Djibouti’s entry into the race for the next AUC chairmanship could see member states in two key blocs in the Eastern Africa region take sides ahead of the voting next year.

The African Union Commission (AUC) is set to hold elections for its next chairperson next year, and Djibouti’s recent entry into the race could cause a rift among member states in the Eastern Africa region. Djibouti’s Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Ali Youssouf, has been officially nominated as a candidate, joining Kenya’s Raila Odinga and Somalia’s Fawzia Adam.

Djibouti’s announcement has sparked a heated debate among East African countries, particularly Djibouti and Kenya.


The inter-governmental Authority on Development (Igad), which includes Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Eritrea, is the regional bloc from which the next AUC chairperson will be selected. Sudan’s recent coup has led to its suspension from participating in African Union activities, making it ineligible to vote in the upcoming elections.

Kenya and Somalia are also members of the East African Community (EAC), which includes Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, the DR Congo, Uganda, and South Sudan. In the past, EAC countries have typically united around one candidate to increase their chances of success. However, Djibouti’s entry into the race means that this may not be the case this time around.

In 2017, Kenya and Djibouti both vied for AUC positions, with Kenya supporting Amina Mohamed for the chairperson position and Djibouti supporting the deputy chair. This resulted in a split vote, with each country seeking support from the same allies who were also pursuing other positions. Eventually, Chadian diplomat Mahamat Faki emerged as the winner, leading to accusations of “betrayal” from Kenya.

Djibouti's Entry for AUC Chairmanship and East Africa's Divided Front
Djibouti’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf. PHOTO | X via Mahmoud Ali Youssouf (@ymahmoudali)

Despite the potential for a divided front, each of the three candidates brings unique strengths to the table. Djibouti’s Youssouf, a seasoned diplomat with over 30 years of experience in the Foreign Ministry, is fluent in French, English, and Arabic. His campaign team includes regional political experts, including a veteran Somali diplomat.

Kenya has already begun its campaign, with a team drawn from both President William Ruto’s side and Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja Kenya Coalition. The candidate who ultimately secures the position will have a significant impact on the African Union’s future direction and priorities.

Kenya’s Deputy President, Dr. Ruto, and opposition leader, Mr. Odinga, have been seeking support from East African Community (EAC) heads of state and government, as well as others beyond the bloc, for Kenya’s bid for the chairmanship.

Djibouti, however, has challenged Kenya before in international elections when it bid for the non-permanent position in the United Nations Security Council, which Nairobi eventually won. This year, Djibouti has not bid for the position, which is open for the eastern Africa region again. Somalia has received the AU’s endorsement to go ahead with campaigns for the June 2024 vote, for the 2025-26 term.

Djibouti's Entry for AUC Chairmanship and East Africa's Divided Front
A picture collage of AU chairperson candidates Raila Odinga (Kenya), Mahamoud Youssouf (Djibouti), and Fawzia Adam (Somalia).

The chairperson of the African Union Commission is elected and serves a four-year term, renewable once. The elections are set to take place in February 2025, and the campaign is expected to officially commence next month once all interested candidates submit their applications.

This announcement has highlighted the divided front in East Africa, with countries competing against each other instead of working together for the betterment of the region. While it is understandable that each country wants to promote its own interests, it is crucial to remember that the African Union was formed to promote unity and cooperation among African countries.

It remains to be seen how member states will vote in the upcoming elections, but one thing is clear: the Eastern African region is far from united when it comes to selecting the next AUC chairperson.