Road to Raila Odinga's bid for AUC chairperson long, winding

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga at his Karen home during a past interview. [File, Standard]

When President William Ruto, Azimio leader Raila Odinga, and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo held a meeting in Mombasa they reached agreements that have now come to the fore thanks to Kenya's push for the AU top job. 

The Standard can provide insights into the confidential deal—the handshake—secured during this high-profile meeting last year, that led to an end to maandamano and the push for the African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson job for Raila. 

Of these, one has been successfully executed, which was an end to street demos and the launch of talks while the third is currently in play. Raila stopped the anti-government demonstrations over high taxes and the escalating cost of living that left more than 20 people dead, while Ruto has endorsed him for the AU post.

“I met with Raila and Ruto, and we went to Mombasa. And the outcome of that exercise was to have a committee with each producing five people,” Obasanjo said last Friday, flanked by Raila. 

While leaders from across the political divide have shied away from commenting on the political handshake deal, they all agree that if the Azimio leader wins the AUC position it will affirm Kenya's place on the global map.

“We have seen Raila as a reformer, and we believe that his appointment will change how things are done at the AU so that we have dignity and respect as Africa,” Dagoretti North MP Beatrice Elachi said, adding, “we are a family as a country, and we all stand behind Raila.”

The latest push by Ruto's administration to have Raila clinch the AUC top job brings to the fore a closely guarded secret.

The president is currently engaged in a charm offensive with various African countries in efforts to ensure that the Azimio leader Raila clinches Africa's most coveted jobs that would elevate him to a Pan Africanist with influence in 54 countries on the continent.

Obasanjo at a press briefing at Raila’s residence last Thursday revealed that he played a crucial role in mediating the deal between Ruto and Raila which ended weekly protests organized by the opposition paving way for the the National Dialogue Committee (Nadco).

Azimio leader Raila Odinga. [File, Standard]

“My involvement in consultations between Raila and Ruto led to considerable progress allowing the country back to normalcy, the outcome of the talks held in Mombasa last year led to the formation of the National Dialogue Committee to address concerns raised after the general election,” he said.

Political analyst Herman Manyora said Kenya is a small fish in global politics and that behind Obasanjo, there were strong forces.

He admitted that it was hard to get the finer details of the handshake, but the handshake took place in Mombasa. 

“Obasanjo is an emissary. We have many forces behind him, and they may have sanctioned him to bring together Raila and Ruto. Interestingly, Obasanjo is a friend to Raila, and Ruto will listen to him,” Manyora said. 

Six months ago, President Ruto acknowledged discussions with Raila, that ended anti-government protests.

Emphasising peace during an interdenominational service in Ukunda, Kwale county, Ruto stated that violence and property destruction would no longer be accepted in Kenyan politics.

There was speculation that Obasanjo's involvement may have been driven by international pressure, drawing parallels to Kofi Annan's mediation in Kenya's political crisis in 2008.

The talks between Raila and Ruto, facilitated by Obasanjo, led to the formation of a committee, with both parties nominating five members each. The Nadco had Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka leading the Azimio team while National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichungwah lead to the Kenya Kwanza team to the dialogue table.

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot, Embu Governor Cecil Mbarire, Bungoma Woman Representative Catherine Wambilianga and East African Legislative Assembly lawmaker Hassan Omar represented the Kenya Kwanza Alliance during the talks.

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi, DAP-K Leader Eugene Wamalwa, Nyamira Senator Okong’o Omogeni and Malindi MP Amina Mnyazi were the representative of the Azimio in the talks that were aimed to address the political crisis in the country.

Obasanjo expressed satisfaction with the committee's progress and called for further advancements. 

The former Nigerian President declared that Raila was not a Kenyan candidate but a regional one and will get support from other African leaders for AUC position. 

He President said it was now time for the East African region to head the AUC and the opposition leader was best suited to take up the job owing to his vast experience in the political arena both locally and on the international front.

“There is a strong conviction that leaders who have served as former Presidents or former Prime Ministers should be given a chance to lead the African Union Commission this time in history, with Raila who has served as Kenyan Prime Minister at one point perfectly fitting the bill,” said Obasanjo.

Last year, Ruto and Raila separately met Delaware Senator Chris Coons who is credited for spearheading talks between former President Uhuru Kenyatta and the opposition leader that culminated into the famous 2018 handshake.

Coons also met Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Uhuru to discuss the political tension and violence which was threatening to push the country to anarchy. 

Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi had hinted three weeks ago while in Raila’s Nyanza backyard that Kenyans will be surprised by some pleasant news coming from the Ruto administration. He did not elaborate leading political pundits to speculate about an impending handshake between the President and former Prime Minister.

Mudavadi would later speak in his Western Kenya backyard where he revealed that he had the previous week been sent by the President to deliver a special message to the people of Bondo asking Azimio supporters to embrace the government "since you might not know what the future holds."

“I would like to tell Kenyans that they should not be surprised should the political landscape in the country change soon, I was on assignment abroad last week and on jetting back to the country the President sent me to tell the people of Siaya of some impending good news,” he said.

Kenya Kwanza Alliance politicians are now excited at the prospects of Raila leaving the political scene which would make it easy for Ruto to be re-elected for a second term in 2027. 

UDA Secretary General Cleophas Malala stated that the ruling party has made a decision to support the Azimio leader’s bid which is a patriotic decision and one made to bolster the country’s image at the continental stage. 

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga addressing his supporters. [File, Standard]

“The United Democratic Alliance fully supports Raila’s decision to declare his bid for African Union Commission Chairmanship, he is the best candidate for the position given the contribution he has made for the continent, we believe he will push for African unity,” said Malala.

National Assembly Chief Whip Silvanus Osoro said Raila was the best candidate for the position with the government not leave anything to chance to ensure that he clinches the position with all efforts being put towards achieving the goal of having a Kenyan at the top of the African Union.

Azimio principals Kalonzo Musyoka and Martha Karua supported Raila’s decision to throw his hat in the ring for the AUC chairperson. Kalonzo said there could be no better candidate for the seat than the Azimio leader whom they have full confidence in.

Karua, DAP-K leader Eugene Wamalwa, PNU leader Peter Munya, Jubilee Party Vice Chairman David Murathe, Jubilee Party Secretary Jeremiah Kioni and Roots Party leader George Wajackoya exuded confidence the Raila will clinch the AU top job. 

The Nadco report is set for debate in the Senate and National Assembly on Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch how the government and the opposition will handle the various issues considering the camaraderie occasioned by Raila’s AU bid.

When Raila launched 'peaceful demos' last year, lowering the cost of living for Kenyans was part of the agenda.  It will be interesting to see if the matter will be pursued now that lawmakers across the political divide are keen on rallying behind the Azimio leader's bid for the AU job.