Unneighbourly conduct: Is Kenya the main regional haven for diplomatic bad boys?

President William Ruto and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo at State House, Nairobi. [PCS]

Weeks after President William Ruto declared the country visa-free, flinging open the gates to give meaning to the country as the cradle of mankind, his administration has found itself entangled in the neighbouring country’s affairs.

In the last few months, Kenya has found itself caught up in the complexities of regional political conflicts that are threatening to rob the country of its former appeal as the honest arbitrator.

Within three weeks, two neighbours have recalled their ambassadors, Uganda has moved to the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) accusing Kenya of denying its oil marketer a licence to operate locally and handle fuel imports headed to Kampala, and Tanzania continues its snide on the Kenyan administration.

On Thursday, a group of Kenyan parliamentarians waded into the diplomatic row between Ethiopia and Somalia after they called for the immediate cancellation of a deal signed between Ethiopia and the self-declared republic of Somaliland.

The MPs from the North Eastern region said the deal, which was struck earlier this year, grants Ethiopia a 50-year lease of a 20-kilometre stretch of seaport access in Somaliland, in exchange for Ethiopia’s support for Somaliland’s quest for international recognition.

However, the MPs, led by Eldas MP Adan Keynan, have termed the deal a “blatant provocation” and a violation of Somalia’s territorial integrity and political independence in a statement that had the blessings of the Somalia embassy in Nairobi.

But it is the hosting of Sudanese rebel leader General Dagalo at State House on Monday by President Ruto that triggered the Sudanese regime to recall its ambassador from Nairobi.

Before Khartoum acted, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) recalled its ambassador John Nyakeru, protesting the creation of a new coalition of rebel leaders in Nairobi.

The Kinshasa administration wanted Nairobi to explain the incident where Corneille Nangaa, the former chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni), created a coalition in the city during the electioneering period.

The DRC President Felix Tshisekedi’s government said it had also complained about Kenya to the East African Community (EAC) and also recalled its representative to the EAC in Arusha, Pierre Masala.

In July, the Sudanese government led by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) Abdel Fattah al-Burhan rejected President Ruto as the chief negotiator in the Sudanese conflict, claiming that he had taken sides.

This followed July 10, 2023, an Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) meeting in Addis Ababa, that picked President Ruto to lead an IGAD sub-committee called the Quartet Group, with the responsibility of mediating an end to Sudan’s four-month-old war. According to the UN, the Sudan war had displaced three million people both internally and across the border into neighbouring countries.

President William Ruto holds talks with Gen Abdul Fattah Al-Burhan, President of the Transitional Sovereign Council of the Republic of Sudan, at State House, Nairobi. [PCS]

In the Quartet Group meeting chaired by Ruto, it was proposed that a peacekeeping mission of the East African troops be allowed into Sudan to protect civilians, secure humanitarian corridors and stabilise the situation.

The conflict in Sudan was triggered by the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) under Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) under Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo popularly known as Hemedti, leading rival factions of the military government of Sudan.

The conflict began on 15 April 2023 with attacks by the RSF on government sites as airstrikes, artillery, and gunfire were reported across Sudan.

The Sudan government in July accused President Ruto of having business ties with the paramilitary RSF and the hosting of Hemedti at the Nairobi State House could have given the Sudanese administration enough justification for the accusations.

Days after the IGAD meeting in July, Lieutenant General Yasser al-Atta, assistant commander-in-chief of the SAF, accused President Ruto of interfering with Sudanese internal affairs.

“President Ruto should leave East Africa reserve forces alone, and instead he should come along with the Kenyan army to face us,” al-Atta said.

Yesterday, Prime Cabinet Secretary and Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Musalia Mudavadi said that Kenya was on good terms with its neighbours and had one interest - to ensure stability in the region - and that people were reading too much into the current developments.

“We will continue to play our mediating role on the peace mission across the region including Sudan. Our interest and President Ruto is leading on this, is to foster good neighbourliness and good relations across,” said Mudavadi.

Mudavadi wondered why the Sudanese regime had not recalled its ambassadors from other countries that had hosted General Dagalo.

Mudavadi said they were awaiting the end of the electioneering period to engage with DRC and re-energise the cordial relationship the two countries continue to enjoy.

Defence CS Aden Duale told The Standard on Sunday that the meeting between President Ruto and General Dagalo had been triggered by an earlier one between the IGAD Head of States on December 9, 2023, where Burhan agreed with the Presidents to facilitate a meeting between him and Gen Dagalo for peace and reconciliation for the sake of Sudan.

“Gen Dagalo met President Ruto last year after the General had had talks and met with Presidents Yoweri Musebveni in Kampala, Djibouti’s Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, who is also head of IGAD, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and later South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, so there is no reason to wonder why he was hosted at the State House,” said Duale.

Defense CS Aden Duale. [Samson Wire, Standard]

He said that Ruto as the chair of the Quartet Group tasked to bring peace in Sudan had the responsibility of hosting Gen Dagalo after he met with Burhan as part of building peace in the region.

“Kenya is the anchor state in the region, in IGAD, East Africa Community, the Great Lakes, and a big stakeholder in terms of peace in the continent and the globe. Ruto is keen to stabilize the region as he solidifies his push for a peaceful and united Africa. Why does it become a problem if he meets warring groups in a neighbouring country like Sudan?” wondered Duale.

He said that since its independence, Kenya had participated in 46 peacekeeping missions across the world in the last 60 years and the efforts have been further amplified during Ruto’s presidency.

“President Ruto wants peace for the region, in Sudan, in the Tigray and Northern Ethiopia region, in Somalia, DRC where he assigned former President Uhuru Kenyatta to push for peace, the Head of State is burning midnight candle to ensure that the region and the Horn of Africa are stable,” said Duale.

Duale said that Kenya was committed to peace in the region diplomatically and militarily, and would not be distracted from its commitment to a stable East African Community, Horn of Africa, Great Lakes region, and continent.

In the past, Kenya has been in an enviable position and played critical roles in the stability of the regions and the continent at large.

These include playing host to President Yoweri Museveni during his National Resistance Movement in Uganda in the 80s; pushing for peace in the conflicts in Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda, Burundi, Somali, and Sudan that led to South Sudan independence.