When Prof Philip Mbithi was the Vice Chancellor at the University of Nairobi in the late 80s, two students were known to organise trips to see President Moi at either State House or at his Kabarnet Garden’s home. They were Rigathi Gachagua and William Ruto.
By then, students were mobilised and organised into district associations in Moi’s bid to cut the need for an overall students’ body after the banning of Student Organisation of Nairobi University (Sonu) following the Wafula Buke and Miguna Miguna riots of 1987.
During that period, Moi accused the Libyan embassy in Nairobi of financing Sonu elections and recruiting spies.
It was amidst these that pro-establishment student leaders emerged working with their district Kanu chairmen to organise student entities.
Both Mr Gachagua, then known as Geoffrey Gachagua, and Dr Ruto rose from these ranks.
It was Prof Mbithi who used to send his students to various ministries or Kanu headquarters for deployment and Mr Gachagua and Dr Ruto were some of the blue-eyed boys then.
In 1987, Mr Gachagua, as Association of Literature Students chairman, was one of the few student leaders who accompanied President Moi for a state visit in Canada. Others were Moitalel Kenta, and Maina Kiranga who were aspiring to lead Sonu. It was this trip that informed Mr Buke’s campaign against them.
That Deputy President Ruto has now picked Mr Gachagua as his running mate is a long history of student politics and association with the Kanu regime.
During the breaks, the pro-Kanu students would either be seconded to its Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) headquarters or would work in the offices of their Kanu chairmen.
While Dr Ruto was working at the Kanu headquarters and seconded to Julia Ojiambo’s Women and Youth Affairs secretariat before he was hired by Youth for Kanu 92 to run their secretariat, Mr Gachagua was, after graduating in 1988, sent to work as an assistant secretary with Davidson Kuguru, who had been appointed in May 1989 as the new Minister for Home Affairs and National Heritage to replace Dr Josephat Njuguna Karanja who had resigned as Vice President.
Kuguru was the patron of Nyeri District University Students Association (Ndusa) when Gachagua was its chairman, a link that led to his appointment as a district officer. These positions were then reserved to those loyal to the Kanu bigwigs.
It was during his university years that Mr Gachagua would become famous for organising State House trips for various groups, thanks to his closeness to Kuguru, who had from 1988 tried to eclipse Mwai Kibaki as the district Kanu chairman.
During the September 1988 Kanu elections, Kuguru had unsuccessfully ran against Kibaki who had already been dropped as Vice President.
It was during that election that Kibaki told off those who had attempted to rig him out: “Rigging has some intelligence. This scheme is by people who have no sense of intelligence.”
Mr Gachagua did not stay for long as a district officer and soon found himself at the Office of the President after the appointment of Prof Philip Mbithi as the Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet in November 1991.
That Mr Gachagua was appointed as Prof Mbithi’s personal assistant at a time when opposition to Moi’s rule had reached a crescendo and tribal clashes had emerged in the Rift Valley was due to his closeness to Mbithi during his years at the university.
But with the fall of Prof Mbithi, Mr Gachagua was sent to Kakamega as a DO in Mumias and later found his way into the new Tigoni Division, which local politician Kuria Kanyingi used to brag about as being the power behind its creation. The matter was once raised in Parliament by George Nyanja, the Limuru MP whose rallies, and those of Ford Asili, were usually disrupted by Mr Gachagua.
Elsewhere, Dr Ruto had been caught in the power struggle that followed the 1992 Kanu victory and which saw members of the lobby group YK92 try to dominate party politics through their chairman, Mr Cyrus Jirongo.
But Moi easily stopped them and had some of the lobby members arrested for questioning. Dr Ruto was arrested on June 15, 1993 three days after a splinter group led by Sam Nyamweya called for the dissolution of the group.
With the cash-cow dead, Dr Ruto—who drove around in a yellow Honda Civic—was helped by Jirongo to start a tour company on the third floor of Rehema House in Nairobi.
Occasionally, as he plotted his future, he would be seen in the company of former Lonhro boss, Mark Too, as they both sought to organise Eldoret North politics then under Reuben Chesire.
Mark Too had always wanted Chesire out of the way and it was he who recruited Dr Ruto into the skullduggery politics. Soon, the recruit became the master of the game.
While Dr Ruto was able to dislodge Chesire in the 1997 elections, Too would also be nominated as an MP. But Too did not finish his tenure for he had to pave way for the nomination of Uhuru Kenyatta as an MP.
Political paths are usually narrow and Mr Gachagua was back into the corridors of power, this time as Mr Kenyatta’s personal assistant.
Within Kanu, Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto became the new kids on the block eager to turn around the party which had lost its popularity among the youth.
Moi had faith in the new generation of young Kanu leaders but an attempt to leave power to them saw the breakup of the party which had by then brought in Mr Raila Odinga in a bid to secure its political future.
As Moi picked Mr Kenyatta as his successor, Dr Ruto and Mr Gachagua stood by Moi’s choice and, by the time Mr Kenyatta was accepting defeat by Kibaki, Dr Ruto stood by his side. By then Mr Gachagua was still Mr Kenyatta’s personal assistant.
It is in these trenches that Mr Gachagua and Dr Ruto got to know each other and which informed his desire to appoint Mr Gachagua as his number two.
Both are tenderprenuers and have on occasion been accused in court of corruption.
Mr Gachagua has a running case while Dr Ruto’s firm has been accused of grabbing public land.
After falling out with the Jubilee government which accused him of corruption, Mr Gachagua started campaigning against Mr Kenyatta in Mt Kenya region and has been one of Dr Ruto’s point men in his bid for presidency under the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) ticket.
Of all the candidates who presented themselves for nomination as running mates, Mr Gachagua has deep pockets and perhaps knows Dr Ruto better than the new arrivals.
But it appears that this was not an easy choice given that, for 17 hours, the team was holed up in Karen to make a decision between Mr Gachagua and Prof Kithure Kindiki.
For his part, Prof Kindiki is not a veteran of Kanu politics and is actually a rank outsider. With no history that goes beyond his dalliance with Jubilee, it will be interesting to see how he will navigate his way in Dr Ruto’s political circles.
Prof Kindiki came to national limelight when he represented Dr Ruto at the Hague where he and President Kenyatta had been charged with organising the post-election violence.
A man who is not known to play dirty, and is much at home as an academic, Prof Kindiki is harmless to many political aspirants within UDA for he is neither endowed with billions like Mr Gachagua and would easily be manipulated since he doesn’t have a noisy political base.
On the other hand, Mr Gachagua has all the ambitions of an ex-Kanu wheeler dealer and will not stop at the DP’s position.