The Significance of Djibouti’s UNSC Bid Goes Far Beyond a Geopolitical Game

President Kenyatta of Kenya and President Guelleh of Djibouti

On September 30th edition of the Daily Nation of Kenya, David M Kigo opined that Djibouti is playing the wrong card by allegedly portraying itself as the victim of “an intimidating Big Brother” – Kenya – in its UNSC bid. Kigo’s argument also rested on his understanding that Djibouti seceded from Somalia. He argued that Kenya is and should be highly credited “for its efforts to secure peace” through helping form Somalia’s Transitional Government. While Kigo’s letter attempted to bolster Kenya’s pursuit of a seat on the UNSC, the letter makes the case by unfairly portraying Djibouti as a maleficent actor in that process. However, Kigo’s argument suffers from logical inconsistencies and serious factual inaccuracies.

First, contrary to Kigo’s assertions, Djibouti is not playing “cards.” This competition is not akin to a poker game, nor does it resemble some sort of zero-sum geopolitical rivalry. Granted, Djibouti considers Kenya a “Big Brother,” but not an intimidating actor like Kigo suggests. The two countries share a mutual bilateral relationship and are members of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Both countries also equally contribute to the African Union Mission In Somalia (AMISOM) to restore peace and stability there. Both countries play an instrumental role in fighting piracy and terrorism in the region. Both countries have more in common than what purportedly divides them. To drive a wedge between the two, like Kigo’s letter attempted to do, is itself antithetical to ethics and principles on which the African Union (AU) was founded.

Second, Kigo stated – without support – that Djibouti seceded from Somalia. Although Djibouti shares its language, culture, and religion with Somalia (just as Kenya shares its language, some traditions, and religion with Tanzania and Uganda), Djibouti has never been a part of Somalia. Djibouti gained its independence from France in 1977 and joined the United Nations as a sovereign state. As for the letter’s accusation that Djibouti has taken a side in the maritime dispute between Somalia and Kenya, Kigo lacks any concrete evidence for his claim.

Third, the letter relies on Kenya’s history of hosting the Somali National Reconciliation Conference in Eldoret in October 2002, an event that credits Kenya as one of Africa’s peace builders. Although this is true, the letter fails to consider that Djibouti hosted similar peace conferences for Somalia – not just once or twice, but three times. Djibouti hosted Somalia’s first reconciliation conference in 1991, right after Somalia’s civil war began. Nine years later, Djibouti hosted the Somali National Peace Conference in Arta. The conference allowed for the participation of “unarmed civic leaders – intellectuals, clan and religious leaders and members of the business community.” It should also be recalled that Djibouti shouldered all financial responsibility of that conference without external support. Then, eight years later, Djibouti facilitated the signing of a peace accord between the Transitional Government of Somalia (TGS) and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS). In addition to that, Kigo fails to acknowledge that Djibouti contributed to the preparatory process, substance and the success of the Eldoret peace conference. Kigo’s letter commits a logical misstep by focusing only on Kenya’s peace-building record and failing to address Djibouti’s significant record in return.

Finally, Djibouti’s argument for the bid has focused on how the AU’s nomination of Kenya was not only unprecedented, but overstepped existing principles of rotation. It is the process that is in question in here, not Kenya. As I argued on this website, the principles of rotation, used by many international organizations, should have been considered to determine bids. These principles rely on two major criteria: recency and frequency of service on the UNSC. Both criteria support Djibouti’s bid, not Kenya’s. By calling out this major irregularity, Djibouti is not playing the victim – as Kigo asserts, but asking for the rule of law to be respected and followed. Djibouti wishes to avoid a negative precedent for this type of procedural failure and fears future manipulation of existing international organizations’ rules. Although Kigo is correct that Kenya’s actions do have victims, he is wrong about labeling Djibouti the victim. The victim here is the entire body of the AU and respect for its bylaws. It is not too late for the AU to correct courses in June 2020 through its actions at the UN General Assembly.

Image credit: AMISOM Public Information [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.