Revealed: How President Ruto got Raila 'fired' from AU job

President William Ruto (left) and Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga

President William Ruto (left) and Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s diplomatic tour at the African Union Commission (AUC) has ended in controversy, just like the political storm that he has kicked up locally that has escalated to mass action threats.

Yesterday, what was not contested was the announcement that Mr Odinga’s tenure as the commission’s high representative for infrastructure development in Africa had ended after nearly five years.

But a cloud of controversy swirled around the circumstances of his exit, whether he quit — Mr Odinga claimed that he had requested to be freed “to pursue other urgent matters” — or he was pushed out, as diplomatic and Kenyan government sources indicated.

Stoking the controversy further was the fact that the letter announcing the end of his tenure was dated February 19, on the day President William Ruto left Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the continental body, following a two-day visit to attend the 36th Ordinary Session of the African Union Heads of State and Government Summit.

AUC chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat wrote to Mr Odinga thanking him for his service and informing him that the conversion of the Nepad Agency to the African Union Development Agency, Nepad is now complete and the new body has a “full mandate to implement the continental agenda on infrastructure.”

By this, the diplomatic statement indicated that Mr Odinga, who had been appointed to the role in October 2018 after a truce with then President Uhuru Kenyatta, had been tapped to help during the transition to the new continental body.

“Your role in this journey, Excellency, has been invaluable. Allow me to express my profound gratitude for accepting to serve in this role during the transition period, which has now come to a happy conclusion,” Mr Mahamat wrote. The position had no definite period of tenure.

However, a diplomatic source at the AUC told Nation it was a “polite termination” due to what he described as “endless politicking”.

‘Polite termination’

“You must remember that President Uhuru Kenyatta who got him here is no longer in power. This was a polite termination and the request was made at one of the closed-door meetings on the sidelines of the AU Summit,” said the source.

And a Kenyan official remarked: “ Yes! H.E [President William Ruto] on this end requested that it be terminated given Raila Odinga’s continued politicking.”

Democratic Republic of the Congo President Félix Tshisekedi and Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga in Addis Ababa

Democratic Republic of the Congo President Félix Tshisekedi and Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia during the 35th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union last year.

Photo credit: Pool

Another highly placed source in government pointedly said Mr Odinga had simply lost his continental job because of his hard-line position that he does not recognise President William Ruto and his continued branding of the Kenya Kwanza government as illegitimate.

The official said Mr Odinga’s position became untenable given his persistent attacks on the government, even after international observer missions, including the AU, termed the Kenyan elections credible and the Supreme Court subsequently upheld the election of Dr Ruto.

AU sanctions

“The AU has sanctioned nations that do not support democracy and people who try to create instability in stable African nations. Raila has said he doesn’t recognise Ruto as President, he is holding anti-government meetings and recently unveiled youths in red berets. It’s the same as trying to overthrow a democratically elected government. He cannot continue to work in the AU yet he doesn’t espouse its views,” said the source who insisted the exit was a termination.

Mr Odinga first declared that he does not recognise Dr Ruto as President on January 23 during a rally at Kamukunji grounds.

Before that, Mr Odinga had addressed a rally at the same venue on December 7, 2022, when he gave President Ruto a January 2023 ultimatum to address the high cost of living among other issues or Kenyans would “be free to take such steps as they may deem fit to ease the burden of the yoke upon their shoulders.”

Thus far, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party leader has led the opposition in 11 political rallies, dubbed people’s barazas, and will tomorrow be in Kakamega before holding another meeting in Kitale in Trans Nzoia County the following day.

However, yesterday, Mr Odinga, prompted by the leaked AUC letter, issued a statement explaining he had requested Mr Mahamat three weeks ago to be relieved of his duties.

The Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Korir Sing’oei, shared the letter on a tweet that read: “End of tenure notification. We thank Rt. Hon Raila Odinga for his service to the continental body.” 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs subsequently confirmed the letter was legitimate. In the statement yesterday, the former prime minister explained that he had sought to leave the organisation to “pursue other pressing and urgent matters.”

In his letter to Mr Mahamat, Mr Odinga stated that he was glad that his request to be let off the role had been accepted.

“During our meeting on the sidelines of the second Dakar African Infrastructure Financing Summit in Dakar, Senegal about three weeks ago, I indicated the challenges to my continued availability for the role of AU High Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa. In that regard, I welcome your quick action that will free me to pursue other pressing and urgent matters,” Mr Odinga wrote.

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga in an entourage snaking its way to the historic Kamukunji Grounds for a rally on January 23, 2023. 

Photo credit: Diana Ngila | Nation Media Group

He noted that it had been a great pleasure and honour serving the continent and the African people and addressing infrastructure development, “which we agree is the greatest contributor to our unending struggle to lift ourselves out of poverty and under-development.”

Vested interests

“I am proud to have made a contribution to the transformation of the Nepad Agency to African Union Development Agency-Nepad, among other contributions during my tenure,” said the Azimio leader.

Mr Odinga lashed out at some African leaders and vested interests outside the continent, saying, they had posed challenges and were keen to keep Africa in its present condition.

“Hopefully, the continent will overcome these. I will be indicating when I might be available for deployment on continental assignment as circumstances change. Please, accept the assurances of my highest consideration and personal esteem,” Mr Odinga wrote.

This was in response to the letter by Mr Mahatma, which also lauded Mr Odinga for demonstrating “exceptional leadership and unique command of the issues concerned to the leveraging of infrastructure as a key priority within the continental agenda,” during his tenure.

Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi came to the defence of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader, saying, he had voluntarily opted out and that President Ruto had no influence in his exit.

“I do not think [Mr Odinga’s] tenure at AU has anything to do with Ruto. The letter clearly stated that his term came to an end. It was not a termination. Again, the decision is made by the plenary of the Head of States and not one individual,” Mr Osotsi said.

The legislator added that Mr Odinga “has actively participated in politics as he serves AU including vying for Presidency.”

“If at all Ruto had a hand in it, why has he not replaced him with another Kenyan?” Mr Osotsi posed.

Belgut MP Nelson Koech also distanced Present Ruto from any links to Mr Odinga’s exit from the continental role, adding that probably it was the ODM leader’s “subversive activities that led to the conclusion of his role.”

“If it was a question of withdrawal of backing by the government, President Ruto could have done it last year, but he opted for Raila Odinga to continue in his role even as he appointed Azimio Council Chairman and former President Uhuru Kenyatta as his own peace envoy,” Mr Koech added.

“If we may speculate on why Raila lost his job, by nature all diplomatic assignments are sensitive and call for the holders of the high offices not to throw caution to the wind,” Mr Koech said. The MP pointed out that it is possible AUC no longer wants to be associated with Mr Odinga’s activities in the country. Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang said Mr Odinga has had “a very successful tenure” heading Africa’s infrastructure agenda.

“I think Baba has had a successful tenure despite it not being a permanent position. Last year, I was with him at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) where he attended in his capacity as AU head of infrastructure and spoke passionately about the urgent need for green climate-smart infrastructure.

“I have also accompanied him to the US where he always highlighted the need to finance Africa’s infrastructure projects and he has been extremely successful for these African projects,” said Mr Kajwang.

Gachagua: Raila lost AU job because of demos

Nation yesterday reached out to high-ranking officials at the Office of the President, but they declined to comment on the matter.