Sudan conflict: Why Kenya will need a smart 'grand strategy'

Smoke fills the sky in Khartoum, Sudan, near Doha International Hospital on April 21, 2023. [AP photo]

Often, Kenya finds itself in precarious geopolitical environments which force it to react as a country that is responsible for the wellbeing of its neighbourhood.

It is grappling with the unpleasant events in Sudan where former Janjaweed buddies, Abdel Fattah a-Burnham and Hemeti Dagalo, have turned on each other and have made Khartoum a battle zone that affects the entire IGAD region.

Leaders, such as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expect Kenya, a key IGAD member, to act. Although President William Ruto issued a statement warning that regional security was under threat, Kenya needs to do more.

Finding ways to respond effectively concerns Foreign Affairs PS Korir Sing'oei who reached out to Kenyan thinkers, led by Duncan Ojwang, for help. Ojwang invited representatives of universities and research institutions that deal with crises in security and foreign policy matters to brain storm on what Kenya should do while bearing two factors in mind.

First is that Sudan, a constant challenge to its IGAD neighbours and the African Union, lacks national solidity. It is prone to separatist liberation itches partly because it suffers from identity riddles, has no sense of belonging, and does not scare easily. Without unravelling those complexities, settling the crisis would be difficult.

Second, since perception of interests guide the behaviour of states towards particular geopolitical challenges, Kenya needs serious examination of its interests in Sudan and IGAD, long term and immediate, whether geopolitical or socio-economic. It also needs to strengthen its position by putting its political house in order.

Kenya confronts philosophical and practical challenges in the way it handles itself domestically and in the current crisis in Sudan. With its credibility an issue, it still has to answer the why and how questions. Stabilising Sudan is Kenya's geopolitical responsibility. In accepting that responsibility, it needs to address the issue of continuity in the likely aftermath of success.

It should have a long term projection and avoid the mistakes of the past in which, warns Ojwang, it birthed South Sudan's independence only to go to sleep and watch Khartoum return and control virtually everything in Juba. Since Khartoum is in trouble, Juba is then in trouble which in turn directly threatens Kenya's interests, including regional integration. Things, therefore, would probably be different if Kenya did not go to sleep on South Sudan. In negotiating South Sudan's independence, General Lazarus Sumbeiyo observed in a different forum, he did not have a think tank to consider the likely adverse consequences of success. Ruto may want to consult Sumbeiyo and maybe reflect more on history than he would like. With the why, and the likely danger signs, being clear, the how question still lingers because Kenya has to address real and manufactured obstacles. There is a symbiotic relationship between a country's socio-economic and political health and its standing in the community of nations or ability to act.

At present, Kenya is suffering from credibility eroding economic and political uncertainties which affects its ability to lead. Not all countries in IGAD or the AU or outside the continent are thrilled with Kenya taking the lead. Besides, not all concerned support the civilian rule implied in the transition authority.

Kenya has to act smart in 'grand strategy' ways. Acting smart would require ability to be unusual, to reflect deep on history for lessons, and to cultivate elusive trust. Getting the IGAD and AU mandate and working closely with the Arab League might help.

Requesting the UNSC to give logistical and other forms of support in order to secure the airport in Khartoum and facilitate movements would be good. In addition, there should be thought on the challenges of bringing all the parties to the table, maybe to a conducive Kenyan environment. Since threats to any party will not work, quietly inviting Burnham and Dagola, separately as individuals, might be smart.