Raila Odinga
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Back Raila fully for AU top job

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Raila Odinga. He has formally announced his candidature for chairperson of the Africa Union (AU) Commission.

Photo credit: File | Nairobi Media Group

Historically, Kenya’s record at securing international jobs for its citizens has been dismal. This is troubling not least because Kenya’s standing internationally is quite stellar. Past regimes have done a poor job of selling Kenya’s deep reservoir of qualified candidates to international institutions.

Many countries around the world with lesser political purchase than Kenya have done much better. The question is why. Before I slay this dragon, let me first commend President William Ruto for his enthusiastic and unreserved support and backing of Azimio’s Raila Odinga for the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) position. Mr Odinga is one of the most qualified individuals to ever gun for the position. There can’t be a better candidate.

We are admonished never to count our chickens before they hatch, or until the proverbial fat lady sings. Mr Odinga and the Republic of Kenya must still convince Africa, especially the voters — Africa’s heads of state — why our candidate is the best man for the job.

Nothing can be left to chance, or conjecture. We must, and will, humbly plead for every vote. Our task should be an easy one on paper simply because Mr Odinga has no peer in terms of his qualifications for the job.

But this is a political process and will require the marshalling of Mr Odinga’s intellectual acumen, his unbeatable pan-Africanist credentials, charm offensive, and Kenya’s diplomatic skill and panache to pull it off.

I cannot overstate how important President Ruto’s support is for this mission. Although Mr Odinga wouldn’t go to the AUC to represent Kenya, no one should underestimate the prestige and standing that would accrue to Kenya were he to bag the position.

No Kenyan has ever held such a commanding post internationally. Equally important is the support of the entire country for Mr Odinga. I am overjoyed Azimio and Kenya Kwanza have publicly and forcefully endorsed his candidacy.

The press and the intelligentsia appear to be fully on board. So are common citizens across the political divide. We can confidently say E Pluribus Unum, the American motto for “Out of Many, One.” If Mr Odinga wins, we all win.

I am a true democrat who believes in dissent. Dissent is the kernel of democracy, its very essence. That doesn’t mean I applaud all dissenters. I accept their right to dissent but reserve my right to disagree. That’s why I frown on the few lone, mean, fringe voices who have come out to attack Mr Odinga’s candidacy.

The salvos are petty and base. In my view, the few detractors are driven by tribal bile. In particular, I have been dismayed by the vituperative and bilious comments of one crackpot “professor” who shall remain nameless. His views drip with hatred, calumny, and ungoverned anger. The fellow has taken leave of his mental and intellectual faculties. His vacuousness is shocking.

The fellow claims the title of “professor” although I haven’t seen proof of any university bestowing upon him the rare and elevated title. I would question the accreditation of such a university. This reminds me of my experience in 2012 when I was approached to run for a seat on the Board of Advisors of the Rome-based International Development Law Organisation (IDLO), of which Kenya is a state party.

Despite my endorsement by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, a Cabinet member opposed me and nominated another Kenyan. I only managed to be elected to the board when another country appreciative of my credentials backed me. The other Kenyan also got elected.

It meant the board of eleven had two Kenyans! I was later elected Chair of the board of IDLO. I looked on the brighter side of the outcome in that two Kenyans would serve together. Petty domestic politics and tribal calculus shouldn’t get in the way of advancing the candidatures of qualified Kenyans to international bodies.

The section in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dedicated to candidatures in international institutions should map out a strategy to nominate Kenyans to the many high level international vacancies available. Let’s be bigger.

Finally, I want to say a word about Mr Odinga’s candidacy. Mr Odinga’s tenure as the AU’s High Representative on Infrastructure allowed him a platform to showcase his unparalleled knowledge of Africa’s development challenges and deficits in the areas of infrastructure, climate science, the movements of goods and people across borders, and communications connectivity.

He wows audiences when he addresses these challenges and how they can be addressed. His work will be made that much easier because he’s on a first-name basis with virtually all African heads of state and government. He’s a consummate administrator and first-rate intellect. He’s the man—let’s look no further.

- Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School, The State University of New York. @makaumutua.