Djibouti has the right to reject the outcome of the deeply flawed and unfair process of the African Union.
On August 22, the African Union (AU) member-states representatives in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia cast their final votes and nominated Kenya over Djibouti to represent the African continent on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) 2021-2022. The vote followed weeks of fierce campaigning between the two countries to secure two-thirds of the votes of the AU’s member states. While Kenya celebrated this endorsement as an affirmation that it would best serve the member-states’ interests, Djibouti decided to remain in the race and take it to the UN, where the actual nomination will soon take place. Kenyan press immediately accused Djibouti of compromising the unity of the AU bloc; however, these accusations are far from the truth. Instead, Djibouti has upheld the established norms and practices of the AU, practices that have been overlooked. Upon considering those practices and evaluating Djibouti’s unique role in international relations, Djibouti is far better suited to receive the AU’s nomination.
Conventionally, when two countries from the same region run for the same position, there are established protocols and practices. Abdiaziz Omar Salah, an expert in East African affairs, discussed these practices on Somali Voice of America on August 25. He stated that when two countries compete for the same position, it is their responsibility to reach a negotiated compromise. If negotiations fail, then the AU members in the United Nations bear the initial responsibility to follow what Mr. Salah describes as the Principles of Rotation. According to Mr. Salah, these principles mandate the AU representatives at the UN, or what is called, the Ministerial Committee on (African) Candidature, adopt a fair and nonpartisan approach to the nomination by considering the frequency and recency of each candidate’s service in the UNSC.
The process begins by allowing the Ministerial Committee take a closer look at the candidates’ periods of representation. For example, the committee considers how many times each candidate country has served as non-permanent representative at the UNSC. If one of them has served more frequently than the other, then priority should be given to the party who has served less. In this case, Kenya has served as a non-permanent representative at the UNSC twice: 1973 and 1997. Djibouti has served only once – in 1993. Had this paradigmatic criterion put into practice and the Ministerial Committee had been given the chance to choose (which they hadn’t), Djibouti should have received the nomination of the AU bloc. Furthermore, the Ministerial Committee traditionally considers a second criterion: recency. The committee evaluates which state last served as a non-permanent representative of the UNSC. If one state served more recently than the other, that timing weighs in favor of nominating the state most removed from its service on the UNSC. In this case, Kenya served more recently (1997) than Djibouti (1993), making Djibouti the more ideal candidate.
Considering these two major criteria, Djibouti should have been nominated to serve as the AU’s non-permanent representative in the UNSC. But the AU member-states failed to consider or evaluate these two traditional principles by immediately sending the nomination to a vote. A vote should typically be used as a last resort and only after every other option – and method of evaluation – has been exhausted. What is even more astonishing is the body or the organ of the AU which cast the vote in Addis Ababa on August 22 is the Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC). The PRC “conducts the day-to-day business of the AU on behalf of the Assembly and Executive Council” — and has never voted to choose between two states for a UNSC candidature. Not only this process is unprecedented, but it also bypasses existing standards of the AU’s electoral procedure. Given these irregularities, Djibouti has a strong basis to contest the vote before the entire United Nations, allowing all 193 member-states to cast their vote in free and fair elections. By jumping straight to the voting process and overlooking established practices and norms, the AU failed to uphold one of its major principles: respect for equal sovereignty of its member states.
Upon further evaluation, Djibouti is an ideal candidate for UNSC membership. Djibouti has been a beacon of peace and stability in the East African region. It has accomplished what seemingly was impossible: peacefully hosting the military bases of rival nations (US and China) to begin with, (within a few miles of each other), regardless of the nations’ warring ideologies and practices. Despite its own economic struggles, Djibouti continues to welcome refugees from war-torn regional countries, such as Somalia and Yemen, without reservation. Djibouti has the ability to strategically partner with world powers while maintaining its internal inherent natural peace and stability. The AU will likely never find a more apt candidate for the UNSC than Djibouti at this time.
Nevertheless, things are far from being over. In fact, the race for the seat has just began and in June 2020 AU member-states will still have the opportunity to vote for Djibouti at the UN General Assembly (UNGA). Moreover, Djibouti represents more than Africa alone. It is a member state of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, one of these two organizations, the OIC already supports Djibouti’s bid. If the AU members endorse Djibouti in June 2020, Djibouti will have the opportunity to play a uniquely constructive role in the rapprochement of the Arab, Islamic and African worlds.