Troubled Horn of Africa through the eyes of peace envoy Kalonzo

The lead mediator in the region discusses ongoing conflicts in the Horn of Africa and his peace efforts

In Summary

• Kalonzo is Kenya’s special envoy to South Sudan and is still involved in  peace talks 10 years after the birth of the youngest African state.

• The former VP, who has declared his interest in the 2022 presidential race, has served two stints as Foreign minister under President Moi and his successor Mwai Kibaki.

Kenya's special envoy to South Sudan Kalonzo Musyoka with President Salva Kiir at the Office of the President in Juba on May 4.
SPECIAL ENVOY: Kenya's special envoy to South Sudan Kalonzo Musyoka with President Salva Kiir at the Office of the President in Juba on May 4.

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka on Sunday will be awarded the Icon of Democracy Award by the Voice Magazine that pictures him on the cover.

The African magazine published in the Netherlands says it nominated the former Vice President for his peace efforts in the Horn of Africa and across the continent.

“In the making of what Africa is today —  from peace treaties in the DRC to formation of South Sudan and upholding its fragile democracy to Somali negotiation — sat an Africa Diplomat," it said of Kalonzo.

"[He is] one who has tested the pains and joys of the trials Africa has gone through, yet rose from the ashes to prominence, serving his country, Kenya, Africa and the globe as a whole.

“While serving in the government, he has had to spend more than a decade out of Kenya, holding talks, deliberations and negotiations to help keep peace in those countries. His Excellency Dr Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka understood how important keeping peace in countries surrounding his beloved Kenya was, not only for the prosperity and peace of Kenya but the whole of Africa,” it added.

Kalonzo is Kenya’s special envoy to South Sudan, and is still involved in the peace talks 10 years after the birth of the youngest African state, which he helped midwife.

In an wide-ranging interview with the Star's Eliud Kibii on Monday, Kalonzo said the award was a big honour.

Kalonzo, who has declared his interest in the 2022 presidential race, has served a Kenya’s Foreign minister under both President Daniel Moi and his successor Mwai Kibaki.

He discussed the intrigues and his role in peace processes amidst  ongoing conflicts in the Horn of Africa.

Wiper Party leader and Kenya's Special Envoy to South Sudan Stephen Kalonzo during an interview at his office in Karen, Nairobi, on September 13
Wiper Party leader and Kenya's Special Envoy to South Sudan Stephen Kalonzo during an interview at his office in Karen, Nairobi, on September 13

South Sudan marked 10 years of independence in July. But it has been termed an unhappy birthday. There are attempts at a regime change. Does this concern you as the special envoy?

It seriously concerns me.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta asked me to be Kenya's special envoy, I gladly accepted and the first thing I managed to get them to resolve quickly was the big dispute over the number of states.

President Salva Kiir insisted on 32 plus 1. The one is the oil-rich state state of Abyei, which is still disputed between the North and the South.

So, President Salva and his team are in SPLM-IG (In Government) and there is SPML-IO (In Opposition). I tell them, for goodness sake, I used to be Kanu’s organising secretary for 12 years and I believed nobody could leave Kanu but we eventually had to bite the bullet and open Kenya to multiparty democracy.

That's why I moved from Kanu to become a serious political player.

Even you, [Vice President] Dr Riek [Machar], why do you insist on IO? Everybody is claiming the name SPLM.

But I'm quite sure going forward, they are going to have to form other political parties, because I have been talking to them about the need to open up a democratic space.

Through the efforts of our ambassador there, the late Chris Mburu, and myself, we were able to convince President Kiir to accept not 32 plus 1 states, but 10 states. He added three administrative areas.

I went back to Dr Riek, who was stuck at 24 plus 1 and said, my Friend, if you don't accept this, then we don’t have much options. We did this with South Africa's Deputy President David Mabuza, who is also the country's special envoy.

I'm happy they have now sworn in a new parliament. That was very critical, because there's a revitalised peace agreement which was signed in Addis Ababa, which has as well  played a very key role in the peace process. That is why I worked closely with Ethiopia Foreign Minister Seyoum Mefsin and other Igad ministers. 

Very important roles were also played by America and Norway at that time. US General Colin Powell, who was the Secretary of State when we brought Dr Garang and others together, flew all the way to Naivasha.

South Sudan is supposed to have elections in 2023. Do you think they will happen?

I hope they will because their parliament is in place and they have been reviewing their constitution — a Kenyan lawyer is their constitution expert. We're encouraging them.

At the end of the day, the responsibility is in their hands to make their country. The fact is the new Republic of South Sudan is not reversible. There will be players coming in and going out, they may fight, they may kill each other, but there's a new country.

Therefore, I keep on encouraging President Salva and now First Vice President Dr Riek Machar to work in the best interests of their country.

That country is very close to my heart. And I keep on pushing.

We were in Rome and thanks to an article that was carried by the Star, the talks almost collapsed but we managed to hold them together.

Dr Thomas Cirilo and the team say, “Why are you asking us to go back to the country when they cannot even fully implement the revitalised peace agreement signed in Addis Ababa?”

But we tell them most of the outstanding issues we are dealing with are the security arrangements because it is like one country with two armies.

There is a need to unify “necessary unified forces”, which started with the process of cantonment, and then screening. After screening, they look at those who need to be retired and at demobilisation. Then others will then form the VIP protection, which is about 3,000 men.

That process has been slow and complicated by Covid-19 but they are moving slowly. We keep telling them they must have one national army. They are struggling with other issues but the country is moving slowly.

Your friend and former Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin was killed in the ongoing Tigray war. That must have affected you personally, and, of course, whatever happens in the region, also affects Kenya and the entire Horn of Africa. What do you think of this war?

