Kenya’s Candidature for UN Security Council Seat is Critical for the Country’s Peace Diplomacy

Kenya’s Candidature for UN Security Council Seat is Critical for the Country’s Peace Diplomacy


The endorsement of Kenya’s candidature for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) non-permanent seat by the African Union (AU) Permanent Representatives on August 21, 2019 after Nairobi defeated Djibouti with 37 votes against 13 is imperative for the country’s peace diplomacy. The continental approval is significant as Kenya becomes Africa’s sole candidate for the race to win the UN Security Council non-permanent seat for 2021-2022. However, Djibouti’s insistence that it is still in the race could complicate Kenya’s bid as some African countries could vote for Djibouti next year. Efforts by the AU Chairman Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to convene a meeting between President Kenyatta and Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York in September failed to produce a solution. Moreover, Kenya’s support outside Africa could face challenge when there are two candidates from the African Group.

Despite pledges of support and endorsement by various leaders and envoys for Kenya’s bid, the country still needs a concerted lobbying across the globe for the backing during next year’s June UN General Assembly vote in which Nairobi will require at least 129 UN member states (two-third) support to win the seat.

The membership of the UN Security Council comprises five permanent members (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States) and ten non-permanent members (each elected on a two-year term). Each year, the UN General Assembly elects five new members. This is to ensure continuity among non-permanent members. The geographic composition of the non-permanent members is as follows; African Group (3); Asian Pacific Group (2); Eastern European Group (1); Latin American and Caribbean Group (2) and Western European and Others Group (2). The ‘Others’ comprise Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Israel. For the two members of the Western European and Others Group, one member must be from Western Europe. In addition, one non-permanent member is an Arab country, alternately from the African Group or Asian-Pacific Group.

The current ten non-permanent of the Security Council are Belgium, Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and South Africa. Among these ten countries, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea will finish their terms at the end of 2019 and will be replaced by new members from their respective regions in January 2020. For instance, Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea from the African Group will be replaced by Niger and Tunisia (Africa, Arab). From African Group perspective, in January 2021 either Kenya or Djibouti will replace South Africa when Pretoria’s two-year term ends in December 2020.

Kenya held the UN Security Council non-permanent seat in 1973-1974 and 1997-1998. Nigeria has held the non-permanent seat four times. African countries that have held the UN Security Council seat three times include Algeria, Ethiopia, South Africa and Uganda. Several countries including Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, Zambia, Tanzania and Chad among others have been at the Security Council twice. Since the African Group has three slots for the seat, the OAU/AU devised sub-regional rotational formula that is used to nominate candidates for the continent. On an even year, two African countries join the Security Council. On the other hand, only one African country joins the Security Council in an odd year.

Traditionally, the UNSC’s primary responsibility is the maintenance of international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations. The UNSC achieves its function through investigating any dispute or situation which could lead to international friction; recommends methods for settling disputes; formulates plans for the establishment of a system of armaments; determines the existence of a threat to peace or action of aggression and recommends action that should be taken to deal with such threats; calling of members to apply economic sanctions; recommends military action against an aggressor; determines when and where a UN peacekeeping operation should be deployed; establishes peacekeeping operation by adopting a Security Council resolution that sets out the mission’s mandate and size. The Security Council also recommends admission of new members to the UN; and the appointment of a new Secretary General to the General Assembly.

If Kenya secures the Security Council seat next year then it will be a member of the UN powerful body that is expected to discharge its functions at a time when the world is facing not only traditional threats to global peace and security but also emerging security threats including violent extremism, terrorism, maritime piracy, human trafficking, destabilizing effects of climate change, cyber-attacks and other forms of transnational criminal activities. Moreover, new conflicts such as civil wars, internationalized internal conflicts and transnational violence perpetrated by non-state actors are becoming a big challenge to the Security Council mechanisms for addressing peace and security threats. Similarly, establishment of multilateral peace support operations in some regions is becoming problematic due to numerous warring parties, organized crime and the growing presence of foreign fighters.

A successful Kenya’s bid means that the country will be expected to be a bold voice of Africa by steadfastly and strategically promoting and defending Africa’s position at the UN Security Council and other international security forums since Kenya’s foreign policy is Afro-centric. Although armed conflicts had reduced in Africa at the beginning of the 21st century, new wave of conflicts, rise of radicalism, violent extremist have fueled security vulnerabilities in certain regions of the continent especially the Sahel region, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Somalia. Moreover, resource extraction related-conflicts and election related violence among others have also exacerbated political instability and state fragility in some sub-regions. This means that Kenya’s elections to the Security Council could give the country exceptional opportunity to build consensus across sub-regions in the continent and beyond to guarantee a peaceful and secure Africa in accordance with the Aspiration 4 of the AU Agenda 2063.

Kenya’s experience in peace diplomacy in the region and the continent at large could be a valuable resource for the Security Council obligations. Through Peace Diplomacy, Kenya has demonstrated its commitment to regional and continental security and peace through contribution of personnel for UN sanctioned peacekeeping operations and African Union peace missions; championing mediation and negotiations; resolution of conflicts through pacific means; collaboration with African countries to strengthen the conflict prevention, management and resolution capacity of regional institutions such as the East African Community (EAC), Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and African Union (AU) among others. As a non-permanent member of the UNSC, Kenya could also learn from various experiences from other parts of the world that be crucial in enhancing its peace diplomacy for the benefit of the region and Africa at large.

While the permanent members (P5) of the UNSC wield extensive power due to the possession of the veto power, the elected ten non-permanent members are in a position to have some considerable influence in the Security Council if they have clear objectives and priorities; and actively engage with other members on matters of mutual interest or of global significance.

Since the end of the Cold War, the Security Council tends to prefer consensual decision making. For instance, in 2017 68 resolutions were considered out of which 61 were adopted. During the Cold war the Council could adopt less than 30 resolutions per year on average. Therefore, the consensual decision making in the post-Cold War era is seen to have enhanced the role of the non-permanent members in dealing with the consequences of conflicts even when the P5 are divided on a specific conflict.

The Security Council’s work on thematic issues is another area that non-permanent members are likely to influence. Thematic issues can range from protection of civilians in conflicts; climate change and global warming; nuclear proliferation; small arms and light weapons; Sustainable Development Goals to justice and rule of law.

It has also been observed that the non-permanent members have a routine of regular monthly meetings that, at times, are attended by the Secretary General or one of the Under-Secretary Generals. This is normally an opportunity for the non-permanent members to push for their agenda. A non-permanent member can also shape the Council’s schedule while occupying the Council’s presidency – held for a month on rotational basis. The non-permanent members also chair subsidiary organs which they can use to shape the agenda on specific issues under consideration.

As Kenya lobbies for the Council’s non-permanent seat it is equally important for the country to cultivate innovative diplomacy and identifying priority issues that it hopes to champion during the two-year period. The country should also use the opportunity at the Security Council to boost its peace diplomacy especially mediation and negotiations, conflict resolutions and effective engagement in complex multilateral peace support operations.

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