Raila Odinga
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How AU bid affects Raila Odinga, Azimio’s political game

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

Photo credit: File | Nairobi Media Group

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party leader Raila Odinga formally announced his candidature for chairperson of the Africa Union (AU) Commission yesterday, a quest that could radically alter the country’s political landscape by possibly exiting him from the scene.

Making the announcement at his Karen home in Nairobi while flanked by AU special envoy and former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo,Mr Odinga said the decision followed “wide consultations among friends.”

Mr Obasanjo later met with President William Ruto in Murang’a.

Raila: AU, here I am

‘Consulting widely’

“I have been consulting widely among friends and the general here [Mr Obasanjo] is one of my closest friends on the continent. I intimated to him that if there should be interest, I will be keen to serve the continent of Africa, because as a pan-Africanist, I believe strongly that Africa is playing in the league it should not play. Africa deserves better,” he said.

Mr Odinga, his allies say, has a long-standing commitment to pan-Africanism and has consistently advocated for greater unity and cooperation among African nations.

As AU chairman, they argue, Mr Odinga can “leverage his vision to promote solidarity, peace, and development across the continent.”

The decision by Mr Odinga to bid for the plum position is likely to slow down his local political activities as taking up the role would require him to develop a good working relationship with leaders across the continent, including President Ruto.

Since Mr Odinga would be banking on the support of President Ruto in his bid, he is likely to slow down his criticism against the Kenya Kwanza administration. His involvement in Addis Ababa — AU’s headquarters —is also likely to disengage him from activities in his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), where he is the party leader.

Opt to resign

The AU Commission chairmanship, which is currently held by Mr Moussa Faki, is set to fall vacant in February next year. Should Mr Odinga succeed in his quest, his four-year term would expire in 2028, a year after the next General Election. But analysts say he can still opt to resign to run for the presidency in 2027.

Mr Odinga’s declaration came following weeks of speculation and hints from some senior government officials over a looming political deal between the opposition chief and President Ruto.

Speaking during a church event in Mr Odinga’s backyard of Bondo in Siaya County on January 28, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, who is also the Foreign Affairs CS, hinted at a “surprise important and pleasant news” that would come to light soon.

Yesterday, Mr Obasanjo expressed confidence that the former Prime Minister was best placed to take up the AU job, adding, he was a candidate for the East African region.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo meeting with President William Ruto on February 15 2024.

“Not too long ago, we had Southern Africa. The one now whose term will be ending [Moussa Faki] is from Central Africa and before that we had Konare [Alpha Oumar] from West Africa. I believe it should be the turn of Eastern or East Africa,” Mr Obasanjo said.

“I have no doubt in my mind that my friend is a viable candidate. That’s of course subject to the views, feelings and the position and presentation of our leaders in the East African sub-region. If the region [fronts Mr Odinga as a candidate] the rest of the continent will go along with that. That’s what I’m working on,” he said.

Mr Obasanjo later met with President Ruto just hours after endorsing Mr Odinga for the AU job.

“We believe people who have held positions of head of government as Prime Minister or President will be the right people to hold the AUC position,” Mr Obasanjo said.

Past holders of the position include Mr Amara Essy from Ivory Coast in West Africa in an acting capacity, Mr Konare from Mali, also in West Africa, Mr Jean Ping from Gabon in Central Africa, Ms Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma from South Africa and Mr Faki from Chad in Central Africa.

Mr Obasanjo held that it was now imperative for the continent to consider a candidate from Eastern Africa, noting that Mr Odinga has what it takes to occupy the coveted regional post. Mr Odinga served as Prime Minister under former President Mwai Kibaki between 2008 and 2013 following a peace deal dubbed the National Peace Accord.

Political experience

Should Mr Odinga put up a strong fight and win, he would bring extensive political experience to the table, having served in various leadership positions in Kenya and the AU, where he served as the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development.

Mr Odinga’s “deep understanding of governance issues and diplomatic relations equips him with the necessary skills to navigate the complexities of AU leadership”, Orange Democratic Movement Treasurer Timothy Bosire told Nation.

“He has been actively involved in mediating conflicts and promoting democratic principles, earning him respect both regionally and internationally,” he added.

Those vouching for Mr Odinga’s candidature say he enjoys global recognition with some of his contemporaries in opposition politics now heading some African States.

Raila Odinga and Olusegun Obasanjo

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga with former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in Nairobi on February 15, 2024 when he formally declared interest in the African Union Commission chairmanship.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

Yesterday, Mr Odinga said that, having worked in the AU before, he was at a vantage position to serve the continent. “I believe that, working together, we can emancipate Africa. I accept the challenge. Should the leadership of Africa want my services, I am ready and offer myself to be of service to this continent.”

