On 21 February, as Russia planned the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, ambassador Martin Kimani, Kenya’s permanent representative to the United Nations, gave a powerful speech at the UN Security Council notable for its moral clarity, historical awareness and defence of the rules-based international order.
After Russia illegally recognised the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states, a precursor to sending in its forces as “peacekeepers”, ambassador Kimani stated that “the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine stands breached”.
He explained his reasoning further: “We do not deny that there may be serious security concerns in these regions. But they cannot justify today’s recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states. Not when there were multiple diplomatic tracks available and underway that had the ability to offer peaceful solutions.”
New vision of African diplomacy
For many years, the foreign policy of African nations has understandably been dictated by economic necessity and a post-colonial policy of non-interference in the sovereign affairs of nations. Yet in his bold speech, Ambassador Kimani lucidly sketched a new vision of African diplomacy, drawing on the continent’s dismemberment at the hands of the colonial powers to send a stark message to Russia about the dangers of imperial revanchism.
“Kenya, and almost every other African country, was birthed by the ending of Empire. Our borders were not of our own drawing. They were drawn in the distant colonial metropoles of London, Paris and Lisbon… we believe that all states formed from empires that have collapsed or retreated have many peoples in them yearning for integration with people in neighbouring states. This is normal and understandable… However, Kenya rejects such a yearning from being pursued by force. We must complete our recovery from the embers of dead empires in a way that does not plunge us back to new forms of domination and oppression.”
The speech stood in stark contrast to the decidedly neutral words of South Africa, which urged “all parties” to increase diplomacy and de-escalate tensions, even as Russian tanks poured across the Ukrainian border.
Towards a permanent seat for Africa on the UN Security Council?
Ambassador Kimani’s intervention offered a refreshing alternative to the staid great power politics of the UN Security Council, which has been dominated for far too long by veto-wielding members Russia, the UK, US, France and China at the expense of smaller and developing nations.
Kenya currently serves as one of 10 non-permanent members of the council, which hold their seats on a rotating basis by geographic region, alongside fellow African states Gabon and Ghana.
Through his strident assertion of Africa’s independent voice in defence of a threatened nation, Ambassador Kimani has made the best possible case for a permanent seat for Africa at diplomacy’s top table.