1 May 2014

South Sudan: Kerry Calls for More Peacekeepers for South Sudan

On a six-day visit to Africa US Secretary of State John Kerry has met with regional politicians to discuss the situation in South Sudan which, he says, faces the threat of genocide.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has met with the foreign ministers of Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Top on the agenda was the conflict in South Sudan.

Kerry used the occasion to ask regional nations to send in sufficiently large peacekeeping forces to end the killings in South Sudan. US officials estimate that at least 5,000 peacekeepers are needed to quell the violence that has gripped the world's youngest nation. For an assessment of the importance of the Kerry visit, DW spoke to Nairobi-based political analyst Martin Oloo.

DW: Martin Oloo, what do you make of the timing of John Kerry's first ever Africa tour as Secretary of State?

Martin Oloo: I think it's a perfect opportunity for the world, through the American nation, to express its concerns about the goings on in Juba and particularly the infighting and the near genocidal activities that we have been seeing. The world has actually been standing by as this new nation burns and for the first time the world is now coming in - not to take on responsibility but rather to urge neighbors and the East African community as a whole to spearhead the provision of the military forces that could enable a solution. Kerry's visit comes a little late, I would say, but it certainly deserves some support.

This conflict [between supporters of President Salva Kiir and his rival, former deputy Riek Machar) has been going on for some four months now. Is the US genuinely concerned about what is happening in South Sudan or is it just playing diplomacy?

I think the US has lost its voice and perhaps its stature in global affairs, especially in Africa. I think if you look at what is happening in the East and what is happening in the West, then you will see that the United States has perhaps failed to exercise its leadership. And perhaps when the issue of South Sudan came up, it should have been the responsibility of the US, among others, to come in as early as December or January in order to provide leadership. If that had happened, we may have seen less of the kind of atrocities that we have seen. We do not seem to have learnt from the Rwandan genocide. The world does not seem to have a solution to internal conflicts that can easily give rise to genocidal problems.

The African Union (AU) has been spearheading a campaign calling for "African solutions to African problems." But it seems that Africa's reliance on the West to solve the continent's problems is still there. Or is that not the case in South Sudan?

The problem we have with the African Union and attempts we have seen that are homegrown is the 'giving with one hand and taking away with the other' approach. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development ( IGAD) is leading the peace process. Its members include Uganda which is busy deploying soldiers and fighting alongside certain sections of the people who are part of the conflict. Now, if you want to solve a problem, you do not become part of the problem. The problem we have in Africa is that there is good talk but, at the end of the day, no AU member country would likely take on a sitting head of state who is a member of their organization, even if they knew he was responsible for the problems that are happening. We are seeing such a case in South Sudan.

But did they really need the US to come and tell them "You guys need to act fast to solve the crisis in South Sudan"?

Absolutely not! The problem is that they do not have a moral authority to resolve the problem because they themselves are a part of the problem. So when Uganda sits in IGAD and Ugandan soldiers are also busy fighting alongside the government in Juba, that is not helping the situation, it's only polarizing it. It only means that other members of IGAD who are not necessarily on the side of the government would be quietly supporting the rebels and in that case you have this problem escalating rather than it being mitigated.

What about other countries in the region, such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda?

Kenya has taken a position to say "let's try and resolve the problem." When the detainees being held by the Kiir regime were released into Kenyan hands, there was an attempt to say "Let us be part of the solution rather than part of the problem." They have sent in additional soldiers, not to be part of the fighting but part of the peacekeeping. That could be seen as the right approach. Rwanda has adopted a position where it seems to be sympathetic to the government. This is not what South Sudan needs right now. What it needs is people who can bring the two warlords together and tell them "Look here, you either resolve this thing together or you burn in it together. Your incentive to have it resolved is greater than the incentive to have it continue."

Martin Oloo is a political analyst based in Nairobi, Kenya

Interview: Chrispin Mwakideu

Editor Isaac Mugabi

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