Uhuru’s peacemaking critical for Ruto’s goals
The East African Community (EAC) may yet find that one of the most significant decisions of President William Ruto’s presidency was getting outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta to continue as mediator for the conflicts in Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on its behalf.
Uhuru has achieved substantial, nay, remarkable progress, on these two hitherto intractable conflicts.
In Ethiopia, a deadly conflict that erupted in November 2020 pitted the Federal government of Ethiopia, assisted by the Eritrean Government, against the regional government of Tigray. The conflict has reportedly killed thousands and displaced millions. There has been huge destruction, and horrendous human rights abuses have occurred on both sides.
Uhuru has achieved rapid progress. The guns have fallen silent. The embargo by the Ethiopian government on Tigray has been lifted, and humanitarian assistance has started flowing into the region.
Flights by the national airline, Ethiopian Airways, have resumed into towns in Tigray, and a joint commission between the warring parties to oversee the implementation of the peace deal has been established.
A stable Ethiopia is critical to Kenya. Ethiopia is becoming a critical economic partner. Kenya is tapping cheap power from Ethiopia. Ethiopia is one of the three pillars of the ambitious transport corridor, Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET), that will enable Kenya open up its huge undeveloped northern region.
For DRC, its eastern region has been a no-go area, as M23 rebels have literally taken it over and imposed their will through violence. Civilians are killed habitually. The government has no idea what minerals are being expropriated from this region and by who, as it loses billions of dollars annually to brigands.
In quick order, Uhuru has managed to fuse together all EAC countries to, for the first time, directly confront M23 rebels. To reinforce Uhuru’s efforts, Ruto dispatched a contingent of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) to eastern DRC to keep the peace (read- confront M23 rebels).
Remarkably, Uhuru has finally brought the leaders of the M23 rebel group to the table. The rebel leaders have agreed to abide by the ceasefire, and have started withdrawing from previously held areas. The regional force, led by Kenya, is now taking over and securing those areas. For the first time, there is real hope that DRC will become peaceful, and guns will fall silent across the whole of that vast country. Indeed, this is the first time that the EAC has isolated President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, who for years has been accused of sponsoring and financing M23 rebels to keep DRC destabilized.
Today, Kagame remains a lone voice, speaking at cross purposes with the mood of his peers. The international community stands as one behind the Uhuru-led East African peace initiative, and Kagame has lost all capacity for mischief in DRC.
DRC offers huge potential for trade within Eastern Africa. Recently admitted to EAC, DRC is an alluring prospect for Kenya, whose companies have started making forays there. It’s a completely virgin territory.
Ruto has shown determination to get EAC focusing on what really matters- business. That must explain his putting away all previous acrimony between him and his former boss to invite him to midwife peace to a very troubled region. For Kenya, peace in the region promises huge benefits. Kenya remains the dominant and most advanced economy in the East and Central African region, and stands to be the greatest beneficiary of a region that is peaceful and fully integrated in terms of trade.
The duo must not stop there. South Sudan remains a vast killing field, its numerous peace treaties in shambles. South Sudan was one of Kenya’s most promising economic partners. That promise is in ruins. They need to pick that up. They must also turn their focus on troubled Somalia, one of Kenya’s most important neighbours socially, economically and from a security perspective. This duo enjoys huge goodwill and an ecosystem of contacts within the Somali community. If anybody can do this, this team can. They must go for it.