Kenya withdraws troops from South Sudan as 100 soldiers land in Nairobi

Kenya has started the withdrawal of its troops from South Sudan peacekeeping mission with 100 Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers arriving in the country from Juba.

The soldiers arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport Tuesday aboard an Ocean Airlines plane and 100 were expected later in the day.

The soldiers were part of troops seconded to the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) in Wau region.

They landed aboard the hired jet and were received by the commander of KDF’s Eastern Command Maj Gen Benjamin Biwott. Military spokesman Lt Col Paul Njuguna was present.

Maj-Gen Biwott said the withdrawal followed an order by President Kenyatta. This followed the sacking of Lt. General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki as Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan on basis that he failed to protect people of South Sudan.

“We are happy and committed to serve in the missions. We have been serving in the peacekeeping missions since 1979 in 24 countries,” said Maj Gen Biwott.

He said they will withdraw all the more than 1000 troops from South Sudan as soon as possible.

On landing at JKIA the troops who carried light racksacks were taken for a debriefing before they could be redeployed to their original stations.

Kenya has 995 of its soldiers deployed in Wau, 166 in Aweil and 304 in Kuajok – which are all the hotspots of violence in South Sudan.

It has 30 staff officers and 12 military observers in the three key areas.

While announcing the withdrawal of the troops, on November 3, President Kenyatta said they will no longer contribute to a mission that has failed its mandate and which has now resorted to scapegoating Kenyans.

“Peace will not come to South Sudan by blaming a Kenyan commander for the wider failings of the Mission to South Sudan. We intend to withdraw Kenyan troops from the mission and will discontinue our contribution of troops to the proposed Regional Protection Force,” he said.

He said events involving the UN Mission to South Sudan led UN Secretariat to place the blame for a systemic failure on an individual Kenyan commander.

UNMISS said it appreciated Kenya’s “long-standing relationship with UN Peacekeeping, and the contribution and the sacrifices of its troops.”

This was an indication of a fallout between Kenya and UNMISS over a standoff that emerged after a decision to dismiss an army commander of the peace mission.

UNMISS dismissed Lt. General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki as Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan on basis that he failed to protect people of South Sudan.

Major General (retired) Patrick Cammaert in his report said UNMISS response in Juba under the leadership of Lt Gen Ondieki was “chaotic and ineffective” hence its failure to respond to acts of sexual violence in and around the Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites.

The recommendation to dismiss Ondieki stemmed from a report covering the crisis that began in Juba in July 2016, a few days after Ondieki’s appointment on May 2016.

“On the uniformed side, the Force did not operate under a unified command, resulting in multiple and sometimes conflicting orders to the four troop contingents from China, Ethiopia, Nepal and India, and ultimately under using the more than 1,800 infantry troops at UN House.”

The report said the Mission failed to respond to the situation at Terrain camp, which is about 1.2 kilometers from UN House. When Government soldiers forcibly entered Terrain camp on July 11; there were approximately 70 civilians in the camp.

In protest of UNMISS’ decision to sack Ondieki, Kenya on Wednesday withdrew its troops and disengaged from the South Sudan Peace process – a process that it initiated and owned for years.

Kenya's Foreign Ministry defended Ondiek saying he was personally not to blame for what it called “systemic dysfunctionality" within UNMISS.

Kenya accused the United Nations of acting without consulting Nairobi in sacking the commander, who took the job only in May.

“The process leading to this unfortunate decision not only lacked transparency but did not involve any formal consultation with the Government of Kenya. This demonstrates complete disregard of our key role and responsibility in South Sudan,” the Ministry said in a statement.

Consequently, Kenya rejected Ondieki's sacking and announced it will no longer contribute to South Sudan’s peace process and will be pulling out the 1,229 troops it sent to South Sudan under the UN peacekeeping mission, citing “disrespect” from the United Nations.

In reaction, Kenya deported former South Sudan Vice President Dr Riek Machar’s spokesman James Gatdet to Juba.

Prior to the arrest, he had sent a press release on behalf of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO) endorsing the position taken by UNMISS to dismiss Ondieki.