Kenya and Djibouti took their bruising battle for the United Nations Security Council non-permanent seat to New York, with each country’s diplomats trying to outdo the other in lobbying for votes.
Djibouti, which lost to Kenya in the election for the African Union representative for the UNSC seat, played up Nairobi’s current boundary dispute with Somalia as an indicator that the country could not be trusted to handle regional security matters.
Kenya, however, flaunted its credentials as a pillar of peace in a troubled region, citing in particular its role in assisting millions of Somali and South Sudanese refugees, and ultimately helping the two to form their own governments.
At least 90 heads of state and representatives of other countries attended the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last week, bringing 196 delegations to the annual, multilateral pilgrimage to New York.
Kenyan diplomats distributed pennants and lapel badges labelled “African Union endorsed candidate” for the seat, whose election for the term 2021-2022 is due next year.
Djibouti, on the other hand, dished out posters avoiding reference to the African Union, but still indicating its candidacy for the very seat.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s efforts to convene a meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Guelleh on the margins of the UN General Assembly failed to produce a solution.
Instead, President el-Sisi, also chairman of the African Union, was told after the “dialogue” that Djibouti would remain in the race.
On August 22, Egyptian Permanent Representative to the African Union, Osama Abdel Khalek, chaired a session in which the Permanent Representatives Committee voted for Kenya 37-13 in a secret ballot, meaning Nairobi had attained the required two-thirds majority to vie for the UNSC seat as the AU endorsed candidate.
Both Nairobi and Djibouti are members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and contributors to the African Union Mission in Somalia, but they are taking divergent routes to secure the prestigious seat.
However, efforts to promote regional peace and stability appear to be the common theme in pitches by both countries. Ahead of the UNGA meeting, Nairobi’s diplomats said they would take part in the UN agenda, then seek to “take on detractors who wish to malign” Kenya’s endorsement from the African Union.
The African Union, which has no vote at the UN, traditionally agrees to endorse member states “to act in its name” at the UN Security Council. But, Djibouti thinks otherwise. At its recent launch for its candidature, Djibouti’s Foreign Minister Mohamud Yussuf Ali threw an indirect jab at Kenya, claiming only his country was capable of helping stabilise Somalia.
Speaking to an audience of diplomats in Djibouti, he argued that Kenya’s maritime boundary dispute with Somalia could see it use the position to exert undue pressure on Mogadishu, and hence destabilise the country even more.
“If elected, Djibouti will relentlessly promote the obligation of all states to uphold international law in the maintenance of peace and security, and advocate for recommitment to a multilateral, rule-based international order,” said Djibouti President Guelleh in his address to UNGA in New York.
Nairobi has avoided talking about the maritime dispute with Somalia in its campaign messaging, insisting however that the row should be resolved through negotiations. The case is currently before the International Court of Justice.
President Kenyatta, who met about two dozen world leaders on the margins of the UNGA, said Kenya was seeking the seat to continue contributing to regional peace.
“When the world turned away from Somalia, we engaged and invested in the Eldoret and Mbagathi peace processes, which led to the formation and hosting of the Transitional National Government in Kenya, and (relocation) of the Transitional Federal Government to Somalia,” said President Kenyatta, adding, “We, therefore, hope that our experience, competencies and unrelenting search for peace and prosperity in our neighbourhood, on the continent and the wider world, will persuade the entire UN Membership to support the African Union candidate for the non-permanent seat of the United Nations Security Council during the elections slated for June 2020.”
Nairobi also listed its sending of more than 40,000 peacekeepers so far to various UN missions as an indication of its suitability to hold the seat.
The battle is to get at least 129 votes at the UN when the election is held next June. President Kenyatta asked for votes from “each and every member of the UN family.”
Djibouti, however, believes that it is the right candidate for the seat.
Mohamed Siad Doualeh, Djibouti’s Permanent Representative to the UN, claimed Kenya’s election victory at the AU was irregular, even though Djibouti took part in the polls twice and conceded defeat.
“The process through which Kenya obtained the endorsement of its candidature is wholly illegitimate. As yet, there has been no decision by the AU Executive Council or the Summit, which in any case, is not bound by the vote of the Permanent Representatives Committee,” he argued referring to the council of foreign ministers and the summit of heads of state.
The position, however, is that Egypt, which chaired the session, already wrote to the Council validating Kenya’s endorsement, after Djibouti initially conceded defeat.
For Djibouti though, the AU’s traditional rotation policy where available positions are circulated based on regional balance as well as the previous number of times a country has served, should have been the better criteria.
Since the UNSC slot fell on the eastern Africa region, Djibouti had argued it should have been given priority because Kenya has been there twice in 1973-1974 and in 1997-1998. Djibouti served in 1993-1994.
“Behind the African Union’s secret magic formula for endorsement and clean slate lies the constant effort to build consensus, mutual accommodation and respect for the sacred principle of rotation,” the Djiboutian envoy argued in a series of Tweets.
Consensus, however, is only one of many ways the AU makes decisions. According to the Rules of Procedure, substantive matters can be put to a vote (where the winner must garner two thirds majority) if consensus fails. In fact, the vote had to be repeated after the first on August 5, failed to produce a clear, two-thirds majority winner.
Kenya and Djibouti’s heated race is not entirely new though. In 1960, a race for Europe’s 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 Netherlands and Italy also failed to agree in 2016, so they shared the seat.