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Kenya can bail out South Sudan, but with strict conditions

By The Standard | August 23rd 2016

That the situation in South Sudan was dire was never in doubt.

Last week's plea by a delegation from South Sudan to Kenya for humanitarian and economic aid must have pressed the panic button across the region.

The time to act is now because South Sudan faces socio-economic ruin unless measures are not taken immediately. The diplomatic heft that US Secretary of State offers for peace and stability cannot be underestimated. The United State's offer of Sh4 billion in humanitarian aid and the pledge for 4,000 peace keepers hopefully will turn the tide.

Evidently, war is expensive. The war that has devoured South Sudan for nearly two years has been compounded by falling international oil prices. Moreover, oil production has dipped to levels last seen before independence in 2011.

A peace deal to end the fighting fell through in April thrusting the mineral-rich and oil-rich country deeper into chaos and anarchy. The hostilities in Africa's newest country have so far claimed more than 10,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million while more than 250,000 have sought refuge within UN peace keeping bases.

Both President Salvar Kiir and his former estranged Vice President Riek Machar have blood on their hands.

And even in spite of that, neither protagonist is willing to take responsibility for the hostilities that erupted in December 2013, barely two years after their hard-earned independence from The Sudan after Mr Kiir sacked Dr Machar. A political row between the two then spiralled into a full-blown armed conflict.

The blame games and apparent lack of sincerity and political goodwill have made it hard to find a permanent solution to this problem. The two come (Mr Kiir and Dr Machar come from two predominant tribes; the Dinka and Nuer respectively). Quite naturally, the conflict took a tribal angle.

Though the level of destitution in South Sudan is worrying, Kenya should not give South Sudan a blank cheque. Whereas the extension of food aid and budgetary assistance is compelling enough, this newspaper takes the view that that is akin to treating the symptoms rather than fixing the root cause of the problem.

This newspaper has argued before that regional powers, especially Kenya, have every reason to be concerned about the violence in South Sudan. In any case, Kenya has the levers by which it can force the hand of the two main protagonists; Riek Machar and President Salvar Kiir to choose peace and abandon war-mongering, violence and destruction.

Kenya should make it clear that their family and kin will not enjoy peace and quiet in Nairobi suburbs while they do nothing to stop trouble back at home.

It could for example, slap them with travel restrictions. By slapping the leaders and their families with travel sanctions and freezing their assets, Kenya will have done more to force the feuding parties to the negotiating table.

Ultimately, it is up to the people of South Sudan to decide on the future of their country. But the rest of the region, least of all, Kenya cannot afford to wait and see. Kenya has played a lead role in peace initiatives.

That should continue, but it should make it clear to the warring factions that war is not an option.

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