Isolating Uhuru? Ruto took his base, party and now has Raila

When immediate former President Uhuru Kenyatta shook hands with President William Ruto shortly before his inauguration as fifth president. [File, Standard]

President William Ruto’s moves to push for the election of Azimio leader Raila Odinga as the African Union Commission chairman has thrown the opposition into disarray and is likely to create a wedge between the opposition leader and former President Uhuru Kenyatta.

After condemning Uhuru to the political cold after beating the coalition which he feverishly supported, President Ruto is politically giving the former head of state a lethal blow by taking away Raila from his political armpit.

Uhuru and Raila have for six years enjoyed a political brotherhood and a strong companionship since the March 2018 handshake that saw the opposition chief get cozy with the government he had vowed not to recognise after an acrimonious and contested presidential reelection in 2017.

The political relationship between Uhuru and Raila that was a reincarnation of the independence period affiliation between Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Mzee Jaramogi Odinga the midwifes of independent Kenya, was cemented when the former President went against his then deputy, Ruto, to support the opposition leader.

What had begun as a handshake to bury the hatchets between the Kenyattas and the Odingas has snowballed into a political nightmare.

Though the coalition Uhuru and Raila formed did not win the election, it has remained formidable and gave the former President a political lifeline after he lost his Mt Kenya support base.

And soon after the elections, Jubilee party, in which Uhuru is the party leader, split into two with one faction swearing its loyalty to Ruto.

To Uhuru’s dismay, his once monolithic Jubilee Party was reduced to a shell through the defection of almost the entire 27 MPs to the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition, leaving the former president with very few friendly voices in Parliament.

And now, the deal between President Ruto and Raila could hand the latter an influential continental job effectively getting him out of local politics.

With Raila out of circulation, Uhuru whose only political constituency was the Raila-led Azimio will be an isolated man.

The complex situation is further complicated by reports that Uhuru is interested in the same position Ruto is fronting Raila for.

In last one month both Uhuru and Raila reportedly ached out to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni seeking support for the coveted position.

In separate meetings with Museveni, the two top Kenyan leaders reportedly sought his endorsement to replace the outgoing Chadian Moussa Faki Mahamat who has served in that position for the last eight years after he was unanimously re-elected in February 2021.

“President Museveni sought Kenya’s opinion based on the two requests but was informed that the government had settled on Raila,” said a source privy to the conversations.

Perhaps unknown to Uhuru is that President Ruto had in a secret handshake offered to support Raila for the AU Chief Executive Officer position as part of the compromises that include the opposition leader’s support for his reelection in 2017.

Whereas Raila came out openly to declare interest in the position on Thursday, Uhuru is yet to make his intention open but is said to have reached out to allies of President Ruto and several presidents in the region for support.

Notably, a candidate for the position of the AU chairperson or other senior position must first have the support their respective countries for them to be taken in as candidates for the elective position to be decided by 55 heads of States and governments by secret ballot.

President William Ruto and former President Uhuru Kenyatta at a previous event. [File, Standard]

Prime Cabinet Secretary and Foreign Affairs and Diaspora CS Musalia Mudavadi alongside Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale have been key in the bid to have Raila ascend to the top AU position and have in the recent past held meetings to push for his victory.

On Friday, Mudavadi presented Raila’s name as Kenya’s candidate for the position at the ongoing interministerial conference at the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The opposition leader could contest against a yet to be named Rwandese candidate.

Mudavadi said that it is time to clinch the AU chair position and looks forward the Azimio leader’s victory in the contest next week.

“We are determined to bring the trophy to Kenya. Raila is our candidate and we will lobby well to ensure that he wins the contest,” Mudavadi told the Sunday Standard.

On Thursday, President Ruto met with Raila and former Nigeria President Olesugun Obasanjo and according to sources tasked the Nigerian leader to help campaign for the opposition leader ahead of next week AU Assembly in Addis Ababa.

A source at the State House told The Sunday Standard that Ruto has made calls to a number of countries seeking to have Raila’s candidature sail through with ease.

“The President has also reached out to the Rwandese President Paul Kagame in an effort to have him give his support and have their candidate drop in the race. I am not sure if there was an agreement on the matter,” said a highly placed source.

Ruiru MP Alice Ng’ang’a said it was Raila’s time to shine and the entire country was in unison with the decision.

“We have never hated Raila. It is only that we have supported his opponents but he is a Kenyan and we will be happy to have him win the top job. Mayhbe Uhuru’s time will come, we will cross that bridge when the time comes,” said Ms Ng’ang’a.

Yesterday, at the AU Assembly, Ruto was designated the African Union Champion for Institutional Reform taking over from President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

“The Assembly of the African Union Heads of State and Government bestowed on President Ruto the responsibility of providing political leadership and vision and completing the Comprehensive Institutional Reform Initiative that started in 2016,” State House Press Secretary Emmanuel Tallam.

 Tallam said the reform involves reforming the structure, functioning, and focus of the African Union Commission, AU Organs, and Specialised Agencies so that they become more effective and efficient in managing AU programmes.