Raila's chances at AUC chair candidacy questioned over academic qualifications

Azimio leader Raila Odinga with former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo at the later's residence in Karen. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

Days after Azimio leader Raila Odinga’s declared interest in the African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson, which falls vacant early next year, debate has erupted over what is required for a person to secure the coveted job.

According to the AU commission, the minimum academic qualification for the role is a Master’s degree in a wide-range of academic fields, with a PhD being an added advantage.

“Master’s degree in Law, International Relations, Economics, Diplomacy, Management, Business Administration, Political Science, Social Sciences or closely related field from a recognised institution,” reads the academic qualification, which has many revisiting Raila’s chances, arguing that he does not meet the threshold.

Records cite the opposition leader as having graduated with a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1970. On his LinkedIn account Raila says he attended the Herder Institut at the Leipzig University in the then East Germany from 1963 to 1964.

A year later, he earned a scholarship to the Technical School of Magdeburg, which is part of the Otto von Guericke University, where he got the Master of Science degree.

Although critics have speculated about Raila’s academic qualifications he has been cleared to contest presidential elections. Convinced that the former premier had a university degree, the electoral commission has thrice cleared him to seek the presidency using a degree translated in 2013, which states that the opposition leader is a Graduate Engineer. But that has not stopped doubters from questioning the said credentials.

If elected AUC chair, Raila will serve as the chief executive officer, legal representative. "The chairperson of the Commission is a transformative leadership role responsible for driving the performance of the AU Commission in delivering the continental vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa," states the role’s description.

"The Chairperson is directly responsible to the Executive Council for the discharge of his/her duties. The Chairperson of the Commission shall have a high commitment to pan-African values and the guiding principles of the African Union,” states the role’s description.

Whether or not the Azimio leader qualifies for the AUC job, based purely on academic threshold, has divided many. There is little doubt that he meets the professional experience needed, having served in different capacities in governments and at the AU as its High Representative for Infrastructure Development.

Outgoing AUC Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, a career diplomat and a former Prime Minister of Chad, studied public law in Congo-Brazaville, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in 1986.

According to his CV, posted on the AU website, the 63-year-old graduated with a Diploma on Higher Studies in Public Law in 1992. There is no mention that the former law lecturer, first elected into office in 2017, possessed a Master’s degree.

His main competitor then, former Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, earned a Master of Law in International Law from the University of Kyiv in Ukraine.

Faki’s predecessor, South Africa’s Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and Botany from the University of Zululand in 1971. That was four years after she attended the Amanzimtoti Training College.

Dr Dlamini-Zuma would later earn a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery from the University of Natal and a subsequent Post Graduate Diploma in Tropical Child Health from the University of Liverpool’s School of Tropical Medicine.

A post-graduate diploma is considered to be of the same level of study as a Master’s degree, but it does not require students to write a dissertation. It can be upgraded to a Master’s degree through the submission of a dissertation or final project.

Former Gabonese opposition leader Jean Ping also served as the AUC chairperson. The career diplomat, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs and an ex-President of the United Nations General Assembly, studied economics in France.

According to his official biography, published on his website, Dr Ping holds a PhD in Economics, which he obtained from the University of ParisI, Pantheon, Sorbonne in 1975.

Former Mali President Alpha Oumar Konaré also served in the coveted position. Prof Konaré obtained a Doctorate in History from the University of Warsaw in Poland in 1975. He also lectured as a professor of History and Archaeology in Mali.

Ivory Coast’s Amara Essy was the first AUC boss on an interim capacity, having transitioned as the Organisation of African Unity’s secretary general, a role that was not as powerful as the current position. The former UNGA president holds a Bachelor Degree in Public Law from the University of Poitiers in France and a Higher Education Diploma in Public Law.