Presidents Ruto, Museveni meet over Raila Odinga's African Union job

Kenyan President William Ruto (left), Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at Kisozi, Uganda on February 26, 2024. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • A surprise visit by President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday has left Kenyans guessing whether the duo are working on a possible 'handshake'

Former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt once said that in politics, nothing happens by accident and that if it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.

A surprise visit by Kenyan President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday has left Kenyans guessing whether the duo are working on a possible 'handshake' deal similar to the one between the ODM leader and former President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 9, 2018.

'Handshake' refers to the pact between Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta, which ended weeks of violent protests following the disputed 2017 presidential election.

The meeting also follows a recent dispute between Kenya and Uganda over petroleum imports.

President Ruto on Monday announced on his X handle about their meeting with Mr Odinga to his Ugandan counterpart in the neighbouring country, catching Kenyans and political players by surprise.

“Kenya and Uganda are committed to the deepening of the long-established diplomatic and economic ties between our two countries. This relationship includes bringing all the seven East African Community nations closer in their ultimate goal to form the East African Political Federation,” President Ruto wrote.

He went on: “Had the pleasure of meeting President Yoweri Museveni at his Kisozi country home in Uganda. We discussed critical issues that affect our two countries such as energy and petroleum.”

“…also discussed was the declared candidacy of Kenya's former Prime Minister Raila Odinga for the Africa Union Commission chairmanship.”

Moments later, President Museveni also made the announcement, confirming the meeting.

"I was happy to meet President Ruto and Rt. Hon. Odinga at my farm in Kisozi this afternoon. We discussed issues of mutual interest between our two countries. I welcome them," the Ugandan president wrote.

Prior to the announcement by the two leaders, the Nation had established that a campaign team for Mr Odinga's bid for the chairmanship of the African Union Commission had landed in Uganda to woo President Museveni into the Kenyan fold.

"He is the Dean of the region and key to the regional mobilisation strategy," a source familiar with the campaigns told the Nation on Monday evening.

The surprise meeting between President Ruto and Mr Odinga comes barely a week after Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Dr Korir Sing'oei revealed that President Ruto was planning to unveil Mr Odinga's candidature for the AUC post this week.

The meeting also lifts the lid on assertions made by Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi in Mr Odinga's Bondo backyard in Siaya County last month that a surprise announcement was looming.

While attending a church function in Bondo, Siaya County on January 28, the PCS, who is also the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign and Diaspora Affairs, hinted at a "surprise important and pleasant news" that he said would soon be revealed.

"Soon we will surprise you with some very important and pleasant news," Mudavadi revealed.

In an interview with the Nation on Friday, Mr Mudavadi cautioned against making statements that could trivialise Mr Odinga's bid for the AUC post.

He said it was time for the country to come together and speak in one voice in the wake of its quest to chair the top AU seat. 

Some leaders have blamed Mr Odinga for “keeping them in the dark” about his bid, while others from Mt Kenya region claimed former President Kenyatta was the best bet for the post.

Mr Mudavadi said there is need for leaders to uphold caution while making statements, warning that local differences should not play out in the regional arena. 

“People should not externalise their frivolous domestic interests. We should learn there are always times to rally behind the country’s interests,” Mr Mudavadi told Nation

He noted that Kenya's bid for the position is for the good of our country and “we must not externalise our local political differences.”

Mr Odinga has also confirmed that he has started securing support for the position. 

“You know I have other friends in West Africa apart from former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo, I have friends in North, Southern and Central Africa, and of course Eastern Africa which is home,” he said.

Mr Obasanjo who flanked Mr Odinga at a recent news conference in Nairobi last week, said he believes the former Prime Minister is the best bet for the top AU job, adding that he should however, not be the candidate for his country but of the Eastern region. 

“When you look at those who have held that position before, it should be the turn of East Africa. Not too long ago we had Southern Africa, the one now whose term will be ending (Moussa Faki) is from Central Africa and before that we had Konare (Alpha Oumar) from West Africa. I believe it should be the turn of Eastern or East Africa,” Mr Obasanjo said. 

He noted that if the Eastern region can come together and put Mr Odinga’s name forward, he will clinch the position. 

“I have no doubt in my mind that my friend is a viable candidate. That’s of course, the subject to the views, feelings and of course, the position and presentation of our leaders in the East African sub-region and then if the region puts the candidate forward the rest of the continent will go a long way with that. That’s what I’m consulting about. That’s what I’m working on and I hope God will help us,” added Mr Obasanjo.