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South Sudan Analyst: Firing UNMISS Commander Long Overdue

U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) force commander Lt. Gen. Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki of Kenya, right, stands next to Ellen Loj, center, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, as they await a delegation of U.N. Security Council members in Juba, South Sudan, Sept. 2, 2016.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's decision Tuesday to fire the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) force commander is long overdue, say South Sudanese analyst.

Ban fired UNMISS Force Commander Lieutenant General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki of Kenya following a U.N. report released Tuesday that concluded its peacekeeping force in South Sudan failed to protect civilians and aid workers when fighting broke out in Juba in early July. Ban had appointed Ondieki in May and he took up his post in mid-June.

Political analyst Jacob Chol said UNMISS has weaknesses that hinder it from effectively carrying out its mandate. Chol said the international community must ensure that UNMISS undergoes critical reforms in the way it conducts peacekeeping operations in South Sudan.

“This basically has to do with commanding, logistics, and troops, contributing countries, etc., so the report basically brought out what exactly has been the cry for the South Sudanese that there should be a strong United Nations Mission in South Sudan that should protect civilians at the critical time of the violence,” Chol said.

He said the U.N. chief should have sacked junior commanders earlier in states like Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity, which witnessed massive violence against civilians in 2013. He said the incoming Regional Protection Force leadership should strive to understand the history that led to South Sudan’s conflict and its ethnic differences in order to play a meaningful role.

“You need a leader who is very strong, a leader who understands the violence in South Sudan and violence in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially the great Horn of Africa." Chol said. "You need a leader who has troops together with him from his or her country. So that now when the critical time comes like what happened [on] 8th July, his own troops from his mother country will not be able to leave him when he commands."

Zachariah Diing Akol, a policy analyst at the Juba-based Sudd Institute, said the primary responsibility of protecting civilians lies with the government.

Displaced South Sudanese families are seen in a camp for internally displaced people in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound in Tomping, Juba, South Sudan, July 11, 2016.
Displaced South Sudanese families are seen in a camp for internally displaced people in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound in Tomping, Juba, South Sudan, July 11, 2016.

“We know the relationship between the government and the U.N. has not been very good for some time," said Akol. "There is an issue of trust that the two sides have to overcome. If the U.N. tries to continue to behave as if it has the primary responsibility to provide protection in the country, that will not work.”

Juba resident Magdoline Auma, 52, said she does not understand why the UNMISS force commander was removed. Auma believes if the U.N. peacekeepers had intervened, they would have clashed with government soldiers and that would have worsened the conflict.

“If he were to react to fight back, it would have been even worse because if he would have to fight even those who are inside, they would have run away. But those who were running, looking for help inside, they were saved,” Auma said.

Franco Riek Atem, a second year student of economics at the University of Juba, who says he lost family members during the July fighting, commends the U.N. Secretary-General’s decision to fire Lieutenant General Ondieki.

“If it is their mandate, they should have to do it, because they have not come here. If they got something very dangerous, they run away. Like the one who has been removed, he failed to do his mandate,” Atem said.

South Sudan’s Deputy Information Minister Akol Paul Kordit declined to be interviewed regarding the U.N. report, saying he could not comment on the U.N.’s internal matters.