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Ruto fronts Raila for AU top job in secret handshake deal

 When Azimio leader Raila Odinga shook hands with President William Ruto in a past event. [File, Standard]

President William Ruto is fronting Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga for a top African Union position in a deal that could tilt the political landscape and complicate the 2027 presidential election matrix.

Prime Cabinet Secretary and Foreign Affairs and Diaspora CS Musalia Mudavadi is expected to lead Kenya's push to have Raila elected chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) during the inter-ministerial conference of the AU meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that begins today.

In a surprising turn of events, President Ruto and Mudavadi have initiated a campaign for Raila to become the AUC Chairperson.

The duo is lobbying African Heads of State to vote for Raila in the upcoming AU summit in Addis Ababa this month, in a move seen as an unexpected alliance between political rivals.

The current AUC Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat of Chad has served in that position for eight years after he was unanimously re-elected in February 2021.

“Election of the AU Commission Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson by the Assembly is conducted by secret ballot and a two-thirds majority of Member States eligible to vote,” reads a statement on the AU website.

Mudavadi left last night for Addis Ababa for an inter-ministerial meeting and will be expected to front Raila for the top AU job ahead of the Heads of State and government meeting between February 19 and 21.

The Standard has established that Ruto’s push for Raila is part of a post-election deal that has been going on behind the scenes that could see the Azimio leader opt out of the 2027 presidential election.

Ironically, former President Uhuru Kenyatta according to sources is being fronted for the job by several countries including neighbouring Uganda, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) all members of the East African Community.

"We have heard vaguely that the former President's name has been circulated in one or two member states of AU, we will see how it goes but as a country we have our candidate and that is Raila," said a Cabinet Secretary who sought anonymity.

National Assembly Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee chairperson Nelson Koech said they will support any move that will ensure a Kenyan carries the flag on international platform.

"If it is Raila, so be it because any Kenyan out here projects our image. AC chairperson position is critical and influential. When it comes to him, we will support," said Koech, Belgut MP.

The push by Ruto is likely create a political wedge between Raila and Uhuru who have enjoyed camaraderie since their handshake in March 2018 after a hotly contested election.

After working closely for the Azimio leader’s last campaign, and a political bond that has lasted six years, now the opposition leader and former president are likely to find themselves on different sides probably contesting against each other.

Immediately after bagging presidency for the second term in 2017, Uhuru fronted Raila to be appointed High Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa. The ODM leader’s appointment was part of the truce with the former president after a hotly contested 2017 election.

In his appointment as High Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa, the outgoing AUC chairperson said: "Raila’s strong commitment to the ideals of Pan-Africanism and African integration are laudable."

However, the AUC chairperson is a senior position given that the holder is the Chief Executive Officer, legal representative of the AU, and the Commission’s Chief Accounting Officer.

If elected, Raila’s roles will include overall responsibility for the Commission’s administration and finances; promoting and popularising the AU’s objectives and enhancing its performance; consulting and coordinating with key stakeholders like member states, and development partners.

He will also be appointing and managing Commission staff; and most importantly will act as a depository for all AU and OAU treaties and legal instruments for the next four years and will end his four-year term which is renewable once in February 2027.

Technically, the Azimio leader will have little time to campaign if he decides to run for the 2027 presidential election if he is elected by the Commission Assembly made up of 55 Heads of State and governments.

Last Saturday, Raila gave a hint that he might not contest in 2027 and instead could support Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka.

“I have not said Kalonzo cannot be a candidate, I have come from far with him, he has supported me and I can also support him. The coalition's main interest is clinching the presidency in the next polls and we will announce the final decision at the opportune time,” said the Azimio leader during the thanksgiving for his elder brother Senator Oburu Odinga in Siaya.

In late January, Mudavadi told residents in Raila’s home constituency of Bondo that they should expect to receive good news from Kenya’s top political leadership.

Without delving into the details, he said: “Mark this date and the place where I have said this.”

Speaking in Kakamega on February 4, Mudavadi a confidant of the President hinted that there was an imminent working relationship between Ruto and Raila.

He said he had been sent by the Head of State to Siaya on a special assignment a week ago. “Last week, I was in China meeting my counterpart in the Foreign Affairs docket. Immediately after landing in Kenya, I was given a special assignment to Bondo,” he said, urging locals not to be surprised by a huge political thunder in Nyanza.

In their secret pact according to a highly placed source, Raila had agreed to back recommendations made by the National Dialogue Committee (Nadco) led by Azimio principal Kalonzo and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah once they are discussed by Parliament starting next week.

The President and the Azimio leader also agreed to have the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) issues sorted and the commission put in place.

It is not clear if the President who has been hosting several African leaders has reached out to them to support Raila. According to a senior source, the contest will be a candidate from either East or West Africa given that Southern Africa and Central have produced chairpersons in the last decade.

In February 2021, Faki was re-elected AU chairperson by near tacit vote given that he got 51 votes out of 55.

If elected, Raila will enjoy VVIP status and have a huge sway on issues on the continent.

Foreign Affairs officials said the AU Commission position is rotated regionally, and it is now a chance for the Anglophone countries to succeed Faki, who comes from West Africa.

The officials said Azimio had roped in Uhuru due to his extensive contacts with African leaders, but it turned out that the former Head of State is Museveni’s preferred candidate, as Kenya finds itself entangled in a diplomatic dispute with at least five nations, posing a risk to its foreign relations with neighboring countries in the region.

The conflicts arise from a mix of business interests, political differences, policy disagreements, and public missteps by high-ranking government officials, leading to a diplomatic uproar.

Mudavadi, once a crucial member of Raila's NASA camp, left to join Ruto's Kenya Kwanza movement ahead of the 2022 polls, in what he described as an earthquake.

National Assembly Minority Leader and the ODM leader’s ally Opiyo Wandayi declined to comment on the matter. Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna said, “I am not aware of any such campaign."

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