Inside the well oiled Ruto-Raila campaign for AU top position

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

As the campaign for the African Union Commission's top job gathers momentum, President William Ruto has set up four teams to enhance opposition leader Raila Odinga’s chances of clinching the coveted position.

President Ruto has organised four teams to spearhead the campaign, each with distinct roles. Ruto leads the political team, while his rival in the 2022 polls, Raila, and former Nigerian President and Africa Union envoy Olusegun Obasanjo head the second team, owing to their strong global networks.

“We need a more robust African Union that will give Africa more impetus to push our agenda on the global stage. This is the basis of our push for reforming the AU,” Ruto said on Friday after meeting Zimbabwe Vice President Kembo Mohadi, who delivered a goodwill message from President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Former Kenyan ambassador to the US Elkana Odembo is in charge of diplomats, ensuring Kenya understands its potential competitors as well as other countries that have served.

The other team is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is under former President Mwai Kibaki press secretary Isiah Kabira, who is the current Director General of International Conferences, Media Events and Public Communications at the same ministry. The campaign is headed by Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, who leads another team overseeing the coordination, meeting deadlines and adhering to crucial details.

President Ruto has promised to deepen diplomatic ties as he pushes the interests of Kenyans. At State House, Nairobi, Ruto has held discussions with Prime Minister of Eswatini Russell Mmemo Dlamini who delivered a message of goodwill from King Mswati III.

Ruto received President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana in Nairobi, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (Somalia), Mokweetgesi Masisi (Botswana), Ismail Omar Guelleh (Djibouti), Brice Oligui (Gabon), Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed Ali.

He also visited Uganda Yoweri Museveni, where a significant diplomatic breakthrough was achieved between Kenya and Uganda, brokered by Raila. The reconciliation involved Kenya permitting Uganda to construct an oil pipeline from Kenya to Kampala.

Additionally, Ruto assured Ethiopia’s president, Abiy Ahmed, of his support for the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) project, a regional initiative aimed at enhancing connectivity between Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan.

The oil pipeline and LAPSSET project are pivotal concessions aimed at securing the backing of Uganda and Ethiopia for Odinga’s AU Commission chairmanship. These agreements signify Ruto’s strategic use of diplomatic leverage to consolidate support for Raila’s candidature.

“I extend my heartfelt gratitude to my brother, President William Ruto, for his gracious welcome to Kenya. Our discussions today have not only strengthened our existing ties but also highlighted key areas for future collaboration. As neighbours sharing a unified vision and destiny, our commitment to working together remains steadfast,” Abiy said.

President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga at Yoweri Museveni's Kisozi farm in Uganda. [PCS]

The reconciliation with Museveni addressed the strained relations between Kenya and Uganda, particularly concerning an oil trade dispute. President Ruto sought Raila’s assistance to ease tensions and secure Museveni’s support for Raila’s AU bid. The talks, held at Museveni’s farm, focused on resolving contentious issues and fostering regional integration within the East African Community.

State House said the discussions also tackled pressing security matters affecting the region, underscoring the leaders’ commitment to collaborate on strategies for stability and security. Museveni’s endorsement of Odinga’s candidature, despite previous support for former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, marked a significant turning point in the diplomatic negotiations.

“Crucially, at the urging of President Museveni, we also discussed my candidature for Chairperson of the African Union Commission. I am grateful to President Museveni for strongly endorsing my candidature and to President Ruto for fully backing it. We took time out of our busy engagement to visit President Museveni’s wonderous cattle farm in Kisozi,” Raila said.

President Ruto has also received a special message from President Evariste Ndayishimiye through Lt-General Silas Ntigurirwa. He has also received a special message from President Salva Kiir, delivered by Special Envoy Albino Mathom AYuel Aboug.

In Namibia, he held discusions with Presidents Nangolo Mbumba (Namibia), Samia Suluhu (Tanzania), Sahle-Work Zewde (Ethiopia), Évariste Ndayishimiye (Burundi), Felix Tshisekedi (DRC Congo), Emmerson Mnangagwa (Zimbabwe), João Lourenço (Angola), Mokgweetsi Masisi (Botswana), Filipe Nyusi (Mozambique), Lazarus Chakwera (Malawi), Sauli Niinistö (Finland), and Madagascar Prime Minister Christian Louis Ntsay

President Ruto’s commitment to Raila’s candidature is evident in his extensive diplomatic engagements. “If you check on his wall, you will realise that he has met a president or two presidents daily. There was a day he met five presidents,” said an aide.

Kabira’s team engages foreign ambassadors and ministers, promoting Raila’s agenda. Odembo’s team, comprising former and current diplomats, leverages on their expertise to navigate the dynamics of different countries and establish connections with heads of state.

“President Ruto’s strategic diplomacy and behind-the-scenes negotiations exemplify Kenya’s determination to secure Raila’s victory. The concessions made to Uganda and Ethiopia, coupled with intensive diplomatic engagements, underscore the magnitude of efforts invested in this bid,” said an aide.