At the beginning of this month, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed was reported saying the following, I quote “Any South Sudanese under threat in Kenya is welcome in Ethiopia to live peacefully because we are brothers. The war in your country is not your wish, and people should not laugh at you. South Sudan is a great country, and you will need it in the future. So, do not look down at them today, think of tomorrow”.
Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed’s statement came against the backdrop of the crackdown on illegal immigrants by the Kenyan police. The South Sudanese were disproportionately affected often despite having legal residence in Kenya. The above words came from someone who knows very well what war could bring upon a country. He is indeed no stranger to the consequences of war as he was at the midst of the Ethiopian struggle. He knows that war could reduce a country into a mediocre entity. We have seen people who owned in the past properties, farms, livestock, and money but lost everything and ended up in refugee camps.
Michael Chiangjek, the Minister of Interior, stated to the press that they received reports of ill-treatment of South Sudanese by Kenyan police during the crackdown. He further added I quote ” In the last days, there are people arrested by Kenyan authorities including women, children, and even those with terminal illnesses. We regret the way South Sudanese are treated by the Kenyan police because we are members of the East African Community and we should not treat each other this way.”
The massive operation started by Kenyan police storming South Sudanese residences in Nairobi and Nakuru at night. Those arrested were mainly students holding Australian and American passports with valid visas. Some victims said the police demanded bribes of up to 100,000 Kshs equivalent to 1000 USDs per household. Those who didn’t have the money were hurriedly handcuffed and taken into custody. Some of the victims accused the Kenyan police of harassment, brutality, and torture. A pregnant woman was reported to be amongst those beaten in a household in Nakuru.
Many South Sudanese were shocked by how the Kenyan police treated their countrymen. They thought a special relation between Kenya and South Sudan does exist which precludes such inhumane treatment. South Sudan hosts over 750,000 Kenyans working mainly with the UN agencies, government, and the private sector. A significant number of them lack valid work permits. To avoid repeating my words, I am going to quote what I wrote in an article under the title “Making sense out of the unprecedented politics in the Republic of South Sudan on 06/08/2017”. “Some Kenyans were given influential government positions like Dr Renish Achieng Omullo. She was appointed as Special Envoy to the Federal Republic of Germany by a Presidential Decree. While some highly qualified South Sudanese were denied positions for the ridiculous reason of being overqualified, a foreigner gets employed in a sensitive post in a country that does not lack qualified persons”.
It’s in stark contrast to the presence of South Sudanese on Kenyan soil. Apart from those in the refugee camps, the overwhelming majority of the South Sudanese residing in Kenya are students while others are seeking medical treatment on their expenses. Few South Sudanese, if any at all are in Kenya to find employment. They are contributing positively into the Kenyan economy through house rents, legal acquisition of properties, bank deposits, tuition fees for students, and the hiring of Kenyans in some households. Also, people in all the neighbouring countries know that despite being refugees perhaps three times in their lifetime, the South Sudanese never got engaged in unhonourable behaviours akin to some refugees from other countries. They are not known to practice thievery, prostitution, fraudulent acts, gangsterism, and terrorism. In the relatively good days, while being part of Sudan, South Sudan wholeheartedly and generously accommodated refugees from some neighbouring countries most notably, the Congolese in the mid-sixties of the past century. They were never harassed but treated as brethren in their time of need. As a small boy, I witnessed the Congolese in Juba who went into farming, fishing and charcoal production. The locals embraced them as their brothers and sisters.
Of course, Kenya has got the right to stop illegal immigration on its soil. Any sovereign state must control its borders and fight criminal activities. We have nothing against that, but we do know that South Sudan is a member of the East African Community (EAC), that includes Kenya. As far as the public is aware, it gives citizens of member nations equal privileges including free movement, work, and trade. The South Sudanese in Kenya wouldn’t have gone through those reported ordeals if the EAC privileges were adhered to strictly. Even though his government’s policies were the cause of the refugee crisis, the following statement from the Minister of Interior is something for the Kenyans to ponder over – “We also want to assure our Kenyan brothers in South Sudan that they should continue with their work normally because we are one people”.
The reformist Prime Minister ascendance to the helm in April 2018 triggered a wave of swift reforms that included setting free detained politicians and journalists. He also lifted the State control over the media and hundreds of websites were unblocked. The economy was no longer run solely by the government which led to a sort of an economic boom. Ethiopia is among the fastest growing economies in the world.
But the most important step he took was to remove the detonators of the time bombs namely the stand-off with Eriteria and some other internal issues. And quickly, he embarked on dismantling them for good. After nearly two decades of border hostilities, Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed’s plane landed at Asmera International Airport on 08/07/2018 to meet President Asaias Afwerki. The Ethiopians and Eritreans regarded it as a historic visit that paved the way for a new dawn of peace and cooperation in the Horn of Africa.
However, his trip to Washington between 28 and 29 July 2018 did touch on some issues concerning the South Sudanese. In his meeting with the American Vice President Mike Pence, he expressed Ethiopia’s willingness to welcome the South Sudanese opposition on its soil. He also mentioned the Ethiopian economic interests in South Sudan and referred specifically to the oil resources. It’s time for the South Sudanese politicians to think of all the available opportunities for economic cooperation and development. The Grand Renaissance Dam is due to be completed in a few years giving Ethiopia enough power with a massive surplus. But still, Ethiopia needs oil while South Sudan requires a lot of power. Therefore, building the proposed pipeline that runs through the Ethiopian soil would cement the cooperation between the two countries in the oil and electricity sectors for mutual benefits.
Dr Lako Jada Kwajok
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