For the past few days, Kenya and Djibouti have had a heated contest over Africa’s only seat in the United Nations (UN) Security Council for the 2021-2022 period. Although the African Union’s (AU) endorsed Kenya as the continent’s representative, Djibouti rejected the decision and conducted parallel campaigns for the UN’s seat.

The outright refusal of Djibouti to accept AU’s nomination of Kenya as Africa’s representative this year altered the Union’s tradition of deciding a candidate among the member states. But Djibouti contested for the seat because Kenya has represented the continent twice on it.

A report shows that both countries highlighted the reasons why each is best qualified for the seat. The two countries have sought peace in the Horn of Africa and contributed to the United Nations peacekeeping missions.

Over the years, Kenya had welcomed refugees from Somalia and South Sudan and supported the fragile governments of the two countries. Djibouti, on the other hand, plays a strategic and unusual role as a defence base for diverse countries (France, the United States, China and Japan) as well as its contributions in Somalia. 

When the votes commenced on Wednesday, June 17, for Africa’s seat, Kenya scored 113 votes against Djibouti’s 78 on the first round. But none was declared the winner as both failed to secure a two-third-majority vote from eligible UN member states, or 128 votes.

However, a re-run was held on Thursday 18, 2020, and Kenya emerged winner receiving 129 votes, while Djibouti had 62 votes.

Eligible members who voted were 192 of the UN 193 member states voting, excluding a Venezuela which has been ban from voting. Earlier in the year, Venezuela was suspended from voting in the U.N. General Assembly for the third time in three years because of millions of dollars in unpaid dues to the world body.

Securing a seat in the powerhouse of the UN is a significant opportunity for any country. According to Adam Chapnick, a professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada, with seat comes “access, relevance and influence.”

Like Chapnick puts it, “for two years, day in and day out, a country that is not a great power will have direct access to the five permanent members in addition to whomever else might be on the council at that time.” This could be why many nations covet the prestigious seat in the United Nation’s Security Council.

The Security Council is the only U.N. body that can make legally binding decisions such as imposing sanctions and authorizing the use of force. It comprises of 5 permanent members – the US, UK, France, Russia and China – and 10 non-permanent seats (filled on a rotating basis). 

Among the 15-seat council, only the 5 permanent members have veto powers. But in the event where they continuously squabble over critical issues, the non-permanent 10 would be required to tilt decisions in favour, making all members of the Council influential. 

Newly elected non-permanent members that would be seating alongside Kenya in the Security Council include Mexico, India, Ireland and Norway.

Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Vietnam will remain in the Council through the end of 2021.

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