Azimio la Umoja leaders
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How Raila Odinga's AU move could trigger ODM, Azimio succession battles

Azimio la Umoja leaders (from left) Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, ODM Party leader Raila Odinga and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua  when they held prayers at Jevanjee Gardens, Nairobi on February 22,2023. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga’s quest for the chairmanship of the African Union Commission (AUC) could trigger a fierce succession battle within the party and opposition coalition.

Even though Mr Odinga has stated that he will remain available for whoever needs his support, the holder of the position, unlike the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development post he initially held, has a full in-tray of expectations.

 Already, the opposition chief has hinted that his party ODM and Azimio coalition was not short of competent leaders to steer them even if he is held up as the AUC chair should he win the seat.

 “Political leadership is always shared. Even if I’m not around, there are competent people around me ready to step in and provide leadership in both ODM and Azimio,” Mr Odinga told Weekly Review, a publication of Nation Media Group in an interview.

 On Monday, Azimio National Coalition Executive Council Chairman Wycliffe Oparanya told Nation that the party was not in any leadership crisis, adding that even if Mr Odinga is to be elected AUC chairperson, he will only assume office next year.

 “So far we have not met to discuss this matter but have planned a meeting on Thursday to deliberate on it. Even as the ODM party where I deputise Raila, we are yet to discuss this matter and take an official position,” Mr Oparanya said.

 He went on: “This thing will happen a year from now and that’s enough time for us to organize ourselves. There should be no hurry.”

 Mr Oparanya’s statement followed Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka’s assurance on Sunday that the coalition will remain intact even in the absence of Mr Odinga, noting there will be no gap in the opposition’s leadership.

 “Raila is going for a higher position and we are praying for him to succeed. We are looking at the interest of Kenya and not Kenya Kwanza or Azimio la Umoja because Raila is now above local politics,” the Wiper leader said, adding they have since met and agreed to stand firm to defend the rights of Kenyans.

Mr Musyoka’s statement was, however, in parallel with Mr Oparanya’s sentiments that the coalition plans a meeting on Thursday to discuss the matter.

 In ODM where both Mr Oparanya and former Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho are deputizing Mr Odinga, it also remains unclear who between the two leaders would take up the party leader’s post should Mr Odinga relinquish it to concentrate on the AUC job.

In Azimio, even though Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua was Mr Odinga’s running mate in the last election and thus second in command in the coalition, Mr Musyoka seems to have taken up the mantle and launched his 2027 presidential campaigns, maintaining there is no leadership vacuum in the coalition.

AU job will not detract Raila's 2027 political ambitions: Orengo

 Mr Musyoka has since teamed up with DAP-K leader Eugene Wamalwa as his possible running mate and have launched joint nationwide campaigns.

All the principals have, however, endorsed Mr Odinga’s AUC candidature.

In ODM, Mr Joho last week made a comeback in the political scene, declaring his 2027 presidential bid under the Orange outfit, and promising a fierce battle with Mr Oparanya for the party’s ticket.

 “I’m done with Mombasa politics. I’ll go for the president of the Republic of Kenya.

I’ve heard some people say they will be going for the presidency; I also want to tell them I’ll be in the race,” Mr Joho declared.

He went on: “In the ODM party, there’s party leader and deputy party leaders - me and Oparanya.

He (Mr Oparanya) is also seeking the presidency. I want to tell him that we shall battle it out within ODM.”

The former Mombasa Governor went ahead to request Mr Odinga to “declare Hassan Joho Tosha,” akin to his endorsement of former president Mwai Kibaki ahead of the 2002 elections.

ODM National Chairman John Mbadi said that the party’s Central Committee would soon be convened when Mr Odinga returns from Germany to deliberate on the future of the party in the wake of the AUC plans.

  “As a party when Raila comes back from Germany we are going to sit as Central Committee to make a pronouncement on the future of ODM and I want to tell you there is no cause for alarm,” Mr Mbadi said.

Speaking in Suna East constituency where he was hosted by area MP and National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed, Mr Mbadi insisted that “in ODM, our leader is Raila Amollo Odinga, whether he’s chairman (of AUC) or no chairman.”

 Describing Mr Odinga as a political schemer, Mr Mohamed told those panicking to allay any fears.

 “Those panicking should stop it and stay easy. Raila is a schemer. He has drawn how he will be at AU and ODM,” Mr Mohamed stated.

An ODM MP told Nation that even though the leaders were insisting that Mr Odinga would remain at the helm of the party leadership, there were already factions emerging within the outfit in readiness for the battle for the party’s top post should Mr Odinga clinch the AUC post.

 “I can assure you to expect fierce battles with camps aligning with either Joho or Oparanya. Where you see Junet, know that’s Joho’s faction. The battle continues,” the legislator told Nation.

Kalonzo Musyoka: I would be stupid to support Raila again

 But ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna and Siaya Governor James Orengo held that Mr Odinga would easily serve as AUC chair and still steer the ODM party.

 “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,” Mr Sifuna said.

 Mr Orengo noted that Mr Odinga’s rights cannot be curtailed for holding a continental position.

 “I want to remove any doubt for any doubting Thomases that Raila’s rights under the constitution have not been suspended, he has a right to participate in the political affairs of Kenya, both as a citizen and as a patriot,” Mr Orengo said.

ODM that Mr Odinga leads, Mr Orengo noted, “he has made it a nationwide machine so we know that ODM will survive not in this century but will continue to be one of the most important and influential parties in Kenya if not in Africa.”

Prof Macharia Munene of the United States International University (USIU) also holds that Mr Odinga’s announcement to go for the AUC post will not affect local politics much.

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 "His influence continues just as it was when he was Africa High Representative for Infrastructure. Whether he gets the job or not, he will continue being a candidate in 2027 and beyond. (President) Ruto would like to see him out of local politics but it will not necessarily work,” Prof Munene says.

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

 Since Mr Odinga would be banking on the support of President Ruto in making his bid for the post, 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 make him disengage from his ODM party activities.

 The position that 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 Elections.

 But analysts say he can still opt to resign to run for the presidency in 2027.

Should he become the next AUC chair, he would be compelled to exit the country's political space as a holder of such a position is expected at all times to remain neutral on issues related to development, conflicts and politics in all African countries.

He will be expected to become a critical player in major international events in Africa and globally.