Wary of loss of investments by its nationals and the influx of refugees into the country, Kenya has taken a leading role in preventing South Sudan violence from spiralling into a full-blown civil war by leading the mediation talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
A number of businesses, especially those outside Juba, have remained closed and some have been looted by the warring factions in the violence. According to the Kenyan government, most businesses in Malakal, Bentiu and Bor were looted by factions allied to President Salva Kiir or to his former deputy Riek Machar.
The three towns in Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei states have experienced the heaviest fighting, according to Kenya Foreign Affairs principal secretary Karanja Kibicho. “There was sporadic fighting in Juba, but that was contained. However, Kenyan businesses in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states were ransacked and are grounded,” Mr Kibicho said.
Besides, Kenya is wary of a refugee influx which would further strain the country’s capacity since it already hosts at least half a million Somali refugees with accompanying security threats.
On the business front, the safety and survival of Kenyan-owned businesses in South Sudan is a top priority. In terms of foreign investments, Kenya has the largest presence, according to the chief executive officer of the Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) Habil Olaka. Among the major Kenyan corporates in South Sudan are the Kenya Commercial Bank, Equity Bank, Co-operative Bank and the financial services group UAP Holding and Resolution Group among others.
Oil-rich South Sudan is also an attraction for many countries, Kenya included. The violence has seen a severe reduction in oil production as forces loyal to Dr Machar seized the main oil-producing region of Malakal in Upper Nile State.
The KBA boss predicted that Kenya stands to lose massively unless a solution is reached soon and called on the government to seize the opportunity and move in to normalise the situation.
President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed a special envoy, Gen (rtd)Lazaro Sumbeiywo, to lead the mediation between President Kiir and Dr Machar under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Mr Kibicho also dismissed the possibility of Kenya Defence Forces’ involvement in South Sudan.
‘KENYA HAS MORE TO LOSE THAN UGANDA’
According to Prof Karuti Kanyinga of the University of Nairobi, Kenya’s interest in South Sudan is both from a security and economic point of view unlike Uganda “which has always been openly biased in their political involvement.”
“Kenya has got more to lose than Uganda. The only way out is through power-sharing, but they will have to amend their constitution for that solution to happen. Without power -sharing, South Sudan may just remain unstable,” said Prof Kanyinga. But it is understood that President Kiir has ruled out any power-sharing arrangement with his rival.