Ruto, Raila seek to avoid mistakes of 2017 in the push for AU top seat

Amina Mohammed, William Ruto and Mohamud Buhari in Abuja, Nigeria, 2016. [DPPS]

President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga’s charm offensive in Africa in a bid to secure the African Union Commission (AUC) chairmanship seeks to avoid the mistakes of 2017 when Kenya’s candidate Amina Mohammed failed to clinch the seat.

Soon after President Uhuru Kenyatta unveiled Amina, Ruto, then Deputy President, led the campaign. He visited ten countries; Chad, DRC, Nigeria, Algeria, Ghana, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Sierra Leone and Gabon.

However, the countries did not keep their word on the ballot. She lost to the now-outgoing chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat.

Some of the reasons included the failure of the country to convince even its closest allies from East Africa. There was also a feeling that the right candidate needed to be an insider at AU, and also the Anglophone and Francophone politics, which needed aligning.

“South Sudan voted for Kenya but it is surprising that Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti and Tanzania did not vote for Kenya during the stages. We think it has to do with how Kenya relates with its neighbours. Burundi said Kenya interferes with her internal affairs by condemning the conflict there,” then South Sudan’s ambassador to Ethiopia, James Morgan, said.

He claimed to have seen Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni in an animated discussion with his Tanzanian counterpart during the sixth round and in the seventh round, Tanzania didn’t vote for Kenya.

Getting it right

French-speaking African delegations voted for one of their own. Morocco, a key factor, was never shy of her support for Chad.

This time, the Head of State is leading the campaigns while Raila is using his networks to endear himself to more African countries.

Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology’s Charles Ng’ang’a observes that Ruto, being an active participant in the 2017 campaigns, could have learnt from the mistakes made.

“The issue of having a successor who is an insider is covered because Raila has been the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development and unlike in 2017 when Kenya did not gain favour with her neighbours, this time the country has started its campaigns in the East African community and things seem to be going Kenya’s way,” he notes.

Last month, the President, while addressing the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) in Nairobi, announced that the East African Community (EAC) heads of state would back one candidate despite former Somalia Foreign Affairs minister Fawzia Adam declaring interest in the seat.

Ruto, who has been using bilateral trade agreements between Kenya and African countries to woo them to support Raila, jetted back into the country over the weekend and announced that he had secured four votes from Guinea Bissau, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea and Central African Republic. That translates to 13 countries that have already pledged support for the Azimio leader’s bid.

In a statement after holding talks with Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo, Ruto said Kenya will in turn support Ghana’s candidature for the Secretary General of the Commonwealth.

On February 29, Raila said seven African presidents had agreed to support his bid, key among them Samia Suluhu (Tanzania), Salva Kiir (South Sudan), Cyril Ramaphosa (South Africa) and Felix Tshisekendi (DRC).

“Mama Suluhu has said she will support me, Salva Kiir has accepted. The other day I was with Ramaphosa, and he said yes. Tshisekedi said yes,” he said.

Raila had travelled to Uganda on February 26 alongside Ruto and visited Rwanda a day before the leaders lobbied for his bid in Namibia during the burial of President Hage Geingob.

“We had an insightful conversation with President Paul Kagame in Kigali diving into regional and Pan-African ideals. We are committed to African unity and solidarity for shared prosperity and progress,” said Raila on March 8.

His candidature received a boost after the African Union Executive Council unanimously resolved that candidates for AUC chairperson would be nominated by the Eastern African regional states.

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