Ruto's support for Raila AU bid should not deflect opposition's vigilance

President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni hosted President William Ruto and Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga at his Kisozi country home in Uganda. [PCS]

A lot has attended President William Ruto’s declaration that his government will front and support Raila Odinga for the chairmanship of the African Union Commission.

The position will fall vacant in January 2025 at the end of incumbent Chairman Moussa Faki's second term. The unexpected aura of camaraderie between Raila and Ruto, hitherto fierce political opponents, caught both friend and foe flat-footed. Many politicians are still trying to come to terms with this development and make sense of it, and that is because for many, their careers hinge on either hanging onto Raila’s coattails or throwing mud at him. 

Perhaps out of political expediency, most elected leaders have outwardly expressed support for the move. Already, there is talk of a handshake between Ruto and the ODM leader akin to the one that happened between Raila and President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2018 and soured the relationship between Uhuru and his then-deputy, William Ruto.

The onboarding of the opposition into government effectively killed the opposition, leaving the government to its own devices. The Executive called the tune and dictated the pace of everything without the urge to look over its shoulder because the opposition was dead.  We seem to be facing a similar situation, perhaps with similar consequences, but must guard against its effects. A cohesive nation is what everyone wants, but those who birthed the idea of an opposition to keep Executive excesses in check could not have been wrong.

No doubt, Kenyans have associated the opposition with Raila for a long time because he has always been at the forefront of opposition politics. Nothing could be further from the truth. Leadership abhors a vacuum hence, should Raila leave, another leader should take his position through a democratic process. Indeed, there is no shortage of capable opposition leaders. The opposition cannot cease to function because Raila is not in the picture.

Ruto’s support of Raila’s AU bid should not be the reason the opposition drops its guard. If it should be seen as a favour, the support is a favour to Raila, not the opposition. The support should also not provide the opportunity for the government to further weaken the opposition through tokenism. We need a vibrant opposition to keep the government on the straight and narrow. The opposition should not start singing the government's tune because Raila and Ruto are 'working together'.

Raila has assured his support base he is not going anywhere even if he becomes the AU Chairman. He says he is not quitting local politics anytime soon. No doubt, being the consummate politician that he is, Raila is trying to manage the expectations of his supporters through such assurances.

The reality is that as the AU chairman, he must remain apolitical. Imagine a situation where Raila, as the AU Chairman, leads street protests in Nairobi against the Kenya Kwanza government. That would be preposterous and a disgrace to the office of the AUC chair. That said, the opposition must remain focused even without Raila.

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