Djibouti entry in AUC top seat race impedes Kenya bid

Djibouti’s entry into the race for the next African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson on Tuesday could see member states in two key blocs in the Eastern Africa region take sides ahead of the voting next year.

Djibouti officially confirmed it was fronting its Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf as a candidate for the next AUC chairperson, becoming the third person to show interest in the continental top post. Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga and Somalia’s former Foreign Affairs minister Fawzia Adam had announced their candidature earlier.

But while the post will only be contested by countries in Eastern Africa, Djibouti’s entry means there won’t be unity on one candidate for now, continuing a past trend.

Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia belong to the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (Igad), which includes Uganda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan and Eritrea.

Sudan is suspended from taking part in African Union activities for now and is ineligible to vote following an October 2021 coup.
Kenya and Somalia also belong to the East African Community (EAC), which also includes Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, Uganda and South Sudan. In ordinary circumstances, they usually coalesce around one candidate to raise their chances. Sometimes it is not always the case.

Until rules were changed to allow rotation of posts, these countries often went for each other’s turfs. In 2017, Kenya fronted a candidate for the AUC chairperson’s position and Djibouti went for the deputy, a sure way of dividing the vote as each looked for support from the same allies who were also seeking other positions and hence needed trade-offs.
Eventually, after Kenya’s Amina Mohamed lost to Chadian diplomat Mahamat Faki, claims of “betrayal” emerged from Nairobi. Djibouti would late issue a statement refuting giving its vote to another candidate, however.
The three candidates, nonetheless, offer each of these countries a chance to galvanise locally as well as hunt for votes from other blocs not eligible to front the chair. The deputy AUC chair will go to the north, while three other regions; south, west and central will compete for the remaining commissioner positions.

Youssouf, 59, a multilingual Djiboutian has served in the Foreign Ministry since the 1990s. His government said his experience in diplomatic work gives him an edge over his competitors, saying he knows the intricacies of the AUC and is ready to “serve and breathe new life into the pan-African organisation.”
The career diplomat is credited with conflict resolution through dialogue and negotiation in discharging his duties and is multilingual, fluent in French, English and Arabic. His campaign team includes some regional political experts, including, incidentally, a veteran Somali diplomat.

Kenya has already embarked on shuttle diplomacy, mounting a campaign team drawn from both President William Ruto’s side and Mr Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja Kenya Coalition.
Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga have sought the support of EAC heads of State and government as well as others beyond the bloc, the latest being the Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo.
The campaign, however, is set to officially commence next month once all interested candidates submit their applications.

The holder of the office is elected and serves a four-year term renewable once.
“The African Union Executive Council today unanimously adopted a critical decision that it is the turn of the Eastern Africa region to submit candidates for the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission. The elections will be held in February 2025,” the statement dated March 15, 2024, read in part.

Djibouti has challenged Kenya before in international elections when it bid for the UN Security Council membership even though the AU had endorsed Nairobi for the non-permanent position.

Djibouti would lose in the second round after Kenya garnered the relevant two-thirds majority vote for the seat for the 2021-22 term. This year, Djibouti has not bid for the position, which is open for the eastern Africa region again. Instead, Somalia received the AU endorsement to go ahead with campaigns for the June 2024 vote, for the 2025-26 term.

The East Africa