William Ruto to formally unveil Raila Odinga’s AU candidature

William Ruto and Raila Odinga

President William Ruto shakes hands with Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga on May 13, 2023.

Photo credit: File | PCS

What you need to know:

  • President Ruto has directed Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi to initiate diplomatic efforts supporting Mr Odinga's bid.
  • Mr Odinga has appointed Kenya’s former Ambassador to the USA, Elkanah Odembo, to spearhead his campaign efforts.

President William Ruto and Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga have crafted a campaign team to rally regional nations to support the opposition leader's bid for the chairmanship of the African Union Commission (AUC).

While the two leaders will also lead the campaigns by reaching out to continental leaders on a personal level, the Nation has established that they are working on an elaborate team that will drive the agenda.

Although President Ruto has not officially unveiled Mr Odinga as Kenya's candidate, he is reported to have briefed government officials on the matter and his Kenya Kwanza Alliance has also publicly endorsed the ODM leader.

The Nation has also been informed that President Ruto has instructed Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, who also doubles as Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Affairs, the ministry's Principal Secretary Korir Sing'oei and top diplomats, including East African Community Secretary General Peter Mathuki, to begin shuttle diplomacy in favour of Mr Odinga.

Yesterday, Dr Sing'oei told the Nation that President Ruto is expected to formally present Mr Odinga as Kenya's AUC chairperson candidate next week.

"We look forward to working together to advance this important agenda," Dr Sing'oei said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the just-concluded 44th Ordinary Session of the AU Executive Council of Foreign Ministers in Addis Ababa, Mr Mudavadi said Kenya "would make a substantive case as East Africa through key consultations among East African member states."

Raila Odinga and Olusegun Obasanjo

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga (left) with former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in Nairobi on February 15, 2024.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

"South, Central and West Africa have had a share of the chairmanship on several occasions since 2002. East and North Africa have yet to have this opportunity," he said.

Mr Odinga is reported to have tapped Kenya's former ambassador to the United States of America (USA), Elkanah Odembo, to lead his campaigns.

Mr Odembo's first assignment was in Addis Ababa during the just concluded 37th African Union Summit where he launched the campaigns on the sidelines of the meeting.

"On the sidelines of the 37th African Union Summit, I consulted with Amb Odembo, a key member of H.E. Raila Odinga's Team, as they put together a campaign plan for Hon Odinga's candidacy for the AUC presidency," Dr Sing'oei said.

Yesterday, Mr Odembo told the Nation that the campaigns have since started, adding that they are "ahead of the pack".

"The campaign is on and yes, we have heard rumuors of other candidates but as of now, I can say we are ahead of the pack because no one else has come out and declared that they have a candidate, especially at the summit," Mr Odembo said.

Another source familiar with the plans said: "We know it's going to be a challenge because other candidates may come and the idea of rotation is also controversial because the assumption was that it was East Africa's turn."

He noted that some members of the organisation have maintained that the competition should remain open and based on merit.

The Nation was also informed that a special meeting of the Executive Council will be convened in Addis next month to determine whether it will be on merit or rotation, but "we are sitting pretty."

The source noted that they will work closely with the government team to move the agenda forward.

"Ideally, our president should be the first to talk to his colleagues and say Kenya has a candidate. We hope he will have a face-to-face with them even as he goes to the burial of the Namibian president this Saturday," he said.

Mr Odinga, who was last week endorsed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, told Weekly Review, a publication of the Nation Media Group, that he has since started securing support for the position.

"You know I have other friends in West Africa apart from Obasanjo, I have friends in North, South and Central Africa and of course East Africa which is my home," he said.

Mr Odinga formally declared interest in the position last week in Nairobi, flanked by Mr Obasanjo.

The former Nigerian President said said he believed Mr Odinga was the best bet for the top AU job, but added that he should not be the candidate for his country but for the eastern region.

"If you look at those who have held the position before, it should be East Africa's turn. Not too long ago we had Southern Africa, the one whose term is coming to an end (Moussa Faki) is from Central Africa and before that we had Konare (Alpha Oumar) from West Africa. I think it should be the turn of Eastern or East Africa," Mr. Obasanjo said.

He noted that if the Eastern region could come together and put Mr Odinga's name forward, he would clinch the position.

"I have no doubt that my friend is a viable candidate. That's of course subject to the views, feelings and of course the position and presentation of our leaders in the East African sub-region and then if the region puts the candidate forward the rest of the continent will go a long way with that. That's what I'm consulting on. That's what I'm working on and I hope God will help us," Mr Obasanjo said.

Yesterday, a source in Mr Odinga's team told the Nation that they were to meet some government officials for a briefing on how to go about the campaigns.

"It is important for us as a team to know which leaders our President has spoken to so that we know their position and how to shape our campaigns because the President has to speak to his colleagues and tell them about Kenya's candidate. They can then confirm or say they need time to think about it and that will help us a lot," the source revealed.

Azimio National Coalition Executive Council Chairman Wycliffe Oparanya, is also said to be among Mr Odinga’s insiders working on the campaign.

Mr Oparanya said since the AUC elections will be held next year, they still have enough time to organise themselves.

ODM national chairman John Mbadi stressed the need for the Kenyan government to support Mr Odinga's candidacy.

"It is the government of Kenya that has a say. It's important that you have the support of your home government rather than going in as a lone wolf. It's just good manners for your home country to support you," said Mr Mbadi.