Shuttle diplomacy for Raila Odinga’s African Union chairmanship bid starts

Raila Odinga

Azimio leader Raila Odinga during a press briefing and presentation of the National Dialogue Committee report at Capital Hill Nairobi on March 8, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Elections for next African Union Commission chair will take place in February.
  • Politicians warned against jeopardising country’s prospects to win the position.

Kenya has initiated a shuttle diplomacy quest in a bid to secure former Prime Minister Raila Odinga the chairmanship of the African Union Commission (AUC) in the February 2025 election.

The process, according to strategists in the campaigns, involves the presidency, the candidate and his team, the Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs, and the Eastern Africa Ministers of Foreign Affairs.

It has also roped in the Ministry of East African Community (EAC) under Cabinet Secretary Peninah Malonza.

Partner States

Last week, Ms Malonza wrote to the outgoing secretary-general of the EAC Secretariat, Dr Peter Mathuki, requesting him to “mobilise the EAC partner States to support the Republic of Kenya.”

“Kenya is proposing the candidature of [Mr] Odinga ... for the position of [AUC Chairperson]. [Mr] Odinga was appointed the inaugural AU High Representative for Infrastructure Development, a position he held until February 2023,” Ms Malonza wrote in the March 20 letter that was also copied to other regional EAC ministers.

Paul Kagame and Raila Odinga

Rwandan President Paul Kagame (right) with Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga in Kigali on March 8, 2024.

Photo credit: Pool

In his response, Mr Mathuki wrote to various Eastern Region EAC ministers and their Foreign Affairs counterparts, including Somalia’s Ali Mohamed Omar, emphasising on the country’s choice of Mr Odinga as its candidate for the post.

‘Further proposed’

“The Republic of Kenya has officially communicated to the EAC Secretary-General vide letter Ref: No EAC/5/4 VOL.8 (58) dated March 20, 2024, of their candidature for the position of the AUC and further proposed the candidature of [Mr] Odinga ... for the position.”

“The purpose of this letter, therefore, is to inform you of this development and urge partners to mobilise support for the candidature of [Mr] Odinga given his immense experience in leadership and understanding of issues affecting our continent,” Mr Mathuki wrote in his letter dated March 21 and also copied to other regional ministers including Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi.

Former Somalia Foreign Affairs Minister Fawzia Adam has also thrown her heart in the ring in a bid to succeed incumbent AUC chair Moussa Faki Mahamat.

Yesterday, a member of Mr Odinga’s campaign team told Nation any official communication will be followed by “close deliberations” in a bid to win support.

“Remember this is an election that will take place in February 2025 and the voters are Presidents. President William Ruto will continue to reach out to his colleagues to secure support for Kenya, while the candidate will also be seeking an endorsement from individual Presidents ahead of the vote,” the official told the Nation.

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: File | Nation Media Group

Mr Mudavadi has warned Kenyan politicians against utterances that could jeopardise the country’s prospects to win the position, regretting that some talks might weaken Kenya’s quest for the top regional post.

“Please let us take this issue of the AUC chairmanship more seriously than we are taking it. Be careful because what you say may undermine our national interest, don’t just speak as if it is a village agenda,” he warned.

Former ambassador to the United States (US), Mr Elkanah Odembo, who is also one of the strategists who are being consulted in the country’s quest for the top continental post, said the officials were “undertaking some key measures including identifying members of the regional teams and conducting an assessment of the operating environment.”

Significant influence

“We are also identifying possible key external influencers such as the US, France, UK [United Kingdom], EU [European Union] and the Brics,” Mr Odembo revealed.

Brics is an acronym that stands for an association of five major emerging national economies — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Before South Africa joined the association in 2010, it was known as Bric.

The Brics nations have fast-growing economies and have a significant influence on regional and global affairs.

They are all members of the G20 group of nations and comprise a significant portion of the world's population and land area, with their combined GDP accounting for a substantial part of the global economy.

“We are also creating a profile of the candidate and his vision and mission for the all five languages of the AU and developing a comprehensive communication strategy, including campaign messaging and media events and interviews,” said Mr Odembo.

The Nation was informed that Mr Odinga’s campaign will take advantage of various platforms.

“These include key continental and multilateral forums like the AU statutory meetings of Heads of States and Governments and those of ministers; UN General Assembly, meetings of the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), AU strategic partner meetings, FOCAC (Forum on China-Africa Cooperation) and TICAD (Tokyo International Conference on African Development), among others,” added Mr Odembo.