Moi, Garang

Chairman of the Sudanese People Liberation Movement Army John Garang (left) shakes hands with Sudanese second vice-president Prof Moses Machar as former Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi (seated) looks on, at a major reconciliation conference in Nairobi on April 19, 2005.

| File | Nation Media Group

President Ruto’s rejection in Sudan: Is Kenya losing its diplomatic power?

When Sudan junta leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan rejected President William Ruto’s chairmanship of a regional effort to resolve the ongoing crisis in Khartoum, one question that emerged was whether Kenya was losing its space as a leading negotiator.

Kenya has been involved in tricky mediations in Africa for five decades, earning accolades and respect as a critical player in the search for peace. The most successful was the birth of South Sudan, the Mozambique peace process, and the peace efforts in Somalia.

But in the current row over Sudan, Kenya found itself in unfamiliar territory. While the regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), had proposed a mediation schedule under the chairmanship of President Ruto that would have included a face-to-face meeting between the two warring generals, Sudan not only rejected that schedule but al-Burhan also rejected President Ruto’s chairmanship.

With Kenya’s rich history of engagement in conflict resolution, the rejection of Ruto is reflective of either a shift in regional powerplay or a battle of perception.

Kenya’s role as a mediator was first tested in January 1975, when Jomo Kenyatta led efforts to save Angola from plunging into civil war. Kenyatta, then a respected pan-Africanist, summoned the leaders of the warring factions, Jonas Savimbi of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, Agostinho Neto of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, and Holden Roberto of the National Front for the Liberation of Angola.

Mombasa meeting

During that Mombasa meeting, they agreed in principle to cooperate and share power in a transitional Angolan government until Portugal granted it full Independence on November 11, 1975. The Kenyatta-brokered accord would form part of the Alvor Agreement in which Portugal agreed to give Angola freedom.

The most important part of the agreement was that the leaders agreed that Cabinda, which wanted to secede, would be part of Angola.

Some historians argue that Kenyatta summoned the meeting in his capacity as an African statesman and that this was before the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) stepped in in July 18, 1975, when it established a conciliation commission to reconcile the warring factions after the Alvor Agreement began to face implementation challenges.

A month before the OAU meeting, hosted by Uganda’s Idi Amin, Kenyatta had summoned the three Angola leaders to a Nakuru meeting. Of importance were the integration of the previous liberation armies into a national army and the formation of a coalition government after the exit of Portugal.

Salva Kiir

President William Ruto with President Salva Kiir of South Sudan at the Office of The President in Juba, in December 2022.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Though the three leaders were divided along ethnic, ideological, and personal lines, Kenyatta got them to sit and discuss a ceasefire. “Despite the long history of extreme animosity between two of the leaders, Mr Neto and Mr Roberto, there was no open sign of acrimony today…The two men shook hands, called each other brother, and with Dr Savimbi, who has been a conciliatory figure throughout, worked late into the night at President Kenyatta’s lodge,” reported the New York Times.

After Milton Obote was overthrown in Uganda in July 1985, President Daniel arap Moi brought together rebel forces led by Yoweri Museveni and the military junta led by Basilio Okello and Tito Okello of the Uganda National Liberation Army. Kenya hosted marathon talks on Uganda, leading to the December 1985 Nairobi Agreement that boosted Moi’s image internationally.

The agreement, Moi said, “heralded the new beginning for Uganda”. The intention was to have a government that included Museveni, who had fought a four-year bush war against Obote, but excluded the post-Obote formations. “Moi’s foreign-policy initiatives were not wholly driven by national self-interest, but also by his belief that Africans should resolve their own problems,” the former President’s biographer, Andrew Morton, wrote.

Even after Museveni overthrew Tito Okello in 1986, Moi negotiated his return from exile in Sudan.

In May 1989, Moi was again involved in negotiating between the Mozambican government of Joachim Chissano and the rebel Mozambique National Resistance Movement of Alfonso Dhlakama. To get Dhlakama on the table, Moi had sent a team led by Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat to Renamo-held territory to convince him to open the Beira Corridor – an important rail and road link to Malawi from the Beira port.

The team convinced Dhlakama that by opening the shut-down corridor, the international community would recognise his influence and ability to bring peace to Mozambique. After these contacts, Dhlakama – travelling on a Kenyan passport – was hosted by President Moi in State House, Nairobi before flying to Italy for peace talks with Chissano.

In the same year, Kenya hosted talks between the Ethiopian government and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front led by Isaias Afewerki. The talks would legitimise the Eritrean claim for secession from Ethiopia, and Kenya had effectively played a significant role before the final referendum vote was taken. By 1993, Eritrea held a national referendum and got its independence from Ethiopia.

Kenya would also play a crucial role in settling the Sudan conflict under the auspices of Igad, when it helped to broker the January 1, 2005, Comprehensive Peace Agreements between the Sudan government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which was representing the South Sudan people.

Comprehensive Peace Agreement

This was one of President Mwai Kibaki’s initiatives, furthering the work done by his predecessor, Moi. The Machakos Protocol of July 2002 became a fundamental step towards the final Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 that finally saw the birth of a new nation. Kenya’s then foreign minister, Kalonzo Musyoka, has been hailed as one of the significant players in that peace process.

When President Kibaki chaired Igad, he oversaw peace talks that led to the formation of President Abdullahi Yusuf’s government in Somalia in 2004. Previously, the October 2002 Eldoret Peace Conference had been hailed as a most inclusive peace process, for it brought together 24 groupings to sign Declaration on Cessation of Hostilities. This was later followed by the Nairobi Agreement, which led to the formation of a transition government recognised by the international community. The government operated from Nairobi until the African Union agreed to deploy a peace support mission in Somalia.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta is currently involved in finding a truce in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Goma region as the facilitator of the East African Community, and as African Union peace envoy. Kenya has also deployed troops to the eastern DRC to join an East African regional force tasked with ending decades of bloodshed.

That there is some pushback on President Ruto’s appointment as a negotiator in the Sudan crisis indicates how the various players in the conflict perceive him. For his part, Al-Burhan has suggested that he would favour South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit as chairman of the meeting with his rival, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo of the Rapid Support Forces.

Al-Burhan claims that Kenya was politically conflicted. With   such a rejection so early in his Presidency, it remains to be seen whether Ruto will manage what his predecessors achieved in the diplomatic space.

[email protected] @johnkamau1