Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua has many mountains to climb in his quest to become an accepted national leader and president-in-waiting.
Being the second-in-command places Mr Gachagua a heartbeat away from ultimate power, but his path to the highest office in the land is lined with minefields he must survive or see his dreams blown up.
While he must stamp his authority as a Deputy President for the whole country, Mr Gachagua still needs to cement his place as the undisputed political kingpin of Mt Kenya.
The pair also barred opposition leader Raila Odinga from scaling it. It is now his task to conquer the Mountain.
“This mountain has become unique. It appears we are living the adage that when you dim one’s candle, it doesn’t make yours shine brighter. It is an interesting phase for Mr Gachagua in Mt Kenya politics,” Jubilee Party chairman Jeremiah Kioni said.
Mr Gachagua has won admirers and haters in equal measure, coming out as a man with too many battlefronts to contend with.
As per the recent allocation of duties by President Ruto, he has to manage the relationship between counties and the national governments, an often dicey partnership that has seen devolved units complain of being treated unfairly, as well as presenting an unwelcome chance to clash with governors, the powerful county bosses controlling billions of shillings.
The DP has also been given the responsibility to address two key issues that have bedevilled previous regimes: cleaning up Nairobi River and reforming the coffee sector, a yesteryear big foreign exchange earner that has faced headwinds in the last decade.
Perhaps Mr Gachagua’s biggest headache is how to convince Mt Kenya residents to endorse him as their undisputed leader.
Mr Kioni says Mr Gachagua’s political path appears to be headed for self-ruin, while other pundits predict that he might not necessarily win national popularity but stands a good chance of becoming the Mt Kenya kingpin.
Besides the challenge to win the Mountain’s political mantle as the successor to Mr Kenyatta, he faces the obstacle of ensuring that Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi does not overshadow him.
Critics say the biggest threat to Mr Gachagua’s power ambitions is if he works himself into a situation he is seen to be putting Dr Ruto under siege on account of the 43 per cent votes that enabled the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) to bag the presidency.
“If Mudavadi convinces President Ruto that he is ‘friendlier’ than Gachagua and proceeds to unite Western region behind him as their kingpin, Ruto can easily sideline his deputy if he is deemed to be too domineering,” political analyst Ngugi Njoroge says.
Prof Njoroge warns that “in the arrangement of this government, Mr Gachagua is the odd man out, given that Dr Ruto, Mr Mudavadi, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula and his Senate counterpart Amason Kingi…were all in Mr Odinga’s camp at one time”.
According to Prof Njoroge, this government can cooperate with Mr Odinga to sideline Mt Kenya and, going to the 2027 vote, Mr Gachagua could be left staring into political irrelevance.
This ominous warning paints a picture of the different permutations that the 2027 contest could follow.
President Ruto has appeared to help Mr Gachagua work his way to the national limelight by issuing an executive order that makes the DP the link between the national and devolved governments.
“If Gachagua were to invest in building more national trust than regionalising his mindset, he would escape this noose of fighting for Mt Kenya interests in Nairobi and elsewhere. There are Mt Kenya Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries and political foot soldiers he can brief behind the scenes to do that dirty job as he commences behaving like a president-in-waiting,” says Kirinyaga County Jubilee party chairman Muriithi Kang’ara.
Mr Kang’ara advises Mr Gachagua to seek out Mr Kenyatta and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua “so that they can first adopt mutual respect as political competitors, then come out together to rally residents behind unity of purpose in pursuit of real benefits”.
He accuses Mr Gachagua of believing that he can win Mt Kenya endorsement by disparaging the former president and his loyalists.
By at times appearing to be too focused on Mt Kenya's interests rather than national, he has come out as a man out to prevail upon Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja to only work for the Agikuyu, Aembu and Ameru in the capital.
“That is where we miss the point. County governments are a special creation of the Constitution with distinct mandates that separate them from being dictated upon by the national government. The two units are supposed to mutually relate… meaning they have to engage in dialogue and consensus building in pursuit of a unitary state,” Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna said in a statement early this week.
Mr Sakaja has also come out deftly, advising Mr Gachagua on the need to focus more on the national picture.
“There are things I cannot say here about Mr Gachagua since he is my senior in many aspects but we must consult, agree, disagree, create concessions and move forward pursuing that line that unites us all in Nairobi. We must embrace national consultations and I even involve Mr Odinga in running the city,” he said on Wednesday during an interview with Inooro TV.
In that mix, Mr Gachagua’s public grandstanding that matatus will not be kicked out of Nairobi terminuses appears headed for a big test of political mettle.
Nyeri Senator Wahome Wamatinga says Mr Gachagua stands the best chance of becoming the most effective Deputy President the country has ever had.
“This is a man committed to the welfare of the people. He is not tribal and with time, it shall be revealed. Away from the toxicity of political competition, Mr Gachagua has a big heart, passion for getting the job done, respects business and loves the future of this country,” the senator says.
Former provincial commissioner Joseph Kaguthi told the Saturday Nation: “There is nothing wrong with Mr Gachagua as a political brand and he has enough time to panel beat himself into conformity with the demands of the office he occupies”.
Mr Kaguthi added that it is only that Mr Gachagua has a tough job and operates in different political circumstances of a divided Mount Kenya.
“My experience is that he can cope by throwing his weight in delivering on the mandate assigned to him by the President,” he says.
Mr Kaguthi said if the DP were to succeed in reforming the coffee, tea and dairy sectors and farmers earn benefits, “he would be loved automatically regardless of who is opposing him…if he clearly showed the youth that he cares and gets them livelihood”.
Success in cleaning up Nairobi River, he says, could be the good link Mr Gachagua needs in helping counties get timely funding. Helping counties win the government’s help in solving challenges in health could win him voters’ hearts too.
Mr Gachagua on Sunday said he has a tough task ahead of him.
“I have a huge task of ensuring that we cease being food beggars, plan for the revival of agricultural trade and help President Ruto deliver on his mandate as per the pre-election promises we made,” he told Inooro TV.
“There are those things that are being said out there but from where I stand, I have a job to do and I will do it.”