Raila's bid for AU Chairmanship hinges on support from President Ruto

Political scientists argue that even though Obasanjo’s backing is significant, it is not enough to guarantee Raila the AU Chairperson position. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

Azimio leader Raila Odinga will need the help of President William Ruto and the government if he is to actualise his ambition of becoming the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC).

Speaking in Nairobi Thursday, Raila in company of former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo declared that he is ready to bear the responsibility of the position if called to do so.

“I am ready to go for the chairmanship of the African Union. I have been consulting widely among friends. He (Obasanjo) is one of my closest friends in the continent and I have intimated to him that if there should be interest, I will be keen to serve at the continent of Africa,” said Raila.

Obasanjo, renowned for his pivotal role in Nigerian politics and his deep commitment to pan-Africanism, threw his weight behind Raila, emphasising that the urgent need for Africa to have visionary leadership at the helm of the AU.

"There is so much at stake in Africa today that we need to get it right," he remarked, highlighting the continent's challenges amidst global uncertainties of rising authoritarianism and war.

Track record

He stressed the importance of selecting a candidate with a profound understanding of Africa's complexities and a proven track record of effective governance.

Already, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi is in Addis Ababa where he is drumming up support for Raila and his bid.

“I have no doubt that my friend could be a viable candidate,” said Obasanjo.

After the press statement, Obasanjo then went to meet the president over the issue.

In March, last year, Ruto, Raila and Obasanjo secretly met in Mombasa where they hammered a pact which, among other things, saw the opposition halt its street demonstrations which had paralysed the nation.

Ironically even as Raila hopes to ride on Ruto's support, there was a lot of controversy in February, last year, when the opposition chief unceremoniously left the position of African Union Commissions special envoy for Infrastructure Development. At the time, Raila's supporters blamed Ruto and his government, accusing them of orchestrating Raila's removal for spearheading mass protests.

Regarding yesterday's development, political scientist and AU expert Prof Amukoa Anangwe argues that even though Obasanjo’s backing is significant, it is not enough to guarantee Raila the position.

“Obasanjo is an opinion shaper but I don’t think he has the leverage to decide who becomes the chair,” says Prof Anangwe.

Experts emphasise that the journey is arduous, involving extensive consultations among Heads of State, strategic lobbying efforts within the region and across the continent, as well as a careful assessment of the country’s and candidate's standing within the African community.

Prof Anangwe explains that the decision of a candidate lies with the Head of State of a particular country and what follows are lengthy consultations and campaigns.

Even though Raila will have to traverse the continent to sell himself, Prof Anangwe argues that much of the work will come from government.

Prof Anangwe draws parallels of how former President Uhuru Kenya rallied resources to campaign for former Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed for the same position.

Similarly, History and International Relations scholar Prof Macharia Munene argues that government support for Raila is the easy part because it needs him out of the country.

“The government is interested in sending him out there in the assumption he will stop being a running point for trouble makers. Ruto will work very hard to see whether the rest of Africa will accept him,” says Prof Munene.

With Ruto taking on the position of Raila’s chief campaigner, his image and standing in the continent will also play a big role in deciding whether other Heads of State, especially those from the East African Community, will endorse Raila as their preferred candidate.

Amidst criticism of the efficacy of selecting the AUC chairperson on a rotational basis per region, East Africa now has a shot for the position, presenting a promising opportunity for Raila should neighbouring States abstain from endorsing their own candidates.

“That also depends on Ruto’s standing in the continent. If his standing with the other leaders is good, then Raila’s chances to succeed are high. If not, then campaigning for Raila or whoever will not carry a lot of weight,” said Prof Macharia.

Despite the complexities of running the chairman position of the AU, Obasanjo's backing of Raila injects significant momentum into the discourse positioning him as a formidable contender for the coveted role.

Furthermore, Raila’s potential selection for the position of AU Commission Chairperson could have significant implications for local politics in country, particularly given his role as the opposition leader.

“Those who think he will exit from local politics might be disappointed. He knows how to straddle. I don’t buy that this will be the end of his politics in Kenya. He might just have changed the theatre of engagement to the continental level,” argues Prof Anangwe.

So far, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and his Democratic Action Party of Kenya counterpart Eugene Wamalwa have declared their interest in the presidency come 2027.

The tenure of the Chairman of AU Commission is four years, renewable once. Currently, the incumbent Chairman is Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chad’s former foreign minister, who was elected in January 2017 and re-elected in February 2021. His term is set to end in February 2025.