The contest between Kenya and Djibouti will head to the second round of voting Thursday after the first phase saw Nairobi's victory insufficient to win the UN Security Council seat.
In the first round, Nairobi scored 113 votes against Djibouti's 78. And although Kenya was firmly in the driving seat, the rules of the elections demand at least two-thirds of the eligible UN member states voting to be declared winner.
On Wednesday, the election that started at 4pm Kenyan time saw 192 of the 193 member states voting. Only Venezuela was barred from casting its ballot as it is still in arrears for its membership in the UN.
It means Nairobi's diplomats will have to work a lot harder to lobby countries across the world for one more vote each to see off a Djibouti that rejected AU's decision to endorse Kenya and went ahead to conduct parallel campaigns for the only seat allocated for Africa.
The UN Security Council is the most powerful organ of the UN, charged with maintaining global peace and security. Its decisions, by law, must be obeyed by all UN member states, giving its prestige and power.
Nairobi, if it wins, would be among the 10 non-permanent members, who often work alongside the permanent five (Russia, China, UK, US, France) to pass resolutions touching on global peace and security.
While the permanent five often have powers to veto, their continual bickering on key issues has often required the non-permanent ten to tilt decisions in their favour, making all members of the Council influential. Besides, all members of the Council get a chance to preside of sittings, providing another opportunity to influence agenda.
Nairobi was banking on the African Union endorsement and its own networks abroad to hope to ride the Djibouti challenge. The victory could be a soothing air on diplomats in Nairobi assigned to deliver the seat.
The elections for non-permanent seats of the UN's most powerful are often routine annual events. But Wednesday's were historic because representatives voted under restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic, and without the plenary sessions.
India, Mexico, Canada, Ireland and Norway were the other countries who fronted their candidature. India had by last evening won its contest for the Asia/Pacific region, scoring 184 votes. It ran unopposed.
If no winner emerges from the second round, there could be a further round of voting still. After that, the contest could be open to new entrants if neither Kenya nor Djibouti concedes. Alternatively, they might agree to share out the seat, a year on the Council each.