UNSC race, Kenya diversifies issues to gain over Djibouti

Monday November 11 2019

A recent UN Security Council meeting in New York. The annual United Nations General Assembly brings together 196 delegations. Kenya and Djibouti are both vying for a non-permanent seat to represent the African Union. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Nairobi has diversified its campaign for the United Nations Security Council seat amid persistent contest from Djibouti who lost out from the African Union vote on endorsement.

At the official launch of the campaigns in New York this week, Kenyan diplomats roped in legendary athletes in a promotion meant to show “the contribution of Kenyan people to the world.”

Long-distance greats Tegla Lourupe, Eliud Kipchoge and Paul Tergat, rugby star Collins Injera and runner Brigid Kosgei were all showing envoys in New York Kenya’s ability to concur the world.

It was a message Kenya’s campaign leaders hope will convince UN member states to vote for Kenya when the General Assembly convenes next June to vote.

Kenya’s bid is being fronted by Special Envoy Tom Amolo (current Diplomatic and Political Secretary), Catherine Mwangi (Permanent Representative to the African Union) and Lazarus Amayo (Permanent Representative to the UN, New York).

But scheduled amid the Kenya Festival Week, the final leg of campaigns seeking to win the non-permanent seat for the period 2021-2022, was met with Djibouti’s persistence.


At a meeting for the Africa Group, the loose association of African Permanent Representatives to the UN in New York, Nairobi was pitching for its case as Djibouti sought weaknesses in AU’s endorsement.

The meeting at the AU’s Permanent Observer Mission in New York brought together diplomats from across Africa and chaired by Tunisian Permanent Representative to the UN, Mr Moncef Baati.

Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma pitched Kenya’s case. In a ten-point pledge already publicised before, Nairobi said it wants to build bridges, be a strong advocate for a reformed, strengthened and representative United Nations and rooted for a rules-based international system.

Kenya will promote a culture of peace, tolerance and of respect for human dignity and aspirations, she told the audience.

“As Kenya seeks to join the United Nations Security Council for the period 2021-2022, it firmly believes in the difference it can make to global peace and security,” said a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

“At a time of increased geopolitical complexities, Kenya’s experienced and safe pair of hands can be relied upon to help manage the global peace and security agenda with other members of the Council.”

With respect to the African Union, Nairobi says it will seek to strengthen link between UN and continental bodies, such that they are delegated to address local problems for local people.

Djibouti though argued that the idea of endorsing Kenya was invalid because appropriate organs of the AU had not approved the vote.

“Djibouti underscored the importance of upholding the “principles of rotation and frequency” in determining which country would represent Africa in the Security Council. This is meant to assure equitable representation of all countries – large and small!,” Mohamed Siad Doualeh, Djibouti’s envoy to the UN said.

“During the African Group meeting on Friday, Djibouti provided some clarifications. And underscored the fact that there was no AU endorsed candidate as yet. African candidatures for the seat of the UNSC are endorsed by the AU Executive Council and the Assembly,” he argued.

Djibouti says it will devote “all possible efforts and resources” to support the work of the United Nations, working for sustainable peace and development for all UN members throughout the world.

Last week, the African Union actually wrote to the UN, signalling Kenya was the endorsed candidate for the bloc.

It signalled that the Council of Ministers had approved the vote in which Kenya defeated Djibouti 37-13 votes back in August and indicated Nairobi was the sole candidate.

In meetings with various envoys from elsewhere, Nairobi spent time explaining decisions of the African Union which may normally be reached through consensus or secret ballot.

“It is a painstaking and prolonged process of moving from one-member state to the next, getting them to appreciate the circumstances (of endorsement) and hopefully getting them to support Kenya’s candidature on merit,” Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau told The EastAfrican from New York, insisting only Nairobi has the approval of the AU to contest, following a legal process of endorsement.

Though the African Union is not a member of the UN, it passed an all-member-endorsed policy in 2007 to routinely nominate member states to contest for UNSC seats “to act in its name.”

“The campaign will not be easy nor short, it will be protracted and difficult process and we will not know the results until the very end after the voting,” Mr Kamau added.

Djibouti initially agreed to the vote result but has since reneged on its concession after the AU poll in September, seeking to stand for the election when the UN General Assembly convenes next June in New York.

To be elected UNSC member, Kenya will have to garner at least 129 votes, or two thirds of the vote.

While Kenya’s campaign material has the blessings of the AU, Djibouti is banking on the Francophonie group, an organisation of mainly French-Speaking countries across the globe.

Last week, a conference of ministers of Francophonie released a dispatch, vouching for “fairness and rotation when voting in international bodies,” seen as support for Djibouti.

But the French-speaking countries themselves are also members of other bloc such as the African Union whose members agreed 12 years ago to nominate candidates “to act in its name” at the United Nations.

If Djibouti insists on running, the UN could witness two countries competing from the same region for the first time in three years. The Netherlands and Italy also failed to agree in 2016, so they shared the seat in their time, alternatingly.

Fighting for a seat reserved for Europe and Others Group, neither side managed to win more than 95 votes, well below the requisite 129 votes. And after five rounds of voting, they agreed to get a year each, instead of two years for one.

This arrangement can only be possible if the two sides agree with it, and submit a joint proposal to the UN.

In 1960, a race for the Europe representative went for more than 50 rounds between Poland and Turkey, producing no clear winner. They later agreed to share out their two-year term.

The UN Security Council is the UN’s most powerful body, charged with making crucial decisions on peace and security.