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Kenya battles with Djibouti for UN Council seat

By Noah Cheploen
Thursday, June 18th, 2020
Former Foreign Affairs Minister CS Monica Juma, now Defence CS. Photo/File
In summary

Noah Cheploen @cheploennoah

Kenya was yesterday locked in a head-to-head battle for the UN Security Council non-permanent seat with Djibouti as voting got underway in New York, US. 

The unprecedented race saw Djibouti push Kenya—for the East African slot—down to the wire against traditions set by the African Union (AU) which has always presented a united front as far as UN elections are concerned.

African member States have shown high level of organisation in handling of the three non-permanent seats allocated to them, ensuring that all the five regions: East, West, Central, South and North each get a chance in a rotational arrangement.

But last year, both Kenya and Djibouti declared their candidature which was normal at that point but after the former got endorsement from the AU which strengthened its claim on the prize.

“Endorsement is the ultimate expression of multilateralism. Endorsements are a tradition we must jealously guard,” said Ambassador Lazarus Amayo, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.  

Tunisia and Niger are the other members representing Africa, that is: North and West regions respectively.

The five UN permanent members with veto powers are: US, UK, Russia, France and China.

During that election in February, Kenya garnered 37 votes against Djibouti’s 13, it was then expected that Djibouti would pull out of the race according to precedence; tradition and good neighbourliness. 

Political giant

Surprisingly, it did not but lobbied even harder for the seat and eventually got an endorsement from Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and that of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).

Efforts by AU’s Ministerial Committee and other diplomatic moves by Egypt President Fattah el-Sissi also failed to reach a consensus as both countries stuck to its guns with Djibouti arguing that it presented its candidacy first. 

Therefore complicating matters for Kenya which is making its third stint after serving in 1973-74 and 1997-98.

A member state serves for a non-renewable period of two years in the prestigious body representing 193 member states. 

Located on the Horn of Africa, Djibouti which boasts of a population of about 1 million people, argued that it plays a more significant and unique role in geo-politics citing the fact that it is one of the few countries hosting US, French and Chinese military bases.  

It further argued that it is best placed to represent the region while accusing Kenya of being on a “self-aggrandidement” mission.

On its part, Kenya developed a 10-point agenda citing its long peace building efforts across the globe. 

In February, Kenya complained to the AU over what it termed as Djibouti’s “dishonorable” campaign as the two countries went bare knuckles. The two countries engaged in a do-or-die kind of campaign. 

The 10-Point Agenda which was unveiled by former Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma in Addis Ababa last September highlights Kenya’s role in the region especially in peace keeping and counter terrorism efforts. 

A loss for Kenya means its clout as a regional powerhouse is dented especially coming about three years after Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed lost to Chad’s Foreign Affairs minister Moussa Faki in the chairperson’s race for African Union Commission.

At the same time, a win would go a long way in cementing its place as a regional economic and political giant—augmenting its position as a big brother. But with constant tensions and suspicions from Tanzania and Uganda, a loss would be a big blow. 

Yesterday’s election was unprecedented in many ways but it is the extent in which the COVID-19 pandemic is plaguing the world which played out clearly especially considering New York is one the hardest hit places. 

Ordinarily, hundreds of diplomats would be streaming in; championing their country’s economic and political interests but that was not the case yesterday as social distancing and ban on international travel firmly in place. 

Yesterday’s elections were conducted via secret ballot without a plenary meeting unlike in the past.

They also elected the President of the General Assembly and members of the economic and social council. 

On the eve of elections on Tuesday night, President Uhuru Kenyatta his final pitch for the UNSC seat by addressing a virtual conference hosted with envoys from various countries. 

“A vote for Kenya is a vote for peace. A vote for Kenya is a vote for global solidarity. A vote for Kenya is a vote for multilateralism,” President Kenyatta said.

Citing Kenya’s long history of contributing troops to peacekeeping interventions, President Kenyatta said Kenya has the right credentials to represent the African continent in the UNSC.

He told the representatives that Kenya’s experience as the host nation of UN-Habitat and UNEP global headquarters places the country in an advantaged position to champion the world’s sustainable development agenda.

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