sudan in East Africa.’

When Kenya forcibly returned Gatdet Dak, Wahome taunted him on Facebook by posting “I never thought someone could sweat in cold weather. Safe journey back home and say hi to Mathiang Anyoor!” — a reference to a South Sudanese tribal militia loyal to the government.

The MP’s Facebook page “regularly posts other veiled threats and incitement against South Sudanese opposition groups, especially those based in Kenya,” the UN group reported.

“These developments have led the opposition to perceive the region as having sided with SPLM/A in Government, and several senior opposition leaders have directly expressed doubts to the Panel about the existence of neutral mediators in the region,” concludes the UN report.

A confidential annex to the UN report was also passed to the UN Security Council, containing additional information on the abductions carried out in Nairobi. The report says that the secret annex names individuals involved in the disappearances.

Another Kenyan MP responsible for Kenya’s security docket had led a delegation to Juba shortly before Gatdet’s abduction. But his name is not mentioned in the public version of the UN report.

Jonathan Pedneault, researcher with Human Rights Watch, says the forced disappearances in Nairobi point to the “potential collusion between South Sudanese and Kenyan actors in a crime.”

“Luak and Idris’ forcible disappearance shows that South Sudanese actors are willing to cross borders to silence critics. This is an especially worrying development considering how many human rights activists and civil society leaders have had to flee South Sudan since the war started,” he wrote in a piece published Sunday.

Similarly, Kenya Human Rights Commission Executive Director George Kegoro wrote in Friday’s Daily Nation of collusion between Kenyan politicians and South Sudan’s “military elite,” saying that the close relationship prevents Kenya from helping resolve the conflict in South Sudan.

During the 2005-2011 interim period and 2011-2013 post-independence period in South Sudan, “former liberation fighters-turned generals forged very close personal relationships with Kenyan politicians… which have since turned into lucrative business links,” explains Kegoro.

“These vested interests are at the core of Kenya’s inability to respond effectively to the crisis.” He argues, “The complicity of the Kenyan elite in benefiting from the conflict exposes our institutions to a huge amount of economic, political and security risk.”

For its part, South Sudan’s government has denied having custody of Luak and Idris, following their abduction in Nairobi in January. But Human Rights Watch says its sources confirmed that Luak and Idris were taken to the National Security Service headquarters in Juba in January, before being transferred to an unknown location.