Kenya has rejected the dismissal of Lt-Gen Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki as the commander of the UN peacekeeping forces in South Sudan and announced it was pulling out its contingent.
In a terse statement issued on Wednesday evening, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 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.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon sacked Lt-Gen Ondieki as the commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) after an investigation revealed he had failed to protect civilians during the violence in Juba in July.
But the Kenyan government disagreed, saying the responsibility to protect civilians could not be borne by an individual, given the complex nature of the conflict.
The decision irked Nairobi so much it has announced it will no longer contribute to South Sudan’s peace process and will be pulling out the 1,229 troops it sent to that country under the UN peacekeeping mission, citing “disrespect” from the United Nations.
“Instead of addressing these shortcomings directly, the United Nations has instead opted to unfairly attribute them to a single individual, in the name of the Lt. General Ondieki.
“This action is not only wrong but also insulates the Department Peace Keeping Operations (DPKO) from the hard questions it needs to answer, and the responsibility it must shoulder to facilitate the proper management of UNMISS.
“It is apparent to the Government of Kenya that the continued deployment of its troops in South Sudan is no longer tenable and is inimical to their safety and well-being.
“It has therefore decided to withdraw, immediately, Kenyan troops currently in deployment in South Sudan, and discontinue plans to contribute to the Regional Protection Force.”
The Kenyan commander, appointed only in May this year, found himself in the thick of things after violence broke out between the opposing forces in South Sudan. But he has been blamed for inaction, according to an independent investigation set up by Mr Ban.
“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 underusing the more than 1,800 infantry troops at UN House,” the report charges.
According to the report, the force commander appointed the Chinese battalion commander as the incident commander, commanding all the forces at the UN House in addition to his own battalion.
“Furthermore, the Force Commander ordered the Incident Commander to retain an explicit and ultimately confusing command link to Sector South headquarters in Tomping, which was physically cut off from the UN House for the duration of the fighting.”
Pulling out of the South Sudan peace process could be significant as Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta is the patron of the peace agreement signed last year between Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar. In fact most of the warring leaders live in Nairobi.
On Wednesday, it also emerged that a flexible position by South Sudan mediators to allow rebels to set up their camp near a UN base in the country became the spark that cost the Kenyan commander his job.
But Lt-Gen Ondieki, who yesterday travelled back to Nairobi to meet with President Kenyatta, may have been a victim of flawed structures both within the mission itself and the power-sharing arrangement that allowed Machar to return to government.