Why Raila's stab at AU's top seat is a sword that cuts both ways

Azimio Leader Raila Odinga at the 2nd Homabay International Investment Conference. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

The success of Opposition Chief Raila Odinga’s bid to succeed Africa Union CEO Moussa Faki will undoubtedly change the political landscape in Kenya while failure of his push will injure his political career.

While many believe AUC chairmanship is Raila’s job to lose, others, including Raila himself, believe the position is not guaranteed. Many acknowledge that Raila premises his reasons for not letting off his leadership positions both in the ODM and Azimio coalition on the delicate nature of his AU ambition.

During a recent Azimio summit at Stephen Kalonzo’s Command Center (SKM) in Karen and in Wajir during the ODM’s membership mobilisation drive, Raila said he was not going anywhere and that he would be ‘here if needed’.

“Many of you have been crying that I will be far away. I will be around, I will be having breakfast in Mombasa, lunch in Wajir and dinner in Addis Ababa, I will still be around,” Raila said in Wajir while implying that his exit would be pegged on whether or not his bid would be successful.

A section of Azimio principals and political analysts opine that Raila’s loss could have huge political ramifications on him while President William Ruto could be the biggest winner on both his success or loss.

Prof Peter Kagwanja, chief executive officer Africa Policy Institute and Governance, noted that while many have viewed Raila’s candidature as an automatic card, it was good for him to weigh the negative effects in case of a loss.

He noted that the jostling for positions in the Azimio coalition as a result of Raila’s candidature was not likely to end regardless of whether he got his position, a move he noted was a minus in his social standing as the face of opposition in the country.

“By just accepting the nomination of the African Union, he has caused dissonance within the Opposition because he has triggered jostling for power among the key contenders like Kalonzo Musyoka and Martha Karua and as such there is a problem there whether Azimio will hold together whether or not he goes,” he noted.

According to Kagwanja, Raila’s failure to groom a successor in the Opposition party, and by dint of his AUC chairmanship bid, would cause internal conflicts.

At the same time, Kagwanja claimed Raila’s chances was a ‘huge gamble’ to various issues he listed adding that if Kenya insisted on having him as its candidate, there was a risk of having elections postponed to July with Faki’s term being extended to govern AU for yet another six months.

“According to the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund, which provides retirement, death, disability and related benefits, for the UN and other member organizations, the normal retirement age for active staff is 60 and 65. All chairpersons for AU commission have entered and left office below the age of 70 years and Kenya must respect the laid down international standard relating to the retirement age,” he enumerated the hurdles.

While noting that Raila may pull a ‘Trump card’ and follow the footsteps of South Africa’s Dlamini Zuma and Gabon’s Jean Ping who returned to their countries to contest for Presidency after serving in AUC, Kagwanja said Ruto semed to have an agreement to reward Raila to facilitate his exit from politics.

“But he looks like he (Ruto) is literally rewarding Raila to get out of politics and because of that the cooperation it appears is a strategy by Ruto to win over his constituency and guarantee him the 2027 election and this is regardless of whether he takes the position or not because Ruto will claim he tried to put him in his position,” he said.

He added “Ruto will be the biggest winner because he will manage to push to voluntary exile his main challenger in 2027 and while at it, he has managed to scuttle the Opposition and as such he stands a better chance in 2027.”

However, ODM Treasurer Timothy Bosire, said the government’s intention to lobby for Raila’s bid was not enough reasons for Raila to forsake the plight of Kenyans saying he would continue playing his oversight role regardless.

“Anybody who knows Raila knows his nature and modi operandi. He will always operate based on where the ordinary Kenyans are. His agenda has never been personal or individual based for good of the country,” he told The Standard on the phone.

On his part ODM’s Deputy party leader and former Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya while admitting that Raila’s failure to clinch the AUC chairmanship may injure his standing, exuded confidence that he will quickly rebrand and mount serious opposition to the Kenya Kwanza government.

“Raila is a household name in this country as he has built his name over the years. While his image may be dented internationally, I can tell you his constituency can’t abandon him for any other leader,” he said in an interview with The Standard.

Philip Njau, a political pundit from Nyeri County noted ‘Raila is a master of politics. The Ruto government must make sure that they mobilize for him. Otherwise, he will come back to his street politics blowing whistles where and when he sees the government fail…He will be accused of selfishness by his co-principals but they don’t have political muscles to outdo him. He will refurbish himself once again as a democrat.”

However, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology don and Governance Expert Charles Mwangi said Raila’s failure may still expose him to a softer landing as he could occupy the Opposition leader’s position in the National Assembly that would be created by the National Dialogue Committee (Nadco) report a move he noted may cause jitters in the Azimio brigade.

“The failure to secure the AUC Chairmanship would inevitably diminish Raila’s international profile. This may affect his ability to engage with global leaders and institutions, potentially limiting Kenya’s influence in regional and continental affairs,” he noted.