To start with, Ethiopia is a very important neighbour to Kenya.

Since the days of Emperor Haile Selassie and President Jomo Kenyatta, the two are such good friends that the land for the Ethiopian Embassy in Nairobi was given by Kenyatta to the Emperor. And the site of  the Kenyan Embassy in Addis Ababa was given by the emperor.

We have never had border issues because, first of all, our  neighbour has a population of more than 100 million. So if there was a problem in Ethiopia, and we were to receive refugees, you can imagine the impact. Thus, there has been a deliberate foreign policy orientation that Kenya and Ethiopia should work closely together.

Of course, Ethiopia is Africa's diplomatic capital. And Nairobi is a UN capital. Some of us worked very hard to convince the late [UN secretary general] Kofi Annan to move Nairobi from just being Unep headquarters to being the UN Office in Nairobi.

So the problem with Ethiopia — and I don't know why the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi allowed it — is a clause in the constitution that says any region can secede. This is what I think has been happening with the Tigray Liberation Army.

Personally, I suggest the unity of any country is paramount. This is why I'm a strong believer in the unity of Kenya. We have 42 communities and now 43.

We are duty-bound to live together as a nation, because if we don't, then we can only kill each other. And I'm afraid there is the possibility now of the disintegration of Ethiopia. But we wish Ethiopia well.

When I received news about the killing of my friend Seyoum, I felt very bad, because we worked very closely. He was smoked out of a cave and killed.

Once started, any armed conflict becomes very difficult to stop. And the contradiction here is that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace because of the way he moved very quickly to resolve the border conflict over some deserted territory between Eritrea and Ethiopia. And they won international accolades for that.

I wish him well. Let him try his best to put the country together.

Kenya is a key anchor for peace in the region. But some say it is silent or not doing enough about Tigray. How does this perception of disengagement affect Kenya's position in the Horn of Africa and peacemaking?

I think they're strategic. I don't think Kenya can be accused of being silent on that conflict.

The President himself is directly engaged with his brother, the Prime Minister. I know President Kenyatta has been talking to Abiy.

In fact, he flew from Mombasa to Addis Ababa after hosting the joint education conference with UK PM Boris Johnson. He was trying to help his brother to resolve that conflict.

He didn't make it public because you can see the concerns. Sometimes you can do things under the radar to achieve results. And I think that's what President Uhuru is trying to do.

Again, within the UN framework, the fact that Kenya is a member of the Security Council means this conflict has attracted world attention, including that of the UNSC.  When matters are t that level, no country in the world can say they can escape.

Kenya’s Permanent Representative to New York, Martin Kimani, is also at the helm of these things.

On Somalia, there is a political and electoral standoff and  recently there was power struggle between the Prime Minister and the President. If things get out of hand, Kenya will be greatly affected. What is your reaction?

Somalia has been a sickly neighbour politically for many years since the fall of Siad barre in 1991. He actually had to cross into Kenya before he flew to West Africa, where he died in Nigeria.

From 1991 up to now, generations of Somalis have grown up not going to school, but only holding an AK-47 as their pen.

At that level, it becomes very difficult because that conflict becomes part of your DNA. But as it is our neighbor, we cannot do without Somalia.

When I took over from the late Minister [Elijah] Mwangale, who was handling the Somalia peace process in 2002, I pushed very hard. I remember calling Bethwel Kiplangat from Paris as we were handling the Mbagathi Peace Process.

I would want Kenya to pull out of Somalia because in our position as the frontline states of Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia, our policy was that none of us should step militarily inside Somalia.
Kalonzo Musyoka

The Somalis came out of Mbagathi with a constitution but instead of the world supporting the government formed in Mbagathi to go back to Mogadishu and get operational, there was lukewarm support, even by partners of Igad.

After that, we had those reversals.

President Kibaki, myself and others on the National Security Team agreed to exercise the right of pursuit, because of the tourists who had been killed on the Manda Islands. We pushed into Somali and we are still there.

Personally, I’d want us to review that position. I would want Kenya to pull out of Somalia because in our position as the frontline states of Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia, our policy was that none of us should step militarily inside Somalia.

Our business was to help them resolve this conflict peaceably. But when we moved in, we had complications. We have been hit by terrorists protesting the presence of Kenyan forces. Of course, we eventually joined Amisom.

I have heard Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni saying he wants to review his presence in Somalia because it doesn't look like that's the way to go.

The conflict must be resolved by the Somalis themselves, even as you say there's a stand-off between the Prime Minister and President Farmajo. They will resolve it their own way.

So as neighbors, our role is to encourage. To me this is a much more basic foreign policy approach than staying in a country because you become an occupation force. See what Americans have eventually done in Kabul, Afghanistan?

So I think when the time is there, we should plan a strategic withdraw from Somalia.

The mandate is ending in December. So you recommend that the mission ends?

The Africa Peace and Security Council should advise they  consider ending that mission so Kenya doesn’t pull out alone. It would be more honorable when Africa takes responsibility for the whole country’s future. No body can run anybody’s country. They have to do it themselves.

Having reviewed the region, would you say Igad, has been effective?

I don’t think the issue is about being effective. There is a lot Igad members need to do. Eritrea, for instance, pulled out and when they were asked to come back they had issues. But the other members need to do more to revitalise Igad.

You have been involved in the DRC peace process. And even if it is being admitted to the EAC, there are still problems in the eastern region. Is it the right time?

I fully support the DRC joining the community because it gives the EAC more muscle in terms of economies of scale. But it can also bring the problems of the Eastern DRC.

But I know President Felix Tshisekedi’s priorities — because I was a witness to the coalition signing with Kabila on behalf of President Kenyatta — is stabilising the Eastern DRC.

(Edited by V. Graham) 

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