Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, President William Ruto, Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro
Caption for the landscape image:

The ‘Ruto succession’ rumble in Mount Kenya only growing louder

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua (left) and President William Ruto. Inset: Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro. Factional feuds have rocked the governing party with DP Gachagua under fire from MPs fronting Mr Nyoro.

Photo credit: | Nation Media Group

Ndindi Nyoro (38) is the young man after President William Ruto mantle. On January 12, 2024, fifteen parliamentarians endorsed the Kiharu legislator as best leader suited to succeed Dr Ruto in 2032 — if he secures a second presidential term.

Kenya Kwanza’s new ginger group wants President Ruto to drop his Deputy Rigathi Gachagua as his running mate in the 2027 and, instead, pick Mr Nyoro.

Gachagua has come out guns blazing, blaming a ‘hidden hand’ for his woes. Dr. Ruto has distanced himself from the succession plot, urging his restless young lieutenants to cool their heels and instead focus on development.

This has set off a perfect political storm for the Ruto succession, which has, in turn, plunged the country into yet another energy-sapping permanent campaign where the Kenya Kwanza regime will spend the next three years on election agenda, abandoning development.

Certainly, succession politics will turn the badly divided, politically restless post-Covid Mount Kenya now facing the highest cost of living ever, deepening poverty, unemployment and draconian taxes, into a ticking time bomb hidden in plain sight, but poised to explode.

Undoubtedly, DP Gachagua (59) is a marked man, sitting on a ticking political time bomb and haunted by the curse of deputy presidents in modern Kenya. Like his predecessors under Presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi, Kenya’s 12th second in command is facing serious supremacy battles in his own backyard.

Gachagua is a man riding the tiger of two unfinished succession battles in the vote-rich Mount Kenya region. First is the botched and largely incomplete and complex Uhuru succession after 2022.

President Uhuru Kenyatta (62) plunged the region into a whirlpool of perpetual succession campaigns after he failed to pin-point an outright heir in regional politics. He exited power at the end of his two terms in office but the former President is categorical that he is not about to hang up his boots anytime soon as Mount Kenya kingpin or as a leader in the Jubilee Party and the Azimio Coalition.

Gachagua has, wisely, toned down his anti-Kenyatta rhetoric. Instead, he has tactically embraced the former leader. “Kenyatta is our son from Kiambu…We had differences with him, but those differences are now in the past,” Gachagua remarked.

In addition to a supremacy battle with Kenyatta which is not yet over, Gachagua has to face another challenger for regional supremacy: the former Mungiki leader and Raila Odinga’s staunch ally, Maina Njenga. On November 30, Mr Njenga declared himself as “the real Mt. Kenya kingpin.”

Gachagua is also facing a do-or-die battle for the Ruto succession within UDA. In the eyes of UDA old-guards such as Kimani Ichungwa (Kikuyu MP), Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu MP), Cabinet Secretaries Moses Kuria (Trade), Mithika Linturi (Agriculture) and Kithure Kidiki (Interior), Gachagua is a Johnny-come-lately. Word has it that the old guard voted for Kidiki in the UDA internal race for the running mate slot. But that is now water under the bridge.

Gachagua is effectively Ruto’s deputy with a constitutionally guaranteed tenure. But he has not rested on the laurels of his political victory.

In December 2022, he rallied the Mount Kenya bloc within UDA in parliament behind Kanini Kega, a scion of the region but a candidate fronted by Azimio, who won the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) Seat. Obviously, this went against the grain of UDA esprit de corps and irked his boss.

Although Gachagua declared Ruto as ‘the Mt Kenya region kingpin’ at Sagana Lodge on August 6, 2023, UDA in Mount Kenya is a paradise lost. Under his watch, the region lost the pivotal UDA Secretary-General seat, previously occupied by Veronica Maina, to former Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala. An October 2023 proposal to create three posts of deputy UDA party leader was interpreted as a move to dilute Gachagua's party post.

From September 2023, Gachagua’s authority was visibly tested by a feud with the then Trade CS, Moses Kuria, who fired tweets at him for his Kenya-as-a-shareholding-business remarks and for reprimanding Kuria, alongside Dr David Ndii, Ruto’s economic advisor, for arrogance.

While Kuria is considered a key figure in the region's present and future leadership, Nyoro is emerging as more formidable and determined challenger. His social media pages are awash with messages that depict him as the next big thing for Mount Kenya and the Presidency. He is attending a foray of meetings outside the region.

Besides Nyoro, the real challenge to Gachagua’s power seems to be on the way coming. The movers and shakers of Rift Valley politics seem to prefer Interior Cabinet Secretary Prof Kithure Kindiki as Ruto’s running mate in 2027 and successor in 2032. Aware of this and in a tactical preemptive move, on January 23, Kindiki took to the social platform X, dismissing the 2027 succession politics as “tactless, anti-people and primitive.”

Be that as it may, the attendance of four MPs from Ruto’s Rift Valley tuff — Josses Lelmengit (Emgwen), Jematiah Sergon (Baringo), Paul Biego (Chesumei) and former nominated MP Wilson Sossion — nearly a third of the fifteen MPs who endorsed Nyoro has given legs to the theory of a “hidden hand” in the Ruto succession politics.

The murmurs about a bigger plot to cut Gachagua to size brings to mind the Moi-era trend in the 1980s when attack dogs were used to out-maneuver vice presidents.

It has familiar echoes in the tragedy of Dr Josephat Karanja, a don from Githunguri, Kiambu who became Mathare MP and replaced Mwai Kibaki as Kenya’s 5th Vice President in March 1988. Attack dogs were let loose on Karanja, paving the way for Mwenje, then Member of Parliament from Embakasi, to move a motion of no confidence against the Vice President who exited power, rather ignominiously, after 13 months in office.

Gachagua’s tenure is protected by the 2010 constitution till 2027. But the supremacy fight against him might go down to the wire.

- Professor Peter Kagwanja former Government Adviser (2007-2013), and currently Chief Executive at the Africa Institute (API), Adjunct Professor at the University of Nairobi and visiting scholar at the National Defence University—Kenya (NDU).