• Force needed to protect civilians after recent violence
  • Kerry praises progress made by African Union force in Somalia

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged East African nations to send 4,000 troops to bolster a United Nations peacekeeping force in South Sudan while announcing $138 million in humanitarian aid for the civil-war-wracked nation.

“This force is not an intervention force, it is there to protect innocent civilians,” Kerry told reporters Monday in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, where he discussed regional security with President Uhuru Kenyatta and other government officials.

Kerry also praised an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, known as Amisom, for making “extraordinary progress” in helping the government in Mogadishu battle the al-Qaeda-linked militant group, al-Shabaab. Kenyatta told Kerry that East African nations participating in the Amisom force will begin withdrawing their troops from Somalia in 2018 because of the improved security.

Kerry is visiting Kenya before traveling to Nigeria, where he will meet President Muhammadu Buhari and discuss security issues, including attacks by the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram. In East Africa, he focused on stemming violence in Kenya during elections next year, the South Sudan crisis, as well as Somalia, where the U.S. has used drones to target al-Shabaab.

‘Beaten Backward’

“Al-Shabaab has been beaten backward and the economy is growing, and the government is gaining capacity in taking over,” Kerry said at a televised press conference. “Obviously we need to do more and we understand that. We need to up the effort and complete the task to honor progress and the sacrifices that have been made.”

Earlier, Kenyatta told Kerry that East African nations participating in the Amisom force will begin withdrawing their troops from Somalia in 2018 because of the improved security. Amisom, which comprises troops from Burundi, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, has been battling al-Shabaab’s insurgency for the past decade. In August 2011, it forced the militants to withdraw from the capital, Mogadishu, and has subsequently recaptured swathes of territory in southern and central Somalia previously under al-Shabaab control.

Kerry also urged leaders in South Sudan to end sectarian violence that has killed tens of thousands of people. Former deputy President Riek Machar fled the capital, Juba, after violence flared over five days last month, throwing into turmoil a peace deal seeking to end the nation’s conflict. He’s currently in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the UN, and has been replaced as vice president.

“It’s up to the leaders of South Sudan and the people of South Sudan and the political parties and their neighbors to weigh in on what is best or not best with respect to Machar,” Kerry said. “I think it’s quite clear that legally, under the agreement, there is allowance for the replacement and the transition of personnel.”

South Sudan has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil reserves, but is pumping as little as 120,000 barrels per day because of the conflict, which has left Upper Nile the only state still producing crude.

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