Azimio leaders read mischief in Raila-Ruto African Union deal

By Ndung’u Gachane | Feb 20, 2024
Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

There are murmurs in Azimio coalition over its leader’s engagement with President William Ruto on the African Union Commission chairmanship job without bringing co-principals on board.

The co-principals, according to sources, feel betrayed and are citing Raila Odinga’s move as amounting to dishonesty.

They have, however, welcomed the idea “as it will open a new chapter of succession within the Azimio coalition”.

Jubilee Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni told The Standard that his party, the second largest after Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) within the coalition, was also not aware of Raila’s AU ambitions and that the party learnt of the matter through the media.

“I view the move as an individual and family decision and I will have to live by that. But for the unity and cohesiveness of the Azimio coalition, if I was in his shoes, I would have updated my fellow partners in the Opposition,” Kioni told The Standard on phone. 

He, however, said although the Azimio summit was never consulted on the move, the Jubilee party wished him success in his ambitions.

He added that despite Raila’s absence in the country, their resolve as Azimio is to defend Kenyans against the oppressive tax regime.

Usawa Kwa Wote leader Mwangi Wa Iria, whose party is allied to Azimio, separately told The Standard that since Raila’s interest in running for the AUC chairmanship was not an emergency, the Azimio coalition would have been informed about the matter for its posterity.

“We have been consuming teargas together during protests and have always been united to issue pressers against the government’s oppressive taxation. It would have been better for us too to be brought on board in the matter,” he said. 

According to the former Murang’a governor, plans for Raila to run for the AUC chairmanship seemed to have started in Mombasa when he, President William Ruto and former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo met for the first time. He wondered why the whole issue was kept under wraps.

“After appearing at the initiation of the bipartisan talks, Obasanjo now emerges while Raila is announcing his intention to run for the AU chairmanship. I expected that the Opposition would have franked him as he made the announcement,” said Wa Iria.

Asked whether he was aware of Raila’s secret negotiations with the government for the AUC Chair job, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka yesterday said he would not want to go into that as it would create bad blood for nothing.  “Let’s focus on endorsing his bid for the AU,” he said. 

Kalonzo, who has already announced his bid for the presidency in the next election, has promised to use his diplomatic networks to help Raila clinch the seat.

“I will endeavour to use my networks to see that Raila gets the position. Instead of fighting to be president here, he will now be working with all the 54 presidents from the continent,” he said while praising Raila’s political credentials and continental networks, noting that the opposition leader has been an envoy for infrastructure at continental level. 

An Azimio leader who did not wish to be named told The Standard that although there were murmurs about Raila’s decision, they endorsed his bid to avoid portraying a picture of a disorganised Opposition.

Azimio leader Raila Odinga and former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

The leader said such a move would “open space for the succession and transition of Opposition politics in the country”.

On Sunday, a section of the Opposition leaders met at Rosalyne Estate in Runda in an informal meeting where most of them lamented Raila’s conduct and agreed to put up a united front even after Raila’s exit.

“His move amounts to dishonesty to his team members who he has reduced to mere spectators in their own coalition. It seems he was still engaging with the government even as he met us (the Azimio family) to plan ways to counter the Kenya Kwanza administration,” a leader who was present at the meeting said.

“The leaders noted that this would be the second time Raila is throwing his mates under the bus. After the March 2018 handshake between him and former President Uhuru Kenyatta where his co-principals were the current Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka only saw the surprise through the media as Raila shook hands with Uhuru,” the source said.

The sources added that as a result of Raila’s modus operandi, he has not been able to create permanent political loyalists. That is quite unlike President Ruto who has maintained close ties with his political partners.

They, however, registered their concerns as to whether Raila was being played by the government.

Poisoned chalice

“Supposing the whole idea turns out to be a poisoned chalice, who will be there to work with Raila given that to date, he is yet to inform the Azimio summit officially that he is on to his new venture, with leaders being left to switch channels to know his next move?” posed the source.

The disgruntled leaders will, however, not publicly oppose Raila’s ambitions, the source said, but they will continue endorsing him for purposes of freshness in the way Opposition does its affairs, noting they set Thursday as their tentative date for a meeting to deliberate on the way forward. 

Last Thursday, Raila explained why he was the best candidate for the job, saying he had consulted widely among friends on whether to take the job or not.

“I am inclined to accept the challenge and I am ready and I offer myself to be of service. I have asked my friend (former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo) to continue to be a good ambassador and talk to other people,” he said.

He added: “The general Obasanjo has said he is one of my closest friends in the continent and has intimated that should there be an interest, I will be keen to serve the continent of Africa,” he said.

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