Rigathi Gachagua’s rise from a DO to a DP

Rigathi Gachagua

Outgoing Mathira MP and Deputy President-elect Rigathi Gachagua.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

When police in Karatina Town on Tuesday thwarted an attempt by hawkers to occupy land along the railway line, what on the surface might seem like a minor incident could be an indication of the expectations President-elect William Ruto will have to manage. The hawkers were evicted from the railway reserve land two years ago after rehabilitation of the track and resumption of train services to Nanyuki.

A day after declaration of the presidential election results, a group of 100 chanting “Freedom is coming”, the Kenya Kwanza Alliance campaign slogan, breached the fence and started to demarcate the land amongst themselves to put up hawking stalls.

They claimed Dr Ruto’s running-mate, Mr Rigathi Gachagua, had promised to restore their businesses on the land once the “Hustler Movement” takes over.

The group was repulsed by police, but promised to return in force once the new government is sworn in. Indeed, Mr Gachagua, who is the MP for the area, is on record at campaign rallies dismissing resumption of Kenya Railways train services between Nairobi and Nanyuki, saying, the only beneficiaries were businesses owned by President Kenyatta’s family.

Scathing attacks

The first-term MP for Mathira, now set for the second highest office in the land if the presidential election result is upheld, was a constant presence at campaign rallies in Mt Kenya region where he launched scathing attacks on President Kenyatta, alleging destruction of the local economy so that enterprises owned by the First Family could thrive.

He was part of the team that sought to weaken President Kenyatta’s hold on his political base with a vicious propaganda campaign alleging that a government crackdown on smuggling, tax evasion, and importation of counterfeit and sub-standard was part of a plot to destroy the Mt Kenya merchant class, the so-called “Nyamakima economy”.

The campaign worked to perfection, but the attempted invasion of railway land in Karatina could be just an indication of what might be in store. Kenya Kwanza promised to shut down key Jubilee government projects such as the dry ports in Nairobi and Naivasha, which allegedly diverted warehouse and road haulage business from Mombasa.

The abrasive Mr Gachagua was key to the pushing of the “Hustler versus Dynasty” narrative in Mt Kenya, but now has to face the reality that governing is a far cry from rabble rousing in rallies.

If the choice of running mate was about perceptions, Mr Gachagua would have failed the test at the first hurdle. His nomination created sharp divisions in Mt Kenya region, a stronghold of the United Democratic Alliance and the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, but he somehow overcame critics and soldiered on.

He was said to have been forced on Mt Kenya after being beaten by Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki in an internal poll.

Key Kenya Kwanza figures from the region, including Kiambu governor candidates William Kabogo and Moses Kuria, and returning Laikipia legislator Mwangi Kiunjuri, accused him of dictatorship.

“Let them do their thing. We shall square it out there in the villages. At the end of the day, I’ll be vindicated and I’ll herd all the votes to Dr Ruto’s ballot box. I’ve a job of delivering a win for my presidential candidate,” a bullish Mr Gachagua said after his nomination. He, indeed, seems to have delivered given the handsome vote Dr Ruto received in Mt Kenya against main rival Raila Odinga, who also had a running mate from the region in former Justice Minister Martha Karua.

The numbers might be deceiving though. Even before Gachagua was named running mate, Dr Ruto was already, by all opinion polls, commanding the Mt Kenya vote.

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi says Gachagua overcame combined forces of the President, Mt Kenya Foundation, administration officers, Kikuyu Council of Elders, and Jubilee aspirants to deliver the Central vote.

Didn’t sponsor any Bill

He called him “a fantastic team leader who never panics and goes into battle with a single resolve to win”.

Mr Gachagua assumes the office that’s a heartbeat away from the presidency after being an MP with no track record in political leadership, save for the period he was seen as de facto governor of Nyeri when his brother, Governor Nderitu Gachagua, was incapacitated before he died in 2017. 

During his stint in Parliament, Mr Gachagua didn’t sponsor any Bill that sought to empower Mt Kenya, but on the campaign trail he packaged himself as the champion of traders, farmers and the youth. His campaign slogan was ‘Commitment to the cause of our Mountain emancipation’.

It is expected that he will try to fill the void in Mt Kenya leadership with President Kenyatta’s exit —a platform that could make him one of the most powerful men in the country and primed to succeed President Ruto.

However, he will also have to tread carefully, for any open signs of ambition will send alarm bells ringing in the Ruto camp. During the campaigns when issues of his ambition and aggression were raised, he made it a point of assuring Dr Ruto that he would be loyal and humble. “Mine will be to say ‘Yes Sir’”, he proclaimed at a gathering.

It might not have struck Mr Gachagua that he was inadvertently saying he would not be a Deputy President like Dr Ruto, who openly defied his boss, set up a rival power base and allowed minions to constantly insult and attack the President on public platforms.

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