Kenya is banking on repeated endorsements by the African Union and Nairobi’s own networks to clinch a seat at the UN Security Council when a vote comes up this evening.
The elections for non-permanent seats on the UN’s most powerful organ are usually routine.
Today’s will, however, be historic because it will be the first virtual but secret ballot election.
It is scheduled for 4pm Nairobi time.
In Africa, Kenya will be competing against Djibouti, which it beat three times at the African Union endorsement vote last year, but which stuck to the race, challenging the validity of the elections. The winner will sit on the council for the next two years from January 2021, taking part in decisions on global peace and security.
With one slot allocated for Africa, Kenya has this past week reminded the world of an endorsement it won at the African Union. Traditionally, AU member states front candidates at the UN organs “to act in its name”, according to a resolution endorsed by the African Union Summit more than a decade ago.
“Facts are stubborn. Kenya is Africa’s legitimate candidate,” said Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau.
“Kenya’s leadership in multilateral diplomacy has stood out even in these extraordinary times of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mr Kamau wrote in the final pitch this week, referring to Kenya’s participation in AU Bureau meetings on the pandemic, as well as its recent hosting of an extraordinary summit of leaders of the organisation of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States. Both meetings were held online.
“As a proven team player and stickler for rules-based multilateralism as well as rich experience, Kenya is a safe pair of hands and stands ready to deliver on its promise.”
Kenya’s candidature has lately been helped by the African Union, which has clarified that Nairobi should be Africa’s only participant in the race. The AU Permanent Observer Mission to the UN last week indicated that Kenya got it endorsement validly.
“The (mission) has the honour to remind that the African Union endorsed the Republic of Kenya for a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council for the term 2021-2022,” the mission headed by Ms Fatima Kyari Mohammed said in a note on June 9.
It was the third time the mission was clarifying the issue, after Djibouti contested the decision at the AU, saying the committee of permanent representatives who voted in Kenya had no authority to transmit the decision, unless endorsed by the AU Executive Council (a group of foreign ministers from AU member states).
In October last year, two months after Djibouti challenged Kenya’s victory, Namira Negm, AU’s Legal Counsel, wrote to AU members advising that the vote was conducted by African permanent representatives to the AU, on the authority of the Executive Council and hence did not require any further endorsements from the foreign ministers.
“The decision of the Council to delegate its powers to the PRC (Permanent Representatives Committee) is considered as final and does not require the Council to endorse the decision of the PRC on a delegated matter, unless it was explicitly provided for in the decision of the council,” Dr Negm, an Egyptian diplomat, advised in a legal opinion that was also copied to the UN on October 25, 2019.
Some experts say the vote may be influenced by external issues, given that Kenya and Djibouti have fronted similar goals at the UN.
“The contemporary context of this bid is characterised by the Covid-19 pandemic and geo-political alignments and realignments. Currently, the UNSC has not succeeded in formulating an agreeable resolution on Covid-19 due to the politics surrounding the WHO,” said Dr Kigen Morumbasi, a lecturer in international relations at Strathmore University in Nairobi and Chairman of the International Relations Society of Kenya.
“The seat will enable Kenya to shape the conversation in the UNSC to include pertinent issues that affect developing countries globally such as global food security, global health, regional peace and security,” he argued, saying Djibouti’s participation could, in fact, elevate Kenya’s reach by learning how to navigate “the murky terrain of global diplomacy and policy”.
Kenya could also enjoy an edge over Djibouti, given that the African Union might want to prevent any possible falling-out from its decisions, argued Dr Wilfred Nasong’o Muliro, an international relations lecturer at Technical University of Kenya.
“The continental argument is that for the protection of AU’s standing in future international matters, the intransigence of Djibouti, which insists on bypassing the African continental position, should be corrected by voting for Kenya,” he told the Nation.
“Only by doing so will the African Union be able to sustain its tradition of approaching top UN positions and matters with one voice,” he added.
Djibouti hosts military bases for the US, China, France and the UK, which could be a strength in the ties between the key veto-holding powers of the UNSC, but also a weakness as it could split them.
Kenya’s hosting of recent international events may have offered its diplomats a chance to lobby directly to voting members. Dr Muliro cites events like the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States as possible avenues for Kenya’s “visibility” as well as Nairobi’s strategic location in the East Africa.
Both countries have served on the council before (Kenya in 1974-77 and 1997-98 and Djibouti from 1993-94).
They traditionally co-operate through the Djibouti-based Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
“Persuasively, diplomatic tradition should disallow representation at the Security Council by three countries with an Islamic and French-speaking background,” Dr Muliro said.
There are no rules preventing same-language blocs from contesting but current African members of the UNSC Niger and Tunisia are both Francophone.
Djibouti could become the third if it replaces South Africa in January. Experts think that could alienate English-speaking countries in Africa.
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