Reports that South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has launched much-awaited national dialogue come as a huge relief to the suffering people of South Sudan. A political row that erupted three years ago after Mr Kiir sacked his then estranged deputy Riek Machar, followed up later by an attempted coup has spiralled into a full-blown armed conflict that has literally taken down the world’s newest country.
The hostilities have so far claimed more than 10,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million while at least 250,000 have sought refuge within UN peace dashing hopes of a peaceful settlement. Mr Kiir’s declaration of ceasefire is one step no less significant that will no doubt reinforce the dialogue initiative. Critics of the initiative including Dr Machar’s own party SPLA-IO have termed the national dialogue a “political entice” which aims to consolidate Kiir’s hold on power and that it is a red herring meant to take away the attention from a contentious 2015 peace agreement.
As things stand, Mr Kiir’s gesture should be lauded. Kiir’s hold on the country was weakening and it would have been counterproductive were he even to reject talks with Machar. Both of them have blood on their hands.
He needs him as much as Machar needs him to run the country. And that is why regional powers like Kenya should step in to force the hand of the exiled Machar. This newspaper has argued before that Kenya needs to do more than send troops to stabilise the situation. On its own, Kenya still holds the lever by which it can force the two to choose peace and abandon violence and destruction. We argued that Kenya needed to make it clear to Kiir and Machar and their associates that killing will not be tolerated; that their families and close henchmen will not enjoy peace and quiet in Kenya while fomenting trouble at home.
Kiir has shown a willingness to get South Sudan on the peace path. He should be supported. Ultimately, it is up to the people of South Sudan to decide on the future of their country, but the rest of the region, least of all, Kenya, cannot afford to wait and see.