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Ruto’s West Africa Outreach Ahead of AUC Succession

Ruto’s West Africa Outreach Ahead of AUC Succession

President William Ruto and Guinea Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo inspecting Guard of Honor on April 5, 2024. (Photo: PCS)

Kenya has revived efforts to court the Western Africa bloc, the largest at the African Union, after facing consistent challenges despite commitments to expand diplomatic presence in the region.

President William Ruto was hosted in Accra, Ghana last Tuesday for a three-day state visit aimed at rekindling the fraternal ties, and lobby for Raila Odinga’s candidacy for the AU Commission chairperson position.

In Accra, Ruto announced that the Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo had agreed to support Kenyan Raila Odinga in his bid to become chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) come the election in February 2025.

“Your excellency, my dear brother, I thank you most sincerely for accepting to support Kenya’s candidature for the position of chairperson of the African Union Commission (2025-2028), which has been initiated following a comprehensive stakeholder engagement process across governments,” said Ruto.

The Kenyan leader entered into a reciprocal agreement, pledging Nairobi’s backing for Shirley Botchwey, Ghana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, as Commonwealth secretary-general candidate in the upcoming October 2024 election, in exchange for Akufo-Addo’s support.

“I have assured His Excellency that Kenya will support Ghana in its candidature… for the position of secretary-general of the Commonwealth for 2024-2029. Your excellency, this presents an opportunity for Kenya and Ghana to collaborate,” Ruto added.

Current Commonwealth boss Patricia Scotland will be replaced during a heads of government meeting set for Samoa.

The high-stakes contest for the top AUC post has seen Nairobi, Mogadishu and Djibouti place bids, with Somalia fronting former foreign minister Fawzia Yusuf, and Djibouti declaring support for their current foreign minister, Mahamoud Ali Youssouf.

Ghana has long been valued African partner for Kenya, with both countries maintaining diplomatic missions in their respective capitals.

While Accra, an Anglophone capital, poses no headache for Nairobi, the challenge lies in engaging with more than seven Francophone capitals scattered across West Africa.

After former Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Amina Mohamed lost the bid for African Union Commission chairperson in 2017 to a less-glamorous Chadian Moussa Faki, Kenya pledged to open seven additional embassies in the area.

However, Kenya’s foreign policy has been guided by a strategic plan emphasising “building bridges for peace; international cooperation; global competitiveness; and shared national prosperity” over the past five years up to 2023.

Despite this vision, Nairobi’s diplomatic footprint globally has grown steadily, increasing from 39 to 56 missions by 2018, with a projection to reach 61 by 2022, a target that has been achieved.

The country currently maintains 66 embassies abroad and two in Nairobi.

Yet, progress in establishing new diplomatic missions in West Africa has been sluggish.

Although plans were approved to open seven new embassies mainly in Francophone West African countries, only one embassy was inaugurated in Senegal in 2019.

The region’s lack of support for Amina Mohamed’s bid for the AU Commission top job highlighted the need for increased diplomatic engagement.

Nairobi’s recent appointment of its first ambassador to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and its commitment to establishing an embassy there are perceived as strategic moves to enhance Kenya’s presence in West Africa.

Dakar is the only Francophone capital in the region where Nairobi maintains diplomatic presence with an embassy.

From Accra, Ruto traveled to Guinea-Bissau, the sole Portuguese-speaking country in the region, where French and English are predominant.

The diplomatic outreach in the coastal city of Bissau saw Ruto engage his counterpart, Umaro Sissoco Embalo on bilateral issues as well lobby for Raila’s candidature.

President Umaro, a former military officer has previously visited Kenya during President Uhuru’s tenure and he attended Ruto’s inauguration.

He expressed his commitment to providing Kenya with full support for the position.

Past administrations in Nairobi overlooked this region, prioritising ties to Anglophone countries like Ghana and Nigeria

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