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How Regional Rivalry Divides Eastern Africa Region in AU Politics

How Regional Rivalry Divides Eastern Africa Region in AU Politics
Raila Odinga reading The Star Newspaper. He has been fronted by Nairobi for the African Union Commission top job. Image Courtesy: The Star

The high-stakes contest for the African Union Commission chairmanship, has once again placed the Eastern Africa region at the center of political intrigue.

Spanning from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea, the 14 member countries’ region grapples with historical rivalries and a persistent lack of consensus, which makes it stare at a critical test of unity.

Nairobi and Mogadishu’s simultaneous bids for the coveted AU position indicate the deep-seated divisions that threaten to dilute Eastern Africa’s collective influence on the continental stage as campaigns boom.

Before the May deadline, by which AU member states must nominate their candidates, it is expected that more candidates from the Eastern Africa region will emerge.

A former Kenyan ambassador, who previously served as Permanent Representative to the AU, warns Kenyan Foreign Policy of anticipated backstabbing, betrayal, and political dealmaking, advising those who are following to “sit back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the play”.

The outcome of March 15, hybrid meeting, which saw African foreign ministers drop the gender card has widely opened the politicking platform for Raila Odinga, with strong support from Nairobi.

But President Ruto’s assurances of East African nations backing Odinga’s bid is a big boost.

However, it is not clear when this decision was reached, especially considering Mogadishu has already shown interest.

Ruto’s remarks highlight the persistent struggle of achieving consensus in the Eastern African region, which rarely agrees on major decisions.

When asked by Kenyan Foreign Policy if Presidents Samia Suluhu of Tanzania, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Kenyan leader William Ruto discussed the AUC contest and potential endorsements during their Zanzibar meeting last week, Zuhura Yunus, the press secretary for the Tanzanian president, responded with a “No”, directing attention to a post tweeted by the Tanzanian presidency.

At the February summit in Addis Ababa, member states vied for the AU Peace and Security Council positions, with East Africa having only two vacancies for a two-year term.

Tanzania and Uganda sought a comeback to the council.

Eritrea, desiring for greater representation within continental organs, initially expressed interest but eventually withdrew due to the sway held by Tanzania and Uganda, bolstered by their active involvement in peacekeeping efforts.

This division portrayed a region that doesn’t communicate with each other, and lacks regional strategy and consensus on major continental issues.

During the election of the AUC deputy chairperson in 2021, the presence of four East African candidates’ competing for the position indicated a region divided amongst itself.

Open contestation was evident between Rwanda and Uganda for the position. 

Uganda’s attempt to have the elections postponed a few days before the summit failed.

The Rwandese candidate was elected to the position with 42 votes. It is not yet known whether Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa of Rwanda, who is the current deputy chairperson, is interested in succeeding her boss, Moussa Faki.

We contacted the outspoken Tanzanian foreign minister, January Makamba, regarding Dodoma’s potential candidate to succeed Moussa Faki, a Chad national whose term ends early next year.

Makamba responded, “No. We are not. At least not so far.”

When questioned about Dodoma’s support for Raila’s candidacy to secure the seat for the region, Makamba stated, “We will absolutely not oppose Mr. Odinga’s bid.”

A regional foreign minister, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, expressed confidence in Raila’s ability to garner regional support, but acknowledged the challenges ahead.

“A tall order awaits to convince other regions, especially Northern and Southern Africa,” the minister remarked.

He emphasised the difficulty, contrary to perceptions in the Kenyan media, and stressed the need for relentless efforts to secure Raila’s victory.

“We have to work extremely hard to secure his win. Two-thirds majority is such a high threshold given the challenges that some countries see with his candidacy. But it is doable,” he added.

Regarding the concerns about Raila’s candidacy, the minister highlighted perceptions among continental diplomats that it could signify Kenya exporting its domestic politics to the AU, a notion that has been met with skepticism by many.

However, Kenyan politicians have been cautioned against making irresponsible statements regarding Kenya’s bid to nominate a candidate for the African Union Commission chairmanship.

Kenyan top diplomat Musalia Mudavadi expressed concern last weekend over remarks made by some politicians that could potentially undermine Kenya’s pursuit of the top continental position.

We also contacted John Mulimba, the Ugandan Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Regional Cooperation), who told KFP that “Uganda is in solidarity with Kenya, supports unequivocally, RAO.”

The Eastern Africa region has not chaired the commission since its creation in 2002.

The region has 14 capitals, including Nairobi, Mogadishu, Moroni, Addis Ababa, Juba, and Asmara, among others.

Continental priorities for the next AUC chairperson and the AUC as a whole include the implementation of the AU institutional reforms.

President Ruto is currently the continental champion of these reforms and this may give Odinga an upper hand.

Peace and security continue to pose significant challenges to the continent.

Conflicts and violent extremism persist in South Sudan, Sudan, Libya, Mali and the Sahel, with conditions oscillating between periods of deterioration and partial improvement and lasting resolutions remaining elusive.

Addressing the challenge of silencing the guns will be a top priority for the next AU Commission chairperson.


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