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Raila Odinga's bid for AU chair wins consensus in Nairobi

The race to run the top diplomatic grouping will intensify despite its multiple funding and security threats

The announcement on the eve of the 17-18 February African Union summit by Kenya's veteran opposition leader Raila Amolo Odinga that he wants to take over from Chad's Moussa Faki Mahamat as chair of the AU Commission next year has prompted a rare outbreak of consensus among politicians in Nairobi.

After Odinga declared his interest in the job as a press conference at his Nairobi home on 16 February, in the presence of his friend, Nigeria's former president Olusegun Obasanjo, Kenya's political establishment has moved quickly to support him.

Securing Odinga the job would be a diplomatic coup for President William Ruto while also easing his path to an increasingly probable second term in office. Should he win the race to take charge of the AU's executive arm, Odinga would be unable to contest the 2028 presidential elections in Kenya.

With no obvious heir to Odinga from his Luo community in Nyanza, Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka would expect to take over the leadership of the Azimio la Umoja opposition coalition and be its candidate in 2028. That would also make it easier for Ruto to co-opt Odinga's allies in the Orange Democratic Movement (AC Vol 64 No 19, Cross-party talks open, carrots provided).

Both the Ruto government and Musyoka quickly endorsed Odinga for the AU job, along with trade union leader Francis Atwoli.

Early indications are that Tanzania's former President Jakaya Kikwete will also seek the position, which AU officials say is likely to go to an East African. Kikwete, who has also run Tanzania's foreign ministry, is extremely close to current President Samia Suluhu Hassan and would be likely to get strong official endorsement.

Less clear is whether the 79-year old Odinga is a suitable candidate for what is essentially a details-focused civil service post. The other question is whether Ruto, who was appointed by AU leaders to preside over the elections for the Commission post, will have the bandwidth to lobby on Odinga's behalf.

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