UN Security Council seat battle reveals fracture within AU countries

Saturday June 20 2020

United Nations General Assembly in session. Kenya won the UN Security Council seat for Africa. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Kenya’s bruising campaign to capture the United Nations Security Council seat has exposed fractures within the African Union, as Djibouti and its supporters fought to the very end in defiance of the continental body’s endorsement of Nairobi’s sole candidature.

Kenya on June 18 won the non-permanent UNSC seat after a tense campaign that saw neighbouring countries take strong positions against each other, handing Nairobi a tough task of healing rifts while representing the continent on the world’s most important body for fostering peace and international security.

President Uhuru Kenyatta said Nairobi would represent every country’s needs, and thanked Djibouti for being a “worthwhile opponent.” Djibouti congratulated Kenya on the victory, signalling the end of what had been a bruising campaign that saw Nairobi describe its opponent as “dishonourable” in conduct.

“Kenya will endeavour to consolidate and voice Africa's position in the Security Council and will advance its 10-point agenda as outlined during the campaign period,” said State House Nairobi in a statement on June 18.

Kenya garnered 129 votes against Djibouti’s 62, in the second round of voting.

Djibouti had been defiant, rejecting an AU endorsement of Kenya and it consistently indicated that it had “successfully” managed to overturn that endorsement. The issue was never raised again on the AU agenda after the committee of permanent representatives at the AU submitted Kenya’s name to the Africa Group in New York last October.


Sources in Djibouti told The EastAfrican that long before the AU vote, Djibouti had amassed some 100 MoUs with individual countries, taking advantage of bilateral ties to secure support for the vote. So when the AU endorsed Kenya, Djibouti knew it had 100 votes in the bag anyway. It would become Kenya’s headache throughout the campaign as some capitals openly told Kenya they would vote elsewhere.

Some of those countries, like Pakistan and Somalia, publicly admitted siding with Djibouti. But as is the nature of politics, Djibouti still lost some 40 votes from those who signed MoUs.

On June 18, Djiboutian President Ismail Guelleh promptly conceded defeat and congratulated Kenya. Somalia’s congratulatory message also followed.

Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Administrative Secretary Ababu Namwamba told The EastAfrican, “Maturity entails the ability to draw a distinction between rivalry and enmity. Djibouti has been a very worthy rival in this bid, never an enemy. The campaigns and the vote are behind us now.”

“We want to quickly rally the region, the continent and the globe around the issues that matter, which are encapsulated in Kenya’s 10-point agenda,” he added.

Djibouti took the seat so seriously that President Guelleh travelled more than his envoys to lobby for support.

While on assignment in Baku, Azerbaijan, to campaign for Kenya at the 18th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, Mr Namwamba remembered pitching to the same audience with President Guelleh.

“We would bump into each other and good-naturedly wish each other well,” added Mr Namwamba.

Some of the issues in Kenya’s 10-point agenda include fighting terrorism, empowering youth and women, environmental conservation, human rights and justice, and sustainable development goals.

On Friday June 19, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) — the eight-member regional bloc to which both Kenya and Djibouti belong — said any bitterness between the countries had ended after the vote.

Nuur Mohamud Sheekh, a political advisor at Igad, termed the race “a win-win result.”

“If you look at Kenya’s 10-point priorities for the UNSC seat… [they are] all priorities for not only Igad member states or the AU, but also for humanity at large,” he told The EastAfrican on Friday.

“The Igad bloc, the AU and other UN member states will work closely with Kenya and other member of the UNSC to advance the UN Charter and contribute to global peace and sustainable development.”

Igad thinks the concession by Djibouti and the recognition by Nairobi is evidence the bloc will move on from the cracks of rivalry.

However, some international relations scholars feel that Kenya should pick lessons from the bruising campaigns and work harder to defend the legitimacy of the African Union.

“Djibouti should not have disregarded African Union’s endorsement of Kenya. Kenya will now have to work harder and focus on its faithful friends, while at the same time wooing doubting ones on its side,” said Mustafa Ali, chairman of the Horn International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think-tank in Nairobi.

There could be repercussions at Igad, even though bilateral relations between Kenya and Djibouti may not change, according to Wilfred Nasong’o Muliro, a lecturer of International relations and security at the Technical University of Kenya.

“The recent developments within the Horn of Africa region have shown that intra-Igad diplomatic alliances ostensibly aimed at creating a balance of power that isolates Kenya. This implies that if Ethiopia voted for Kenya, it will be ruffling its geo-strategic relationship with Djibouti.

“Yet, if it voted for Djibouti it would be going against the position of the AU whose headquarters is in Ethiopia. But the overt regional hegemonic rivalry between Kenya and Ethiopia may be directly manifest if the emerging troika of Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti vote against Kenya,” Mr Nasong’o said.

Kenya, he argued, now has two options as far as regional diplomacy in the Horn and East Africa is concerned. One, is to seek to expand the greater Horn of Africa to include other EAC members so as to stem institutionalisation of a purely Horn of Africa organisation. The second option is to expend “its energies on the development of EAC and seek to influence Igad from that perspective.”