Uhuru at UN: Kenya warns identity politics a ticking time bomb

Tuesday October 12 2021
Uhuru Kenyatta

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta held bilateral talks with the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in New York on October 11, 2021. PHOTO | PSCU


Kenya has warned that the world will be insecure if countries do not address the identity and diversity questions among their people.

It is this danger that has compelled Nairobi to place on its October programme a high-level open debate on peacebuilding and how diversity affects the search for peace in conflict regions.

The meeting in New York will be President Uhuru Kenyatta’s first in-person session as President of the UN Security Council this October.

Kenya reckons most global problems faced today can be traced to everyone’s sense of belonging.

In common parlance, identity is seen as a feeling of belonging to a particular group, say religion, tribe, race or economic class. Diversity is how policies address the concerns of each group, to ensure there is equity in resource sharing and to prevent exclusion. No country in the world has achieved this, although some have performed better than others, Kenya argues.

A concept note shared with the media on Monday said global problems ranging from terrorism, rebel movements, tribal clashes over natural resources as well as ethnic balkanisation have been caused or fueled by a sense of exclusion by particular groups of people. 


It says that while the UN has tried to deal with challenges of human rights and equality, “there is an escalation in the dangers from this challenge (of diversity) because interlinked crises are prompting more people to utilise, and sometimes weaponise diversity as a way to respond to the disorienting changes from the economic crises.”

Those crises may have begun earlier, but have deepened during the Covid-19 pandemic, the document says.

Those crises may be a result of rapid urbanisation that displaces some indigenous communities, youth unemployment, growing inequality, environmental stress, as well as the rise of negative effects of social media which have fueled a sense of false life, it adds.

“Even in largely stable and relatively wealthy countries, there is a visible increase in the politicisation of diversity whether it is religious, cultural, economic, ethnic, or purely political partisanship.”

As is tradition with UN Security Council’s Open Debates, the President will preside over a session that is largely thematic, proposed by Nairobi but endorsed by the other Council members. Today’s session is titled ‘high-level open debate on peacebuilding and sustainable peace: Diversity, state-building and the search for peace.’

Kenya's Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo says the sitting will help countries share their experiences on how they are dealing with identity questions.

“The combination of the information revolution, globalisation, urbanisation, inequality, environmental stress and demography is arguably making identity the core determinant of conflicts,” she said.

“These conflicts are underpinned by group-based grievances which often fan deep-seated feelings of injustice and unfairness.”

Kenya has in the past used its ‘handshake’ between opposition and the government to show the world that encouraging inclusivity. And although critics have argued that mostly addressed the needs of elites, Kenya says it was the first step of building a united nation, for others to follow.

“A core imperative for effective peace and state-building is to successfully mediate important group dynamics and differences centred around such factors as colour, ethnicity, religion, history, social status among others, to reinforce the sense of broadly shared nationhood and belonging,” she said. 

Usually, with open debates of the Security Council, representatives from non-members of the Council as well as invited guests will address the sitting. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will have a slot to speak as well as academics familiar with the subject of identity and diversity.

As the President of the Council, Kenya (only countries, not individuals are assigned the presidency of the Council), will be holding this event as the second, of the five, most crucial meetings of the Council this October. President Uhuru Kenyatta though will be expected to make remarks as a representative of Kenya.