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Why Kenya’s UN Security Council presidency matters

Kenya has just assumed the rotational Presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the month of October, which brings with it a more influential voice in global affairs but more importantly, the opportunity to advance her foreign policy goals, and articulate Africa’s peace and security agenda.

Kenya was elected as a non-permanent member of the UNSC for two years (2021-2022) in June last year. However, Kenya is not new to UNSC, having previously served two stints at the council, between 1973-74 and 1997-98. Only this time, the global political landscape is markedly different given the emerging threats to international peace and security like terrorism, violent extremism and climate change.

Also to note that Kenya has in recent years significantly strengthened her diplomatic stature with a more strategic geopolitical posture yielding greater visibility and influence in the international arena.

Kenya’s ascendancy to the presidency of the UN Security Council, though on a rotational basis, is therefore not surprising since it is the culmination of a concerted effort in leveraging her regional and global networks to expand her geopolitical influence.

The primary responsibility of the UNSC is maintaining international peace and security in accordance with the United Nations Charter. The council also investigates and proposes ways of resolving disputes or situations that are likely to escalate international tension. It may also impose sanctions on States to avert or punish aggression or even take military action where necessary.

Being at the helm of UNSC affairs (having taken over from Ireland), Kenya is expected to provide leadership as the council deals with multiple crises raging around the world such as the war in Yemen, political instability in Lebanon and Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the renewed arms race by global military powers.

Closer home on the African continent, there is the civil war in Libya, Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, violence in Central Africa Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo, the conflict in Ethiopia and political instability in neighboring South Sudan and Somalia. In addition, violent extremism is on the rise in places like the Sahel and Mozambique.

Kenya campaigned for the security council seat on a ten-point agenda including among other goals, promoting regional peace and security; countering terrorism and preventing violent extremism; and environment and climate change. The non-permanent seat gives Kenya a platform to highlight the urgency in resolving these challenges especially from an African perspective.

Given that Kenya is also a member of the African Union Peace and Security Council for a three-year term ending March 2022, its membership at the UN Security Council, provides a link between the two bodies in prioritizing Africa’s security issues and finding lasting solutions to the conflicts and crises in various parts of the continent.

With perhaps the exception of the conflict in Libya, where major powers are embroiled in proxy wars over the valuable oil resources, other conflicts in Africa have largely been neglected. For instance, the religious violence in Central Africa Republic involving Muslim and Christian groups, has been taking place since 2013.

Kenya has played an important role in attempts to resolve many of these conflicts such as the war in Eastern DRC. Kenya recently deployed troops there as part of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO).

The political instability in Ethiopia and South Sudan has profound ramifications for countries in the Horn of Africa and the global community if allowed to escalate into full blown humanitarian crises, with global aid agencies already sounding alarm over famine in the war-ravaged Tigray region of Ethiopia.

Kenya and other African members of the UN Security Council have been pushing for a ceasefire and dialogue to end the crisis in Tigray.  Known as the A3 plus 1 (Kenya, Tunisia, Niger and Saint Vincent and Grenadines) backed an AU inquiry into atrocities committed during the conflict.

Among the countries that helped end the civil strife in South Sudan, Kenya played an instrumental role by hosting the warring parties in talks leading to independence. The international community should not allow South Sudan to regress into internecine turmoil and should instead support regional efforts to restore political stability in that country.

The international community also needs to urgently support African countries in eradicating armed extremist groups like Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and the various Islamic State and Al-Qaeda affiliates spreading their tentacles on the continent. With the recent events in Afghanistan, the threat posed by these groups to regional stability requires serious attention.

As a country that has suffered attacks by terrorists in the past, Kenya has stepped up counter-terrorism efforts including prevention of violent extremism. Through its UNSC leadership role, Kenya is better positioned to lobby greater international cooperation in the confronting and defeating extremism on African soil.

Then there is the simmering row over the Grand Renaissance Ethiopian Dam (GERD) pitting Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, and which is linked to the decades-long dispute over the sharing of the waters of the River Nile. Kenya recently backed AU-mediated talks and has even urged the UN to allow for an AU-led process to resolve the GERD dispute.

Climate change is now considered among the greatest threats to global security. In 2007, the UN security council recognized climate change as a core security issue. Again, this is one area where Kenya’s contribution as a non-permanent member of the UNSC will matter in terms of highlighting the concerns of the developing nations who are increasingly shouldering the worst impacts of the unfolding global climate crisis including food insecurity, extreme weather events and water scarcity.

In campaigning for the security council seat, Kenya committed to act as a bridge and consensus builder between the powerful group comprising the five permanent members –US, UK, Russia, China and France – who also hold veto powers over the council’s decision, and the non-permanent member States as well as the Peacebuilding Commission, and the UN General Assembly.

This consensus-building role will be crucial in ensuring that the interests of African nations and the Global South at large are integrated into the highest level of the UNSC decision-making process.

While her influence at the UNSC may be limited by dint of being a non-permanent member, holding the rotational presidency of one of the UN’s most powerful organs accords Kenya the perfect opportunity to articulate the African agenda and get the world to take the continent’s security challenges more seriously and urgently.

Having played a major role in mediating conflicts in the East and Central Africa region and contributing troops to peacekeeping missions around the world, Kenya has a discernible track record in promoting international peace and security.

In a nutshell, Kenya can use her stewardship at the UNSC to push for closer cooperation between the international community and African countries in sustainably tackling the continent’s and the world’s most pressing security challenges.

Mr. Choto is a legal and policy analyst based in Nairobi. Email: kingorichoto@gmail.com

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