Rigathi Gachagua and the mind of an unreconstructed ‘nanny’ state

Rigathi Gachagua

Kenya Kwanza presidential running mate Rigathi Gachagua (left) in the company of Deputy President William Ruto addresses a Kenya Kwanza campaign rally at Kithimu trading centre in Embu county on July 1, 2022.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Azimio bloggers delight in Gachagua’s unending goofs, which work against UDA.
  • They go out of their way to magnify them as they mercilessly lampoon him. 

Controversy and Rigathi Gachagua, the Nyeri politician William Ruto picked as his running mate, are twins. His escalating army of critics consider him a bully and a terrible political liability for UDA and the Kenya Kwanza Alliance (KKA). He has become daily fodder for Azimio la Umoja foot soldiers due to his intemperate and thoughtless utterances. 

This is the politician who puzzled the country when he sought to explain UDA’s ‘bottom-up’ economic mantra with the analogy of breaking up Safaricom into small ‘wheelbarrow’ bits. His latest outburst was during a campaign swing in Njoro in Rift Valley on Tuesday, where he told Kalenjin youths to stop their culture of cattle rustling and to respect the property of other communities.

The predictable online uproar that accompanies his utterances followed. Yes, there was general agreement he was speaking factually about a backward practice that persists. But oh Bwana Gachagua, where did it escape you that some truths are best uttered tactfully and diplomatically? 

Somebody noted that it was a measure of how desperate parts of the Rift Valley are for the Mount Kenya votes that the likes of Oscar Sudi, the equally loose-mouthed Kapseret MP, refrained from jumping at Gachagua with torrents of insults. Censoring Gachagua on his statement risked opening up certain wounds which the Rift Valley leadership badly wants to keep under wraps at this moment in time, at whatever cost. The brickbats will likely fly post-election. 

Gachagua was at it again during a brother’s funeral in Nyeri in May, which a large UDA team led by Ruto attended. Addressing the Deputy President, Gachagua told him that once he becomes president and he comes over to the nearby Sagana State Lodge, “We want you to open the doors wide and invite the villagers to come and eat rice and meat... ’Ama kuna mambo gani ingine jameni (or is there anything else?)?’” he asked the locals who were at the function. Outraged Nyeri folk wondered in public forums whether all they would be worth in a Ruto-Gachagua presidency was rice and meat! 

Unending goofs

Gachagua has something about food. Recently he promised Nyeri residents that once he’s DP he’ll be entertaining them with nyama choma while the wife takes care of the women with porridge. (Hopefully, if courts unlock his accounts which are frozen over a multibillion-shilling corruption case).

Azimio bloggers delight in Gachagua’s unending goofs, which work against UDA. They go out of their way to magnify them as they mercilessly lampoon him. 

“A gift that keeps on giving! Give ‘Aibu wa Rice’ the microphone!” they chant. As used by the bloggers, “aibu”, which is the Swahili word for “shame”, is a conversion of “naibu” (Deputy) while “rice” both plays on the word “Rais” (president) and the actual rice Gachagua felt his Nyeri constituents deserve under a Ruto presidency.

Hence, in the bloggers’ mocking language, “Aibu wa Rice” translates to mean “the shameful Deputy President of rice!” – Deputy President being the status Gachagua would get in Ruto’s government. (There’s even a self-styled ‘Give Gachagua the Microphone Association’ on Twitter and Facebook). 

Gachagua dismisses all criticism against him as hot air by jealous people with a thing against him. Not entirely. This is a politician who despite a university education was never really socialised into the kind of social graces a sophisticated populace has come to expect. He then gets elevated to a national position he’s not really prepared or equipped for. All polls show he’s seriously dragging the numbers down for KKA. There’s really no need to discuss the gulf between him and his opposite number in Azimio, Martha Karua. 

Ruto cannot say he was not forewarned about the man he chose as running mate. When he put the matter to an internal vote, Mt Kenya UDA MPs overwhelmingly chose Tharaka-Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki over Gachagua. However, Ruto, for some reason only he knows, stuck with him.

Clumsy and unpleasant

The Mathira MP’s imperious style has also caused hitherto Ruto allies like Kiambu gubernatorial candidate William Kabogo (who denounced Gachagua as a dictator) and Laikipia’s Mwangi Kiunjuri to rethink their ties with KKA. Initially Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria was with Kabogo. He has since turned tail and run back to KKA. 

It should be noted Gachagua irks them all because at UDA rallies he campaigns exclusively for UDA candidates – advocating six-piece voting from MCA to president. He also often denies non-UDA hangers-on the chance to speak. On this, I support Gachagua. Those are UDA rallies and he is entitled to prioritise UDA candidates. Affiliates just want to piggyback on the party’s rallies and campaign machinery without contributing anything themselves. 

A week ago when Gachagua was on a campaign swing in Molo in Nakuru County, there occurred a curious tit-for-tat between him and Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui. It started when the governor – irritated by Gachagua’s constant negative references to him at his rallies – chided him to apologise to locals for his high-handed behaviour when he allegedly was based there as a district officer at the height of the politically instigated clashes of the 1990s (Gachagua has always denied ever having been posted to Molo as DO). 

Gachagua retorted by describing Kinyanjui as the late President Daniel arap Moi’s “son” and told him to apologise for the crimes his “father” committed on the people of Molo in those days. 

These paternity rumours, which have been there, basically remain unproven. Some have also claimed Gachagua may himself have some physical resemblance of sorts to Moi, which likewise means nothing. But when it comes to personality and bearing, the suave Kinyanjui and the brash Gachagua are as different as night and day. The latter still exhibits a Nyayo-era mindset. The governor resolutely does not. 

Clumsy and unpleasant as Gachagua is, there’s a certain hypocrisy among his accusers when they exclusively apportion blame to him for past evils in Molo – even assuming he was ever stationed there. Who were his superiors? Who are their heirs today? Was Gachagua around when worse bloodshed happened a decade later? Who was there? If such is discussed openly, the UDA house would be in peril.