Despite Kenya being the African Union candidate for a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council for the 2021-2022 term, Djibouti is also in the race, setting the stage for an uncertain vote to replace South Africa next June.
Kenya is banking on its credentials as a strategic power in the Eastern and the Horn of Africa region, contribution to UN peacekeeping missions worldwide and playing host to millions of refugees from the troubled South Sudan and Somalia.
It has continued to receive the support of various countries from Africa and elsewhere.
The latest one is China which this week sought to assure Kenya of its support during the elections.
Speaking Monday when he visited President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House Nairobi, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s special envoy Wang Yong said Beijing believes that Kenya is better placed to voice Africa’s interests at the UNSC.
“We firmly support the reforms of the UN Security Council and believe that Kenya will help to increase the voice of African countries at the UN Security Council,” Mr Wang said.
Algeria’s incoming ambassador to Kenya, Selma Malika Haddadi, also recently told Mr Kenyatta that they are convinced that Kenya is best placed to promote Africa’s interests at the UNSC.
Ms Haddadi said Kenya’s re-election as a member of the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council as well as the endorsement of its candidature by the AU underlined the country’s front-runner position for the UNSC seat.
However, this has not stopped Djibouti from intensifying its lobbying for the seat.
There are five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — and 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly (with end of term year). Kenya last held the seat in 1997-1998.
The small Horn African nation argues it was shortchanged by Nairobi, which should have respected the principle of regional rotation.
It has also sought to play up Nairobi’s current boundary dispute with Somalia as an indicator that the country could not be trusted to handle regional security matters.
Efforts by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to broker a deal between Mr Kenyatta and Djibouti’s president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, on the margins of the UN General Assembly failed to sway the country into dropping its bid. President el-Sisi is the AU chairman.
Djibouti’s determination has left analysts wondering whether its candidacy has the tacit support of influential players within the UN system.
Prof Macharia Munene, who teaches history and international relations at the United States International University-Africa (USIU-A), says China and the US could be among those quietly backing the Djibouti bid. The US has yet to state publicly which of the two African countries it is backing for the UNSC seat.
“I believe both (Beijing and Washington) would like a manipulable country in that seat,” Prof Munene said, adding such a scenario would also come with geopolitical leverage.
The Chinese special envoy, who met President Kenyatta before attending Tuesday’s launch of the standard gauge railway freight service from Nairobi to the Naivasha Inland Container Depot, however, appeared to allay such fears.
Previously, other analysts have pointed to China’s military base in Djibouti as signalling Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions overseas.
The US and France also have military bases in that country. Washington has in recent years used the base for its military attacks against suspected terrorists in the Horn of Africa, especially Somalia-based Al-Shabaab.
Djibouti has previously exploited its strategic position in not just the Horn of Africa but also the Sahel and the Gulf to benefit from world powers.
For instance, the Doraleh Multipurpose Port, which is located near the Chinese base, was partly funded by Beijing.
Chinese firms have also been behind major infrastructural projects in the country.
While Djibouti enjoys favourable diplomatic relations with various world powers, Beijing has been doing everything possible to win maximum advantage, especially over the US.
While Kenya also enjoys deep relations with the Asian giant, strategists at both State House and Old Treasury Building, the seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, cannot afford to underestimate Djibouti’s bid.
Unless they get the assurances of key powers such as the US and China beforehand, African countries, under the AU banner, could also go to New York united behind Kenya only to find themselves upstaged.