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Kenya vows to push for unity at UN Security Council

Sunday August 25 2019

United Nations Security Council

United Nations Security Council members cast their vote during a meeting on the election of five members of the International Court of Justice, at the UN headquarters in New York on November 13, 2017. PHOTO | JEWEL SAMAD | AFP 

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Kenya is reaching out to United Nations member countries, offering reassurances of cooperation in the wake of its endorsement for a Security Council seat this week by the African Union.

On Wednesday, Kenya defeated Djibouti at the African Union to become the region’s sole candidate for the non-permanent seat at the United Nations.

The victory, one of the rarest feats in recent times at the AU, came in the second round, with Kenya earning 37 votes against Djibouti’s 13.

Now, the government says the move has given Kenya the greenlight to continue working with the international fraternity.

In a note sent to the diplomatic community in Nairobi, the Foreign Affairs ministry thanked AU members who voted for Nairobi, promising to focus on issues that would strengthen the United Nations.

“(The Ministry) reaffirms Kenya’s commitments to the principles and objectives of the United Nations as spelled out in the United Nations Charter, and specifically the role of the United Nations Security Council,” said the letter, known as a “note verbale”, emphasising Kenya’s contribution in peacekeeping missions, and promotion of regional peace and security.


Nairobi said, in the letter sent to the more that 140 diplomatic missions accredited to Kenya, that winning the seat will give it an opportunity to contribute to implementing the UN agenda.

The UNSC is the most powerful organ of the United Nations, tasked with ensuring peace and security of the world. While it has 15 members, only five permanent members (UK, US, China, France and Russia) hold veto powers on substantial issues such as listing al-Shabaab as a terrorist group, lifting sanctions on a country or admitting new members.

As a non-permanent member, Kenya may not have those veto powers, but it could be in a position of influence to lobby for a political solution, in say, the ongoing a dispute with Somalia over the maritime boundary, currently at the international Court of Justice (ICJ).


The ICJ, which is a UN organ, often needs the UNSC to enforce its decisions. But the Council is also a playground for supremacy political battles, making enforcement subject to national interest of each of the five permanent members.

The US pulled out of compulsory jurisdiction of ICJ after the Court ruled against them in the past, while China has in the past refused decisions of UN tribunal. With Nairobi promoting a political, rather than legal solution to regional boundary disputes, such could offer a chance to lobby for its position.

Kenya also wants to lobby for al-Shabaab to be listed as a terrorist group, separate from al-Qaeda and ISIS. Currently, Nairobi argues listing al-Shabaab as an affiliate of the other two makes it difficult to impose targeted sanctions on the militants, including denying humanitarian access to the areas they control.

Being on the Council, Kenya believes, could offer it a chance to influence agenda, and present a deeper argument directed at al-Shabaab. In the thank-you note, Kenya was effectively trying to tie down its support. It promised to actualise the principle of subsidiarity, promoted by the UN to boost the work of regional blocs like the African Union “in resolving issues that fall within the ambit of international peace and security.”

The AU endorsement this week meant Kenya could go ahead to contest for the UN Security Council seat when the elections are held in June next year, for the period of 2021-2022.


Normally, the endorsement of a regional bloc guarantees a candidate the bloc’s votes. But the candidate must still garner at least two thirds majority of the votes from the entire UN membership of 193 countries.

This kind of loophole fuelled Djibouti’s refusal to concede, with their Permanent Representative to the UN Mohammed Siad Doualeh indicating they will stay in the race.

On Friday, some Kenyan diplomats indicated they weren’t worried about Djibouti’s about-turn, after their Permanent Representative to the African Union Mohammed Idris Farah initially conceded defeat.

“We are Africa’s candidate, and we will present the agenda that takes everyone’s interests on board,” said a diplomat speaking on the background.

“We will continue to reach out to everyone to reassure our intention to safeguard the interests of our region,” the diplomat added.

While Kenya remained conciliatory, Djibouti was sore at the loss, saying it will stay in the race. Kenya’s campaign could, however, be boosted by the fact that the African Union actually informed the group of African ambassadors at the UN it had endorsed Kenya.