A Kenya Kwanza legislator who spoke to the Nation in confidence said Mr Odinga’s move could spell doom for the opposition.

“He will now be a statesman who will not want to poke his nose in local politics. This will leave Azimio in a leadership crisis while benefiting President Ruto,” the MP said. But ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna disagreed.

“It doesn't change anything. Raila has held continental positions before including at the AU. We did not see any difference in his politics or the opposition's politics. As his SG I congratulate him for the decision to go for the seat and wish him well,” Mr Sifuna told the Nation.

Echoing Mr Sifuna’s sentiments, Senate Minority leader Steward Madzayo said, if elected, Mr Odinga will have his hands full but still remain an active member of ODM.

“If he manages to change his mind ahead of 2027, we shall be ready to receive and accept him as our presidential candidate,” he said.

Olusegun Obasanjo

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo speaks to the media in Nairobi on February 15, 2024.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

Prof Macharia Munene, a professor of history and international relations at the United States International University, Africa said Mr Odinga’s quest would not affect his involvement in local politics.

Highly likely

“Raila likes high flying positions and this is likely to be one of them if he gets it. The announcement will not affect local politics much. His influence continues just as it was when he was the Africa Union High Representative for Infrastructure,” Prof Munene said.

Political analyst Dismas Mokua said that, with President Ruto’s support, Mr Odinga was highly likely to win the seat.

“The probability of Mr Odinga winning the position of AUC chairman with blessings from Nairobi is extremely high,” said Mr Mokua.

“Not long ago, Prime Cabinet Secretary and Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Musalia Mudavadi, while representing President Ruto at a church function in Bondo, told Kenyans to prepare for a big announcement. It appears that the big announcement was Nairobi’s support for Mr Odinga’s AUC chairperson interests,” he added.

Mr Odinga’s candidature, Mr Mokua went on to say, will immensely benefit from Nairobi’s goodwill and support “and he will have to give local politics a wide berth and stay focused on continental matters.”

Yesterday, and hours after Mr Odinga had formally declared his interest in the chairmanship of the AU Commission, the Jubilee Party, an Azimio affiliate, endorsed his candidacy.

Speaking after a meeting with a caucus of Jubilee leaders from Nairobi City County where they discussed a range of issues including the sky-rocketing cost of living, Jubilee Party Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni said “the game does not end” with Mr Odinga’s exit from active politics.

“Remember, Mr Odinga has a machinery called the Orange Democratic Party that is bigger than him. If that machinery is still available to us, which we believe it is, we will still go a long way,” Mr Kioni said.

The AUC chairperson is a powerful position in the continental body. The chairperson serves a four-year term, renewable once. The election is by secret ballot and requires a two-thirds majority of member states. The catch is that, if Mr Odinga is successful, he will have to step down from active politics in the country.

Leading light

“As Azimio, we approach the leadership of this country as a team. So if one of us is unable to be part of the game, the team continues. The game does not end there. But of course we will always benefit from the experience of those who have been there before,” Mr Kioni said. “If he gets it, we also have to make sure that we have momentum in Azimio. The momentum we have has to continue.”

Raila Odinga (right), his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka (left) and AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat

ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga (right), his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka (left) and AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat (second from right) at Capitol Hill Square in Nairobi on July 19, 2017. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Jubilee’s Fanyamambo Kinuthia, whom Mr Kioni described as a leading light within the party, likened Mr Odinga’s candidacy to that of athletes competing in a race. Mr Kinuthia explained that, while the party had decided to support the Azimio boss, it was also looking at ways of sustaining the momentum in case he was successful in his bid.

“We will look at Raila Amollo Odinga as a man wearing a Kenyan T-shirt in a race against other Africans. We cannot stand behind others. We will stand behind our own. And if he is the only one, we will say we are Kenyans and there is one of us and he is the only one and we will stand behind him,” Mr Fanyamambo said.

He continued: “When we see a Kenyan running out there in the national colours...we all unite around that athlete and say if this is the only candidate we have as a country, we will stand behind that candidate.”

The Jubilee meeting was a forum to restrategise for the future.

In recent days, the Azimio affiliate parties have been organising separate events in different regions, which has been interpreted as cracks emerging in the opposition outfit. But Mr Kioni said the coalition had agreed to revamp its parties “because Azimio will be as strong as the strength of the individual parties. This is what we are doing today.”

He said the target was to unseat Dr Ruto in the 2027 presidential elections: “The bottom line is that Mr Ruto must go. He is weak politically.”