The appointment of Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga as African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development, marks another chapter in his public life even as it puts to question his future role in local politics.
President Uhuru Kenyatta made the announcement at during the Mashujaa Day celebrations at Bukhungu Stadium yesterday.
It laid to rest speculation on Mr Odinga’s role since his decision to work with the President in March.
The announcement was preceded by Namibian President Hage Geingob’s invitation to Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to hold hands as an affirmation of their unity deal.
The Sunday Nation has established that the appointment was a culmination of months of intense lobbying by the President.
Sources said Mr Kenyatta in 2013 requested Mr Odinga to take up a special envoy role, which he declined.
After the March 9 handshake, the President renewed his proposal, this time with an AU position.
The 73-year-old leader will, on behalf of the AU, be visiting with heads of state and governments as he pushes the infrastructure agenda.
He joins an elite club of former presidents, prime ministers and generals who have been appointed as special envoys of the AU chairperson.
Among those appointed by the AU chairman is former Mozambican leader Joaquim Chissano who was made Special Envoy for Western Sahara.
Former Guinean transitional president Sekouba Konate was appointed the High Representative of the Chairperson of the Commission for the Operationalisation of the African Standby Force.
Former Burundi president Pierre Buyoya was made AU high Representative for Mali and the Sahel.
Mr Odinga becomes the first Kenyan to be appointed a high representative of the AU chairperson.
In 2014, retired general Jackson Tuwei was appointed by the AU Commission chairperson as Special Envoy of the African Union for the Lord’s Resistance Army Issue.
The government has already given Mr Odinga a diplomatic passport.
Mr Odinga, who has contested the country’s presidency four times, has extensive networks across the country and his appointment puts to question his political ambitions.
High-level appointees usually prefer their international positions to their countries’ politics.
AU Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said the appointment is part of the union’s campaign to speed up the integration of the continent through infrastructure, “in order to promote economic growth and sustainable development”.
“The high representative will work to support and strengthen the efforts of the commission’s relevant departments and those of the planning and coordinating agency of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), within the framework of the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), which was endorsed by the assembly of the union in January 2012,” Mr Mahamat said.
“His mandate includes mobilising political support from member states and the regional economic communities and facilitating greater ownership by concerned stakeholders on the continent. He will also support the commission and NEPAD initiatives to encourage increased commitment from development partners.”
Mr Odinga is expected to pay particular attention to the missing links along the transnational highway corridors identified as part of the trans-African highways network, with a view to facilitating their development and modernisation.
He will also focus on the continental high-speed train, which is one of the flagship projects of the first 10-year implementation plan of Agenda 2063, in the context of the relevant AU decisions.
Mr Odinga will interact with the current champions of related AU initiatives and seek their guidance to ensure the required synergy and coherence, the AU Commission brief added.
After the announcement of Mr Odinga’s appointment, President Kenyatta followed it with a statement to newsrooms in which praised the ODM leader’s role in Kenya’s infrastructure development.
He said Mr Odinga has been at the forefront in the development of modern infrastructure as an economic enabler and as an instrument for regional and international integration.