Dear Raila, this AU job is really a poisoned chalice

Monday March 04 2024
Raila Odinga

Veteran opposition leader and former prime minister Raila Odinga speaks to the media in Nairobi, Kenya as he formally declared his interest in the African Union Commission chairmanship on February 15, 2024. PHOTO | NMG


Raila Odinga has expressed interest in becoming the next AU Commission chairperson. Though Odinga has failed to capture the presidency several times, he has been the single-most influential and transformative Kenyan politician of the past four decades.

He was at the forefront of the struggle for the “Second Liberation” from Kanu dictatorship. This democratic activism earned him several stints in detention. His support for Mwai Kibaki in 2002 ensured the triumph of the opposition. He was a key architect of, and campaigner for, the 2010 Constitution. He has championed devolution and gender equality.

As a self-declared social democrat, he advocates social protection measures to cushion the poor. He criticises the “Big Man” megalomania and self-aggrandisement that underpin Africa’s failed or failing development project. This political outlook has made him a friend to many opposition politicians across Africa.

In summary, Raila’s politics and ideology have been one with Africa’s struggle to free itself from oppression by a corrupt and self-serving political oligarchy.

Therefore, becoming AU Commission chairperson presents a damning contradiction. The AU, as argued in last week’s column, is a bureaucratic organisation designed to keep an economic and political stranglehold on Africa by the ruling oligarchies.

Before Museveni became a part of the oppressive oligarchy, he memorably described the Organisation of African Unity, AU’s predecessor, as “the trade union of dictators.”


The AU might have added a few organs: Pan-African Parliament, Peace and Security Council, African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, African Court of Justice, Economic Council, etc.

But these have to be some the most useless organs ever created by a human society. What, pray tell, does the Pan-African Parliament do that makes our lives meaningful? Is the Peace and Security Council domiciled in Africa? If it were, it would have noticed the rebellions, coups, Jihadist and ethnic violence, etc, rocking much of Africa.

Where was the Human Rights Commission when Nigerian and Kenyan police maimed and killed tens of people while enforcing Covid-19 measures? Where were they when Uganda police killed 40 unarmed people in one day? If the African Court of Justice were dismantled today, would anyone notice? And what measures has the Economic Council proposed to stop and punish the personalisation of public resources by African presidents?

The African public cannot tell the difference between the tenures of various AU Commission chairpersons. All of them trotted out the same redundant nationalist and pan-African rhetoric.

They were all spin doctors for the ruling African oligarchies. They saw no shameful contradiction between criticising US police brutality while defending African human rights abusers. They were spokesmen for the “trade union of dictators,” not any different from the sycophantic OAU secretaries-general.

As AUC chairperson, Raila will have to praise and defend people whose politics are anathema to what he has stood for all his life. The recent picture of Raila, Ruto and Museveni was eloquent on what his role will be.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator