Win for Raila Odinga's AUC bid after council of ministers drops gender proposal

When outgoing AUC Chairman Moussa Faki met with opposition leader Raila Odinga during a sustainable Blue conference at KICC in 2018. [File, Standard]

Azimio leader Raila Odinga yesterday inched closer to bagging the coveted job of chairing the African Union Commission (AUC) after the last of the hurdles standing in the way of his candidature were cleared.

Raila scored big on Friday after a day-long closed-door Executive Council meeting unanimously adopted a resolution that will see the Eastern Africa region produce the next chair, with Northern Africa getting the deputy chair position.

The remaining three regions (Central, Western and Southern) will compete for the six commissioner positions.

Similarly, the council dropped the gender rotation hurdle that would have seen Raila locked out of the race to succeed outgoing chair Moussa Faki Mahamat in February next year.

That and a proposal to lock out countries that have produced members of the AUC’s senior leadership that would have knocked Kenya out of the race, given it has produced a former AUC deputy chair Erastus Mwencha, who served between 2008 and 2017.

A statement by Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi’s office stated that Mudavadi “actively lobbied” for the adoption of the decision during the meeting of foreign affairs ministers. He described the developments as a major win for the 14-member state Eastern Africa region.

“It is now clear that the Rt Hon Raila Odinga will be in the race for the AU Commission Chairperson. Effectively, there are no technical or legal hurdles preventing Kenya from submitting its candidate, said Mudavadi, who doubles as the Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary.

He said that Kenya would seek consensus within the region into backing Raila for the job. Consensus, which would shelve the need for a vote, signals the start of the tough task of securing Kenya the position that eluded the country eight years ago.

The government has intensely championed Raila’s bid, with President William Ruto leading the charm offensive among his peers.

The Head of State has repeatedly said that the East African Community was solidly behind Raila’s candidacy. However, the former prime minister will be facing competition from Somalia’s former Foreign Affairs Minister Fawzia Yusuf Adam.

In recent days, Raila has rallied African heads to back him for the influential job that would make him the AU’s chief executive officer and legal representative, as well as the commission’s chief accounting officer.

He recently met Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, securing their endorsement for the position.

Yesterday’s resolution featured in a draft decision of the Permanent Representatives Committee, a body that handles the day-to-day business of the AU on behalf of the Assembly and the Executive Council.

Raila’s chances of bagging the job are bolstered by Kenya’s apparent influence across the country, evident in Nairobi’s ability to have her way at the council. This will be tested in the coming months, which promise heightened shuttle diplomacy.

“The path is more or less clear for Raila to take the position but there is still some serious diplomatic work to be done,” said National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi.

“Politicians should stop debate on the matter at rallies and funerals and let the diplomats do their work,” the Ugunja Member of Parliament added.

The taxpayer will foot the bill for Raila’s government-led campaign, even as the opposition veteran mounts his own through a team led by career diplomat Elkanah Odembo and which comprises top Azimio officials.

If elected, the 79-year-old veteran politician will be eligible for a four-year term, renewable once. The AUC has had four substantive chairpersons and one (Amara Essy of Ivory Coast) who served in an acting role between 2002 and 2003.

Former chairpersons include South Africa’s Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma (2012 to 2017), Gabon’s Jean Ping (2008 to 2012) and Mali’s former President Alpha Oumar Konaré (2003-2008).

The Addis Ababa-based AUC is the 55-member AU’s secretariat, running its day-to-day activities. Kenya’s previous attempt to lead the body through then Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed flopped after she lost to Mali’s Faki in 2017.

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