Kenya must do all in its power to avoid genocide in South Sudan

Wednesday December 28 2016

United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) peacekeepers stand guard at an entrance to the Tongping UNMISS base in Juba. FILE PHOTO | FILE

United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) peacekeepers stand guard at an entrance to the Tongping UNMISS base in Juba. FILE PHOTO | FILE | AFP

By Ndung'u Wainaina

The conflict in South Sudan rages on despite a co-called Peace Agreement and even the formation of a Transitional Government of National Unity in April.

But recently, things have got much darker. Recent violence, including ethnically-tinged attacks on civilians, have stoked fears that the worst visitation of man upon man is playing out just over our border: Genocide.

This week marks three years since the fighting broke out, although South Sudan has not seen much peace since she was born five years ago.

Almost three million children have been forced to flee their homes in terror and an unknown number has been killed.

The escalating fighting in South Sudan will have immense repercussions for Kenya and will threaten the delicate stability of the entire East and Horn of Africa region.

Kenya will likely be severely affected by a proliferation of armed groups across its porous northern border, compounding the terrorist threat.

An influx of refugees on an unprecedented scale would ensue, as might the loss of massive private sector investments in South Sudan and significant personal risks to the large number of Kenyans working and delivering aid in South Sudan.

In short, Kenya — its government and private sector — desperately needs to do what it can to prevent genocide in South Sudan.

You might think that Kenya would act in our favour and in those of our neighbours? But our government and banking systems are not only watching this unfold, but are silent agents, complicit in the horrors across our borders.

A recent report by The Sentry revealed in unprecedented detail the manner in which the military and political elite in South Sudan are benefiting from war in the country — and how Kenyan banks are helping those leaders hold on to their ill-gotten gains by providing easy access to the Kenyan banking system.

Kenya is the big brother of East Africa. We have provided more than two decades of support to successive peace processes in the Sudans. We remain the country in the region best placed to reverse the descent into genocide — and our own people will be among the most benefitted if we succeed.

Our government and private sector should consider the array of tools at its disposal to end the violence in South Sudan. Withdrawing support now, especially pulling out our peacekeepers, who are the barrier between calm and chaos, would be to abandon its neighbour in its most desperate hour of need.

The pace of peace and reconciliation in South Sudan must be accelerated. Reforms or change cannot proceed without the full support of regional leaders.

As a founding member of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), the Kenyan government should flex its muscles on the specific team tasked with regional monitoring and evaluation of the peace agreement (the JMEC), and much more vociferously discourage both the South Sudanese government and opposition forces from launching further military offensives.

They should also vocally support the imposition of targeted sanctions against military and political leaders implicated in human rights abuses and commission of mass atrocities.

We also have the financial tools to act. A main obstacle to the continued search for peace in South Sudan is profiteering from the war by the military and political elite.

But the warlords driving the conflict are drastically overexposed; their wealth, property and families are almost entirely stuffed away in neighbouring countries, especially ones with sophisticated and stable banking sectors like Kenya.

At the same time, Kenyan private sector investors in South Sudan need to examine the cost of war against successful investments and gains made of doing business in South Sudan.

Our government should also ensure that political and military leaders who continue to incite violence do not find safe haven in Kenya by assisting efforts to recover illicit assets stored in Kenya as a clear indication that Kenya will not be complicit in commission of mass atrocities.

This will provide Igad with the much needed leverage to ensure military and political leaders are held accountable and that South Sudan’s future as well as the stability of the region is not held hostage by warlords unresponsive to the suffering of South Sudanese.

This is the point of no return for South Sudan. Genocide will follow if no action is taken now.

Ndung'u Wainaina is the executive director of ICPC