Elite marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge is among star athletes tapped by the government to support its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, which enters a crucial stage in New York on Wednesday this week.
Also flying the Kenyan flag high on the streets of New York is the tea brand Ketepa and the alcoholic beverage Tusker, two of Kenya’s best heritage products since independence.
Kipchoge, who was on Mashujaa Day decorated with the Elder of the Order of the Golden Heart of Kenya by President Uhuru Kenyatta following his sub-two-hour marathon run in Austria, will be joined in the campaign by world female marathon record holder Brigid Kosgei, the first African woman to win the New York Marathon Tegla Loroupe, legendary long-distance runner Paul Tergat and star rugby player Collins Injera.
The athletes will accompany Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma to New York this week as part of a high-powered global delegation that will lead Kenya’s campaign for the UNSC seat for 2021-2022.
Several African ministers have been invited for a briefing at Maxwell Hotel in New York this Wednesday. Mr Kicphoge, who is already in New York, will leave for Amsterdam a day earlier but will address the gathering via a video link, a source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Sunday Nation last evening.
Kenya is fighting for the seat with Djibouti, which has already lost the battle for the African Union representative for the UNSC seat but is playing up Kenya’s simmering boundary dispute with Somalia as an indicator that Nairobi should not be trusted to handle regional security matters.
In recruiting the services of top athletes, Dr Juma is banking on the huge potential of sports as a diplomatic force to aid Nairobi’s bid. She told the Sunday Nation on Saturday that she was upbeat for a positive outcome.
“We have come a long way, from getting an endorsement from the African Union through a vote in August to rallying associates to support our bid,” she said.
“Launching this campaign in New York, the headquarters of the Security Council, six months shy of the vote means that we need all Kenyans to support the country's bid because we stand to gain a lot if we get an opportunity at this top global security decision-making level.”
Should Kenya beat Djibouti to the race, it would get a non-permanent seat at the UN’s most powerful body. This would place Nairobi in a position to hold the rotational presidency of the UNSC and lobby other member states on crucial matters, even though Kenya might not have a vote on substantial matters.
Only five UN member states – the US, UK, Russia, China and France – have permanent seats on the UNSC while the other 188 are elected for two-year stints on the Council, which enjoys robust powers, including the imposing sanctions and authorising military deployments to maintain international peace and security.
Dr Gary Wilson, a senior lecturer in Law at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, notes that, even though the African Union has endorsed Kenya’s candidacy, there is also the possibility that Nairobi and Djibouti City could share the seat, as happened in 2016-2017 between The Netherlands and Italy.
“Ultimately,” says Dr Wilson, “in the greater scheme of Security Council reform, Kenya’s position is consistent with that of most African states. It has served on the AU’s committee which explored the reform agenda, and it supports the Ezulwini consensus agreed by AU member states.”
The Ezulwini consensus is a position on international relations and reform of the United Nations adopted by the AU in 2005 to campaign for a more representative and democratic Security Council in which Africa is better represented. It calls for two permanent and five non-permanent seats for African states to be filled by candidates agreed by the AU.