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Kenya wins seat on UN Security Council

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A UN Security Council meeting. PHOTO | DPA PICTURE-ALLIANCE | AFP

Summary

The contest between Kenya and Djibouti headed to the second round of voting Thursday after the first phase saw Nairobi’s victory insufficient to win the UN Security Council seat.

Kenya has won the UN Security Council seat after beating Djibouti in second round of voting  Thursday.

The contest between Kenya and Djibouti headed to the second round of voting Thursday after the first phase saw Nairobi’s victory insufficient to win the UN seat.

With 191 of 193 countries voting, Kenya scored 129 votes, beating Djibouti which got 62 votes.

It means Nairobi can, from January 2021, return to the UN’s most powerful organ after 23 years where it will be part of key decisions on global peace and security. India, Mexico, Ireland and Norway had been elected earlier on Wednesday.

Some of those decisions, Kenya may be involved, may include sanctions, authorising use of force to preserve peace as well as electing judges of the International Court of Justice. Working alongside the five permanent members with veto powers (Russia, UK, US, China and France), Kenya will join nine other non-permanent members and could get a chance to preside over the Council’s sittings, an influential opportunity to influence agenda.

But this vote also means an assured legitimacy for the role of the African Union, the continental body, in endorsing candidates from among member states to “act in its name.”

The vote, the second round of an election, saw Kenya 16 more supporters votes from an earlier tally of 113 votes against Djibouti’s 78 in the first round. On Thursday, One by one, delegates representing 192 member countries were called in, to cast their ballots. They were all required to wear face masks. This year’s vote was also historic as there was no plenary session during the vote, part of rules to reduce public gatherings.

Under the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly, candidates seeking a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council must garner at least two thirds of the voting member states. 192 states cast their ballots on Wednesday meaning winners had to garner at least 127 votes or more to be declared winners.

On Thursday, the election that started at 4pm saw Venezuela as the only country barred from casting its ballot as it is still in arrears for its membership in the UN. Results were not in until after 8pm.

Kenya had invested every tool available to lobby member states of the UN. It appointed Tom Amolo, the Political and Diplomatic Secretary as the special envoy, assisted by Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the AU Catherine Mwangi  and Lazarus Amayo, permanent Representative to the UN in New York.

Nairobi also invited permanent representatives to Kenya, gave out lapel badges and sent emissaries to campaign at every international forum (before Covid-19 stopped globetrotting).

Those tools may have cost an arm and a leg, but it was a seat Nairobi couldn’t afford to lose. Nairobi’s latest bids at international  had largely been unsuccessful. It had lost a bid to host the secretariat of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement to Ghana. It had lost its bid to have one of its own take over as Chairperson of the AU Commission.  It also failed to host the regional offices of the Afrexim Bank.

In this race, it was competing against Djibouti, a country from the same eastern African region as Nairobi and which it beat at the African Union endorsement election last year. It reneged on an earlier concession and launched parallel bid for the same seat.

Observers said Djibouti’s race against Kenya may jeopardise working relations in regions blocs the two countries belong.

“The very fact that two countries from the IGAD region are competing for a non-permanent member seat at the UNSC is pointer to deep divisions between countries at the sub-regional bloc.  It means that IGAD has no gravitas, and will be given a wide berth on important matters of security and diplomacy by member states,” said Dr Mustafa Y Ali, Chairman of the Horn International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Dr Ali told the Nation that having two entrants from the same region was also pointer to weak multilateral diplomacy in Africa and a possibility of external influence.

“It is clear from the voting that African and IGAD affairs are shaped by extra-regional powers from outside the continent. This is another blot on Africa’s diplomacy, and a blotch on IGAD. Djibouti should not have disregarded African Union endorsement of Kenya. Kenya will now have to work harder and focus on her faithful friends, while at the same wooing doubting ones on her side,” he told the Nation.

Details of the voting patterns were not publicised given the secret nature of the vote.  But it was a race about bilateral ties for a multilateral seat. Djibouti banked on neighbours but lobbied heavily among members other organisations. In the wake of AU endorsing Kenya, Djibouti touted support from the Francophone Organisation as well as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, both of which includes members from Africa.

 Somalia, which has sued Kenya at the International Court of Justice over a maritime boundary, publicly supported Djibouti citing ‘brotherly’ ties. Djibouti in turn gathered Somalia and Ethiopia for a summit on Somalia and Somaliland, and pitched again. Ethiopia did not indicate how it voted.

From the look of things, Kenya argued for similar things with Djibouti; regional peace, multilateral cooperation, environmental conservation and international justice and human rights.

“In that sense, at least, the possibility exists of contributing to good outcomes, regardless of which country wins the soon-to-be vacant seat,” argued Leighton G. Luke, a Research Manager for Indo-Pacific Research Programme at the Future Directions International, an Australian research institute on geopolitics and the UN.

“Some concern creeps in, however, in terms of the any possible detrimental effect of this contest on the bilateral relationship. If not handled carefully by both sides, any resultant ill will could have the potential to damage the previously good relationship between Nairobi and Djibouti City,” he wrote in a commentary last week, referring to unfinished bilateral agreements reached in May 2018, including free movement of diplomats between them.

But Djibouti’s contest, some said had risked drawing a wedge in the continent. Usually, endorsed candidates still require two third majority of votes to be declared winners for the UNSC, as the UN itself doesn’t allow nominations.

But the Horn of Africa country had participated in the endorsement vote, a tradition established by the African Union to select candidates and avoid unnecessary bickering for posts allocated for the continent.

Was there external motive?

“Actually it is the unity of Africa, the power of Pan-Africanism that is at stake. The outcome of the vote will have great implications on not only the power and image of AU but also the cohesion of IGAD,” said Mr Wilfred Nasong’o Muliro, who teaches international relations and security at the Technical University of Kenya.

“The question is can Africa make its global point or influence as a monolithic entity without being infiltrated by external power interests such as Anglo-Franco phone dichotomy, global power interests and religious alliances?”