STATEMENT BY HON RAILA ODINGA:
WITHDRAWAL OF TROOPS FROM SOUTH SUDAN POINTS TO A DEEPER PROBLEM:
On Tuesday, 1st November 2016, the UN announced that it had sacked Lieutenant-General Johnson Magoa Kimani Ondieki as the head of its peace-keeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Two days later, on 4th November 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that Kenya would withdraw its troops from the UN Mission.
Two days ago, the first batch of the troops who had served in the U.N. peacekeeping mission arrived home.
Today, media reports indicate that the country has now told off UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the South Sudan mission.
A U.N. inquiry had accused UNMISS of failing to respond to an attack on a Juba hotel during fighting in July. The UN report concluded that the July attacks on a civilian compound and a site that houses UN staff was due to lack of leadership on the part of key senior mission personnel and it culminated in a chaotic and ineffective response to the violence.
On the surface, it would look like Kenya is acting tough and the Commander-In-Chief President Uhuru Kenyatta is in charge and on top of things.
On the contrary, these developments are greatly troubling as they point to a severe system failure and acts of unilateralism that endanger our constitution while at the same time undermine our global standing.
As a country, we take utmost pride in our soldiers. They are our first line of defense. Many times they have been our best ambassadors on the global stage particularly through professional work rendered to the international community through UN Peace Keeping Missions.
Our troops have served with dignity in key UN Peace Keeping Missions, among them East Timor and Sierra Leone.
We take extremely seriously any actions that amount to questioning the professionalism of our soldiers because we know how professional they have been on UN missions.
While we take reservations at the manner in which the UN handled the alleged failure of the Kenyan commander, we have even greater misgivings to the manner in which the President responded to this alleged slight.
Even with our unquestionable pride in our men and women in uniform, our President could have acted better in defense of the pride of our soldiers and our country.
The manner in which the President has handled this particular incident and the unnecessary diplomatic row he is opening with the international community through the UN is regrettable.
Kenya has always stood for working in harmony with regional and global bodies in the interest of peace and security across the globe.
It is part of our long standing foreign policy to engage and work with the international community through established channels particularly the UN.
In turn, the International Community has stood with us in our hours of need, like during terror attacks and in the post-election violence of 2007-2008.
The unilateral decision by the President to withdraw troops from the UN Mission in South Sudan and the further announcement that Kenya will discontinue its contribution of troops to the proposed regional protection force go against our established policy of engaging with the world.
These actions by the President are ill-advised. It is not clear whether he was acting on advise of the National Security Council or on his own, driven by anger.
In this action, we see the President who has been displaying strange acts of rage and anger locally, taking this to the global stage, making decisions based on anger and emotion to the possible grave damage to Kenya.
Incidentally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said the President has a right to be angry and that he was mad at the treatment of his soldiers. This is wrong. We can’t lead the country and engage the global community guided by anger and madness.
These actions do little to raise Kenya’s standing among the community of nations.
The last thing the world needs is to engage with a country whose leadership can wake up and act unilaterally, giving instructions that jeopardise global peace without notice. The world thrives on predictability and procedure.
It is cheap of the government to claim as it is doing that some people were not happy with an African commander at the helm of the UN force. Kenya has commanded UN troops before to great acclaim by the UN itself. The South Sudan Mission was certainly not the first and, we are sure, will not be the last, if the President used right procedures and tone to engage and raise issues with the world.
It has never been our policy to retreat from the world. We have gained our space on the global stage by engaging with the world.
The government says it had not received the UN report that recommended the dismissal of Lt-Gen Ondieki by the time he was dismissed.
The government also says the UN team that was picked to investigate the incident did not give the Kenyan commander a chance to defend himself against the allegations.
We have also been told that when Deputy President William Ruto and senior government officials and diplomats visited New York for the UN General Assembly in September, they were kept in the dark regarding the inquiry.
These revelations are in themselves manifestations of something wrong and something failing with our engagement with the international community.
Kenya has never been taken lightly by the international community in the manner being portrayed by the government.
These are indications of diplomatic and systematic failure. Kenyans deserve full disclosure.
We have concerns beyond the manner of our engagement with the international community. We are a country governed by the Constitution. We are not an Oligarchy and we are not a failed state.
Our constitution spells out how Kenya can deploy and withdraw troops. That power is bestowed in the National Security Council. The Constitution at Article 240 says, “The Council may, with the approval of Parliament—
(a) Deploy national forces outside Kenya for—
(I) Regional or international peace support operations; among other things.
It is not clear whether these procedures were followed. Parliament was certainly not involved.
Unilateral actions by the President are usually the first pointers to intentions to overrun the Constitution, institute personal rule and take a country to a dictatorship and rule by decree. It must not be allowed to happen.
RT HON RAILA ODINGA, EGH
NOVEMBER 11, 2016.