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Kenya at the UNSC: Why Djibouti’s loss exposes fragilities within IGAD

Source: Dominic Reuter, 'The UN Security Council has five permanent veto-wielding members: the United States, the UK, France, China and Russia', Al Jazeera [photograph], 18 Jun 2020

Wesley Kajirwa

Kenya’s recent election to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a non-permanent member (NPM) over Djibouti has brought into question the unity of the African Union (AU) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Despite the AU formally endorsing Kenya’s bid, the campaign to the UNSC was steeped in controversy with the Horn of Africa’s, Djibouti terming Kenya’s candidature as ‘illegal’, and Kenya in retort stating Djibouti’s retaliatory bid for the seat brought “dishonour and disrepute to the AU.”

The UNSC is the UN organ mandated to maintain international peace and security and enjoys unparalleled powers to impose sanctions and authorise military action when international peace is threatened. More than three-quarters of the UNSC discussions are centred on Africa, thus necessitating an African voice at the Council. Indeed, calls for reform within UNSC have gained traction with African states requesting two permanent members at the body. As Kenya begins her 2021/2022, term in January next year, the onus is now on Kenya, alongside Niger and Tunisia, to propel the continent’s agenda through the Africa Working Group. It is also expected that Kenya will not only further the aspirations of IGAD member states but will also promote regional peace and stability. However, given the divisive campaigning process witnessed in the last eight months, and the fragile relations amongst several member states within IGAD, the Horn of Africa and the East African Community, Kenya has a momentous task ahead.

Why Kenya won the UNSC-NPM Seat

Prior to Kenya’s election to the UNSC in June this year, Kenya had previously been a member of the UNSC in 1973-1974 and 1997-1998. In both stints, Kenya’s participation at the council was instrumental in formulating and passing a resolution that reduced Arab-Israeli tensions, and the sanctioning of humanitarian aid during Sierra Leone’s civil war of 1991-2002.

Kenya has historically touted herself as a regional hegemon that has embraced an active and steadfast role of maintaining international peace and stability, not only in the Horn of Africa but in the Great Lakes Region. To this end, Kenya continues to host refugees from both Central and East Africa. As of March 2020, the total number of refugees in the country was 494,585 with most emanating from Somalia, South Sudan and DRC, and residing in Kakuma and Daadab refugee camps.

Kenya has additionally participated in various peacekeeping operations demonstrating its adherence to international humanitarian principles and the promotion of regional peace and security through her existing foreign policies. Indeed, in the early 2000s, Kenya played host to the formation of Somalia’s Transitional National Government and later the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia through the Eldoret and Mbagathi peace process - an instrumental step that has led to the current Federalised Government in Somalia. Kenya also assisted with the state formation of neighbouring South Sudan and the peace process that brokered the 2011 Agreement for the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan, as well as the implementation of the 2018 Revitalised Agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan.

In addition to these state-building efforts, Kenya, through its IGAD membership, will be expected to add extra impetus to the February 2020 unity government between President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar. This agreement has, of late, faced challenges with the appointment of state and local level officials as well as intercommunal clashes in Jonglei state, east South Sudan. These challenges also bring three of Kenya’s Ten Point-Agenda at the UNSC - namely, humanitarian action, regional peace and security, countering terrorism and prevention of extremism, peacekeeping and support operations - into greater focus.

Kenya has also historically participated in UN Peacekeeping Operations, the first being 1988-1990. Since then, Kenya has contributed more than 55,000 troops in different peacekeeping capacities in over 40 countries. Currently, Kenya’s largest and longest peacekeeping operation is in Somalia, with 3,664 troops from Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) under the auspices of the AU’S Africa Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Under the sanction of UNSC Resolution 2036 of 2012, this operation is mandated to reduce the threat of Al-Shabaab. The unity amongst IGAD members, most of whom are Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) to AMISOM, is therefore of paramount importance if the regional member states are to be effective in combating the extremist group which, in 2019, increased its rate of civilian casualties from explosive violence by 14% from 2018.

Tensions between IGAD Members Exposed

Djibouti’s unapologetic self-candidature in response to Kenya’s AU endorsement in 2019, additionally raises doubts regarding the working relationship of IGAD. The challenges facing the implementation of the national unity government between President Salva Kiir and his deputy, Riek Machar, and IGAD’s palatable silence on the trilateral conflict between Ethiopia, Sudan (both IGAD members) and Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), are particularly concerning. To quell the GERD tensions, Kenya, through IGAD and her position as a member of the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC), should take a much more pronounced role and initiate an AU led process to the Nile Talks, and work alongside interested parties such as South Africa and the U.S.. Division amongst IGAD is further evident as Somalia publicly stated its support for Djibouti’s run for the UNSC seat, citing “brotherly ties” with the nation. However, Somalia’s support for Djibouti more likely emanates from its ongoing maritime border tensions with Kenya over a 62,000 square-miles (100,000 kilometres) narrow triangle of the Indian Ocean. This case is currently at the International Court of Justice. Additionally, Somalia has accused Kenya of meddling with her internal affairs and undermining the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), in Jubaland (which borders with Kenya) by supporting forces loyal to Jubaland’s incumbent President, Ahmed Mohamed Islam “Madobe”, a nemesis to the current Somalian President, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.

Further friction between IGAD members has also been exacerbated by the varying interests of two of Eastern Africa’s hegemonies - Kenya and Ethiopia - in Somalia, with Ethiopia keen to strengthen ties between Addis Ababa and Mogadishu, and Kenya backing Jubaland forces in an effort to quell Al-Shabab insurgencies in the Gedo region. The fratricidal differences between IGAD’s Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in Gedo does not augur well in AMISOM’s quest to diminish Al-Shabaab’s influence, not only in Jubaland but in Somalia generally. The differences between these IGAD members inevitably hinder the expected gradual drawdown of AMISOM forces and the subsequent transfer of AMISOM security responsibilities to the Somali National Army (SNA), and other security forces to oversee Somalia’s national security duties. The unity of IGAD members in combating Al-Shabab in Somalia is seriously hindered as all three countries, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, are either troop-contributing or police-contributing countries.

Kenya’s victory over Djibouti’s to the UNSC after a 23-year hiatus was much needed for a country that has of late fallen short to rubber-stamp her clout and status as a regional hegemony. Indeed, in 2019, Kenya lost to Ghana in her continental bid to host the secretariat of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA). This election thus presents an opportunity for the East-African nation to showcase leadership and promote regional stability, peace and security in a region that is faced with a number of fragile states, and waning relations amongst IGAD and EAC member states. Importantly, this appointment enhances Africa’s voice at the Council. Kenya’s performance as such will be closely monitored by many interested and critical observers commencing with national elections in neighbouring in Somalia and Tanzania, a recurring domestic schism in South Sudan, uncertainty regarding Ethiopia’s construction of the GERD and an ongoing global pandemic that is projected to result in economic contractions amongst relevant member states.


Wesley Kajirwa is a recent graduate with a Masters degree in International Relations and holds a graduate certificate in Politics and International Studies, both from the University of Melbourne. He previously interned at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) New York, as a Research Intern, mainly focusing on countries in the Sahel and West Africa.



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