Kenya’s President William Ruto has appointed his predecessor, former President Uhuru Kenyatta, as a peace envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.
As president, Kenyatta was previously involved in peace efforts in both countries, which are dealing with resurgent rebels and ongoing war. While Kenyatta’s new role as peace envoy has been welcomed, analysts say mediation in the DRC and Ethiopia will be no small challenge.
Ruto said Kenyatta accepted the task and will be working on behalf of Kenya.
Kenneth Ombongi, a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi, said continuity is vital in finding a peaceful solution to a conflict.
“[Kenyatta] comes into it with some level of continuity which is important for dealing with delicate issues that touch on peace, reconciliation, and also post-conflict development… that’s extremely important,” Ombongi said. “He comes with a very clear memory of what has been going on and what the development has been.”
In April, Kenyatta hosted DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and some rebel groups operating in the east of the country for peace talks. East African Community leaders subsequently agreed to deploy regional troops to the eastern DRC in a bid to restore normalcy in the region.
In November last year, Kenyatta visited Ethiopia to work on peace efforts and bring together the government and rebel group Tigray People’s Liberation Front in the country’s north.
Professor Chacha Nyaigotti Chacha, an expert in diplomacy and international relations, said Kenya stands to benefit from the peace efforts it’s undertaking in the region.
“This is a national, regional and international assignment and it’s important that assignment is undertaken because when these countries neighboring Kenya in the East Africa Community region, as well as the Horn region, when they are peaceful, then Kenya is also peaceful and Kenya can, for example, derive a lot of gains especially as far as trade, communication and transport are concerned,” Chacha said.
Ombongi said Kenyatta will likely get a cool reception from countries that didn’t like his foreign policy when he was president, especially Ethiopia.
“The relationship between Addis Ababa and Nairobi has been what we describe in archaic language –ish –ish, he said. “So he will face certain challenges but of course, there is a possibility that his status as a senior statesman can very easily actually work to his advantage.”
Calls for peace in the DRC and Ethiopia have grown, but the warring factions have yet to agree on the issues to be discussed or who will chair the peace process.
Chacha said Kenyatta will deal with rigid warring sides that are not afraid to walk out of the peace process and continue with the armed conflict.
“The challenges he will face are going to be challenges of the groupings in these countries that there is an antagonistic grouping of some who are belligerent,” he said. “They usually agree to talk but sometimes they don’t fulfill their commitment to ensuring that they can return to the peaceful coexistence in their countries.”
The U.S. government and the European Union have welcomed the appointment of Kenyatta and said they are ready to support the efforts to bring lasting peace to the two countries.