Kenya Vs Djibouti, a tussle for top UN seat

Kenya just bagged a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, but it did not come without a diplomatic tussle from Djibouti who posed a serious challenge.

Kenya has just grabbed the UN security council seat after a hotly contested lobbying campaign run with Djibouti garnering 129 votes to Djibouti’s 62. The vote had gone into the second round after Kenya failed to garner a 128 two-third majority in the first round which ended 113 to 78 in favor of Kenya. 

The 2020-21 security council

The other countries elected to the security council were India (whose vote was unanimous) and Ireland. Turkey won the General Assembly presidency. The Security Council of the United Nations is primarily tasked with maintaining international peace and security.

Only 5 UN member states have permanent seats, China, Russia, Britain, France, and the United States, and are often referred to as p5. The other 188 countries can be elected to non-renewable terms lasting 2 years. Only 10 member states can fill those states at any given time, meaning there are 15 member countries that form the security council. 

General Assembly rules apportion the seats according to the geographical distribution of the non-permanent security council members. Members are drawn from Africa (1),  Asia (1), Latin America & the Caribbean (1) and 2 seats are for the Western Europeans and other groups. 

Past timelines

Kenya has been privileged to serve twice before in 1973-74 and during 1997-78. The time Kenya served in the security council, the globe had 132 member nations back then and voting was done by a single ballot.  Nairobi garnered 122 votes during the first voting round.

The campaign saw Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta draft personal letters to each and every country asking for their support. There were fears that had the vote failed to clinch a win in the second round, a third-round would be called where any other country would be open to contest. 

The prior diplomatic war

The preceding months had seen Kenya engage in a diplomatic skirmish with Djibouti over the membership slot to the United Nations Security Council. Kenya received the endorsement to represent the continent after a secret ballot vote was held in February among AU member states.

Nairobi had her eyes set on one of the 3 non-permanent seats of the United Nations Security Council. A resounding vote of 37 to 13 saw the country emerge as the top contender to succeed in South Africa in 2021.

Before the ‘dust had settled’, the African Union headquarters received a letter from Djibouti demanding the regional body to reconsider their position.

The former  French colony argued that the AU support for Kenya violates its rules. Part of the concerns raised by member countries (which worked to Kenya’s favor) was the argument that Africa would be represented by three francophone countries if Djibouti got the vote. 

Djibouti argued that those concerns were ridiculous given there was precedent for such a scenario in 2001 when Mali, Tunisia, and Mauritius represented the continent.  

English speakers vs french speakers

There has always been a diplomatic ‘unity of interest’ that manifests among the French and English speakers.

The tussles manifest during elections of regional body heads. Some experts attribute the decision of Djibouti to stand their ground to geopolitical factors rather than a language barrier. It is believed there are foreign powers at play urging the french-speaking country to remain in the race.

At first, it was suspected that french speaking countries were behind the pressure on Djibouti till China emerged as a central subject behind the jostle. With the much-awaited vote on June 17, Djibouti remains firmly in the race.

The ‘big country’ factor

By all indication, the African Union urged members to stick to a common position and regularly affirmed their endorsement of Kenya as the continent’s representative. What seemed to be at play here was a battle between the west and the east. For a while now, it was argued that Kenya enjoys the support of the United States and many other western countries.

Alternatively, Djibouti seemed more aligned with Russia and China. It’s worth noting that both Kenya and Djibouti are heavily dependent on China economically, an indication of the eastern giant’s strong political influence on the continent. 

Ph: Drop of Light /