A Kenyan general has been appointed to lead the UN’s military force in South Sudan.
Lieutenant-General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki will be the commander of more than 12,500 troops from 55 countries that form the armed component of the UN Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss).
He was appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday.
The 56-year-old will replace Lieutenant-General Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam of Ethiopia, whose tenure ends on June 17.
In a statement from New York, Mr Ban said he was confident that Lt-Gen Ondieki, who brings to the position more than 34 years of national and international military experience, would play a pivotal role in the search for peace in the troubled nation.
“Having served as Deputy Army Chief of Staff-Command and Control of Kenya Army Forces since 2013, Ondieki was previously General Officer Commanding Western Command, Kenya Army, from 2012 to 2013, and Land Forces Component Commander of the Kenya Defence Forces in Operations from 2011 to 2012,” reads part of the statement.
Mr Ban thanked the outgoing commander for his dedication. Speaking to the Sunday Nation in New York on Saturday, Kenya’s envoy to the UN, Mr Macharia Kamau, said he had expressed Kenya’s gratitude to Mr Ban for “appointing a deserving Kenyan to such a key position”.
“It sure is a very good feeling for us out here as we have been pushing for these positions since 2011. I am personally excited to see a Kenyan take such a leading role in the UN conflict resolution system,” said Mr Kamau.
“I also would also like to point out that it also took the direct intervention of President Uhuru Kenyatta to make this a reality,” he added without elaboration.
Lt-Gen Ondieki, a father of three, holds a bachelor’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from the African Nazarene University in Nairobi and is also a graduate of the War College in China, and of the Command and Staff College in the US.
A journalist who interacted with Lt-Gen Ondieki on various occasions while reporting about the entry of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) in Somalia, said on Saturday that the new Unmiss boss is a media-friendly and soft-spoken man who, despite not being the most eloquent of speakers, is gifted in crafting war strategy.
The writer also described him as the man behind most of the successes registered by Operation Linda Nchi before KDF joined the African Union Mission to Somalia.
Lt-Gen Ondieki was among the military top brass that led an advance team to Somalia before KDF troops moved there for Operation Linda Nchi.
He was involved in the liberation of a number of towns from the Al-Shabaab militia, among them Afmadow, Busaar, Ras Kamboni, Elade, Fafadun, Busaar and Belesc Coqani.
When KDF captured Afmadow in May 2012, Lt-Gen Ondieki was a brigadier at a Dobley-based sector that coordinated the operation.
In recognition of his contribution to the war in Somalia, President Uhuru Kenyatta in December 2013 appointed him to the position of Deputy Army Commander in a military shake-up following the September 21, 2013 attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall.
Lt-Gen Ondieki’s fast rise within the ranks in the military system is attributed to a tribal balancing policy in the military. There are very few generals from the Gusii region in Kenya’s army.
In his new role, he will be continuing the Unmiss mission that started in July 9, 2011 “to consolidate peace and security, and help establish conditions for development in the Republic of South Sudan” according to a UN document detailing the Unmiss background.
He is, however, not new to international missions. In 2003, he was the commanding officer of the Kenyan Batallion 10 during the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone; operating from a region called Masiaka.
And between 2010 and 2011, he was the Sector Commander of the UN Mission in Sudan (Unmis) that was disbanded when South Sudan seceded from Sudan.
His Friday appointment places him in the list of Kenyans who have held high-profile military positions in the UN.