13 August 2019, US, New York: The UN Security Council meets at the United Nations on international humanitarian law. Photo: Kay Nietfeld/dpa

Exactly one week ago, on 18 June, Kenya won the Africa seat at the UN Security Council (UNSC), after garnering 129 votes against Djibouti’s 62 votes, in the second round of voting. This was a new feather on Kenya’s hat given the prestige and influence that comes with being a member of the UN’s most powerful organ, albeit for a temporary 2-year period.

The noteworthy victory went largely unnoticed, probably due to the fact that we are all preoccupied with struggling with the COVID-19 Pandemic and the devastation it has left in its wake, besides watching the theatrics emanating from the massive purge and fumigation going on in the Jubilee Party.

From the African continent, Niger and Tunisia replaced the Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea in January 2020 while the seat, which Kenya bagged recently, becomes vacant in January 2021 when South Africa’s term expires. So, what is so special about Kenya being a member of the UN Security Council? Many people have been asking.

For starters, there is that rare good feeling that comes when a young person is admitted to the table of grownups, where important matters are discussed and serious decisions are made. It shows that Kenya has come of age and won global admiration while at it.

This, coupled with the fact that Kenya was recently ranked the third largest economy in Africa, can tell you that this country is poised to go places; but, only if we sanitize our divisive tribal politics and tame the embarrassing appetite that our leaders exhibit in plundering public resources.

The newly clinched seat at at the UNSC will go a long way in Stamping Kenya’s Hegemonic presence, as one of the top three economic and political powerhouses on the African continent. The seat will no doubt elevate Kenya’s regional political clout, which might even end up greatly influencing the way the Kenya-Somalia Maritime dispute in the Indian Ocean is decided at the ICJ.

Lastly, a seat at the powerful UN organ cements Kenya’s global recognition as a major player, in both regional and global security issues, especially when it comes to the fight against terrorism and regional peace brokerage, which happen to be top priorities of the UN Security Council.

Out of the six main organs of the UN, the Security Council is the most powerful. The other five are the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and lastly, the secretariat – which runs the day-to-day affairs of the UN, under the leadership of the Secretary General.

The UN Security Council is composed of 15 member states with 5 permanent members (Who include the US, the UK, Russia, China and France) and 10 non-permanent members drawn from across the globe, on a rotational basis. The 10 non-permanent members have to be elected by a two-thirds majority of the UN General Assembly, after every two years.

Therefore, any UN member state interested in the non-permanent seat at the UNSC has to convince at least 128 states of the total 193 UN member states to vote for her. The fact that Kenya convinced 129 states to vote in her favour is no mean feat. This definitely deserves a toast.

What it means is that from January 2021, Kenya will be part of key decision making on global peace and security matters. Some of such decisions may include: sanctions against rogue states, authorising use of force to preserve peace, as well as electing judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

With an ongoing case filed by Somalia against Kenya at the ICJ, it would be particularly interesting to see how the ICJ approaches this maritime territorial dispute between Kenya and Somalia, now that Kenya will be a member of the powerful UN Security Council for the next two years. How is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council able to influence decisions at the council? One may ask.

When making decisions, there are two systems of voting in the UNSC. On procedural matters a vote from any 9 members, out of the total 15, is enough to pass a resolution. However, when voting on substantive matters, the 9 affirmative votes must include votes from all the permanent members – the so called “Big Five”.

Any negative vote of one of the Big Five is enough to block an important resolution from being passed by the UNSC. This is what is commonly referred to as the “Veto Powers;” a privilege only reserved for the 5 permanent members, to protect their own individual interests.

However, most of the members from the third world and other lesser powers globally, in the spirit of the “Identity Principle” of International Relations, have a tendency of ganging up against the Big Five and voting as a block. Kenya needs to lobby at least six other members to frustrate the passing of a given resolution at the UNSC.

Whenever there is lobbying to attain the 9 vote majority needed to pass a particular resolution, the non-permanent members get a chance to engage in horse-trading to ensure that their own interests are taken care of before they vote. This is where Kenya’s chances of influence at the UNSC lie.

Kenya will also have a huge chance of expanding and strengthening its international relations with the big states, and many more strategic partners who sit at the influential UN security organ. There is no doubt that Kenya’s suave use of soft power and a seemingly well-oiled diplomacy machine, has always seen her get ahead of her peers in the region and the continent, on many occasions.

We have seen the country embark on a rigorous shuttle diplomacy campaign before, which eventually managed to mobilise the African Union to take a common stand against the ICC. The court was finally forced to back off from the Kenyan cases brought up against President Kenyatta and his DP William Ruto at the Hague. Whether that was good for the country or not, the jury is still there.

This time again Kenya managed to convince the African Union (AU) to endorsed her for the non-permanent seat at the UNSC, but Djibouti rejected this decision and embarked on serious parallel campaigns for the only remaining seat reserved for Africa.

It was obvious, from the onset, that Djibouti stood no chance against Kenya in this race. this can only mean that she was in the race to upset the apple cart for Kenya, and they almost succeeded to so, forcing a second round of voting. Both countries being members of IGAD, the fact that they couldn’t settle this issue without necessarily going to battle it at the UNGA, is quite telling.


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