Uhuru says UNMISS 'failed to meet its mandate', Russia says mission 'in ruins'

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta says that he intents to 'immediately' withdraw Kenyan troops from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) saying the mission failed in its mandate, while Russia said that the mission is 'in ruins.'

Speaking at Kenya Military Academy in Nakuru County on Thursday, Uhuru explained, “A matter of concern has now arisen: Events involving the United Nations Mission to South Sudan led the United Nations Secretariat to place the blame for a systematic failure on an individual Kenyan commander.”

He was referring to the recent decision by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to dismiss the UNMISS Force Commander, who is Kenyan. The mission chief Ellen Loej has also announced her resignation. This came after a special UN investigation into events last July.

The UN inquiry, released on Tuesday, found that peacekeepers did not operate under a unified command and received multiple and sometimes conflicting orders. It said there was a "chaotic and ineffective" UN response to threats to civilians, aid workers and UN bases.

Uhuru continued, “We know that the people of South Sudan want peace. We know that the people of this region want peace in South Sudan. But we also know that peace will not come to South Sudan by blaming a Kenyan commander for the wider failings of the Mission to South Sudan. So therefore for our part we will no longer contribute to a mission that has failed to meet its mandate and which has now resorted to scapegoating Kenyans.”

He added, “So I repeat again that we intend to withdraw Kenyan troops from that mission with immediate effect and I say now that we will discontinue our contribution of troops to the proposed regional protection force. And last night I did direct that Kenya disengages fully from the South Sudan peace process.”

“I must state very clearly that Kenya serves in these missions not because we have to but because from the time of our independence we have been clear in our understanding and our desire for global peace and stablility in the full recognition that as part of the international community global peace, regional peace, also means peace for Kenya. However, that does not come at the expense of our dignity, honor and pride as a nation. And we will not allow ourselves at any moment, at any time to be taken for granted,” said the Kenyan president.

In a related development on Thursday, Russia criticized Ban Ki-moon's decision to fire a Kenyan peacekeeping commander in South Sudan as premature, saying the mission there was now "in ruins" after Kenya vowed to withdraw all its troops in response to the move.

"For us the decision was premature," Russia's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Petr Illichev said in New York. "We don't have a special representative [in UNMISS], she's leaving, we don't have a force commander. ... The whole structure is in ruins."

There are roughly 1,000 Kenyan peacekeepers in South Sudan. Kenya had also pledged to deploy additional troops to complete a 4,000 person regional reinforcement force for UNMISS. The UN peacekeeping mission protects about 200,000 people, the majority of which are ethnic Nuer who were targeted in massacres in Juba, Bentiu and elsewhere since December 2013.

Photo: Kenyan troops in South Sudan in October 2016 (UNMISS)