Kenya Could Play Key Role in UN Agenda – All Africa

Perhaps the first point that must be grasped is that the UNSC seat is not an alpha and omega. UNSC members preside over a key component of the United Nations Charter – peace and security.

Peace and security

However, because peace and security are interlinked with economic, political, environmental and cultural issues, it is always easy for member states to lose sight of the peace and security core.

The result is that member states end up throwing their energies behind non-core or peripheral issues.

Some of the non-core issues that are almost certain to surface will be geopolitical in nature. The five permanent members – Russia, France, Britain, China and the US – will lose no opportunity to use the UNSC to pursue zero-sum interests, collectively or individually.

Non-permanent members such as Kenya risk being caught between the interests of these big powers. Diplomats from recently elected non-permanent members of the UNSC – Kenya, India, Ireland, Mexico and Norway – will be under intense pressure to play subservient to either one or a combination of the big powers – as has always been the case.

Kenyan diplomacy would do well to avoid being squeezed between the competing interests, particularly those pitting China and Russia on the one hand, and France, Britain and the US on the other. In these respects, Kenya could attempt to promote the normative values of non-partisanship.

A principled stance would help Kenya emerge as a major African arbiter on global matters well past its tenure. In the recent past, the tenor of unilateralism has skyrocketed within the UN. Kenya could seek to be a force for multilateralism.

‘Building bridges’

Kenya campaigned for the UNSC seat on a 10-point platform. Of these, which ones should be prioritised? And what are some of the strategic steps towards achieving them?

The first point in the agenda is muffled, in that it attempts to bring in domestic approaches in the name of « building bridges », reform of the UN and the aspirational values of peace, tolerance and of respect for human dignity.

This ambitious and incoherent first point speaks to poor adherence to Kenya’s foreign policy. In other words, the framing of the campaign could have closely adhered to the wording of the foreign policy.

It indicates that Kenya’s foreign policy requires a review even if it was launched only six years ago. The UNSC seat provides an opportunity in that a strategic plan for the period 2021-2022 could inspire wider foreign policy reforms.

Of the remaining nine points, perhaps the most significant is the overarching pledge to « synergise UN SDGs for 2030 and AU’s Agenda 2063 ». A careful analysis of the other points such as humanitarianism and counterterrorism suggest that they would fall under this rubric.

Peace and security

However, even the SDGs and Agenda 2063 point would have to be disciplined into the UNSC mandate – maintaining international peace and security. Thus, Kenya’s promotion of the SDGs and Agenda 2063 should not be too wide as to fail the international peace and security function of the UNSC.

As fate would have it, Kenya takes up the position in pandemic times.

International Organisations

While Covid-19 is a devastating global development, it provides opportunities for Kenya at the UNSC. For instance, in focusing on the peace and security dimensions of the SDGs and Agenda 2063, the question of how Covid-19 poses threats could be raised.

Kenya could, for instance, develop its medical and health diplomacy to arbitrate between China and US over the fallout resulting from the pandemic. Kenya could enhance its digital diplomacy in view of the cyber-security threats that have emerged.

Kenya could lead the way in fresh thinking around climate change and pandemics. Crucially, these would also call for a rethink of the SDGs and Agenda 2063 itself.

Perhaps the one advantage that Kenya possesses in all these new diplomacy approaches is its hosting of the United Nations Environmental Programme and the UN-Habitat global headquarters.

While the core UNSC action happens in New York, many of the issues have linkages with the agencies that Nairobi hosts. It’s an opportunity that can be mined.

Gitau Warigi’s column resumes next week

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