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Djibouti refuses to bow out of race against Kenya for seat at UNSC

By Morris Kiruga
Tuesday June 16, 2020

President Kenyatta of Kenya and Djibouti's President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh Djibouti, May 9, 2018 /PSCU

The diplomatic competition between Nairobi and Djibouti City for Africa's seat on the UN Security Council will come to a close on Wednesday 17 June, but the outcome will have lasting effects on regional cooperation.

After being endorsed by a majority of African Union members in 2019, Kenya expected a smooth run for a third stint on the UN Security Council (UNSC). The East African nation is seeking to replace South Africa for the region’s seat on the powerful global body, but its run was disrupted after Djibouti called the the continental body’s process to question.

  • Although any member state of the UN can run for the five non-permanent seats that are vacant on the UNSC every year, the seats are allocated to regions and preceded by extensive lobbying and negotiations.
  • Since 2007, the African Union uses a rotational method to decide who to support for the seat, with each region getting a turn.
  • Whomever wins the seat will join Mexico, India, and either Canada/Ireland/Norway as the newest members of the UNSC.

Djibouti – Kenya divide

Djibouti’s candidature presents the likelihood that if it wins, then all three seats on the UNSC will be held by French-speaking African countries. While its diplomats have downplayed this scenario, offering that it has happened before (in 2001), Kenya has in turn leaned on the AU’s endorsement to drive its campaign.

Earlier this year, Kenya said Djibouti’s decision to stick to the race “brings dishonor and disrepute to the African Union.” Djibouti, on the other hand, has termed the AU’s process and decision as ‘illegal.’

Analysts liken the competition between the two as emblematic of the East/West dynamic, with China and Russia backing Djibouti and the other three permanent members behind Kenya.

“There were suspicions that maybe some French-speaking countries are behind it, but now it’s becoming more and more clear that China is pushing Djibouti,” an analyst told DW.

Both countries have, however, claimed Chinese backing.

Djibouti’s campaign, however, enjoys the support of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, the International Organization of la Francophonie and the Arab League, which have substantial numbers and may complicate regional politics because several African Union members are also members of the other groups.

Kenya, on the other hand, is depending on AU support and international networks to counter Djibouti’s offensive. Some analysts fear that its ongoing trade negotiations with the United States might affect its relationship with other AU members, especially as it comes when the region is working to implement a continental free trade area.

Bottom line: The competition between Kenya and Djibouti will most likely have lasting effects on the AU’s 13-year-old model of choosing who represents the continent the UN body.

Alone, this race for the seat represents the diplomatic alliances in the East African region, especially with Somalia.


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