Kenya’s veteran politician, Raila Odinga is leading efforts to reconcile the warring factions in South Sudan, following the regional body’s proposal that president Salva Kiir holds face-to-face talks with rebel leader Riek Machar.
Odinga, who has been hailed for his conciliatory and bridge building approach in Kenyan politics has on several occasions demonstrated mastery in forging alliances with allies and rivals alike. His latest reconciliation with Kenya’s president following a chaotic 2017 election has restored stability in the East African nation.
South Sudan, which split off from its northern neighbor Sudan in 2011, has been gripped by a civil war sparked by political rivalry between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.
Odinga met president Kiir two weeks ago after another round of the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) led talks failed in Addis Ababa.
The meeting was welcomed by members of Machar’s team who asked that their leader is released from house arrest in South Africa and allowed to participate in the talks.
‘‘We are aware that Raila met President Salva Kiir in Juba, and we are looking forward to a meeting with Dr Machar too. We hope that this initiative is further helped by Kenya by authorising Raila to try and bridge the gap,” Henry Odwar, the lead negotiator from Machar’s side said.
Odinga is expected to travel to South Africa this week to meet Machar and further progress towards the actualisation of a face to face meeting with the South Sudan president.
Kiir’s government has welcomed the proposal for a face-to-face meeting, and also endorsed IGAD’s resolution to end Machar’s house arrest.
The president was also recorded saying he had forgiven his former deputy, pledging to guarantee his safety in Juba.
South Sudan’s information minister Michael Makuei told VOA Africa that he hopes the Kenyan leader convinces Machar to denounce violence and re-negotiate some of the rebels’ proposals that have hindered agreement on a peace deal.
“The first and most important thing is denunciation of hostilities. Within these proposals that have been presented, some of them are almost impossible to implement, and they don’t in any way amount to reaching peace soon. So, he should actually work to soften the position of the opposition,” Makuei told the VOA radio program South Sudan in Focus.
Odinga’s initiative is expected to complement IGAD’s peace talks which ended prematurely after parties could not agree on a power-sharing structure or details about how to absorb rebel forces into the South Sudan army.