Rigathi Gachagua, Martha Karua square off at deputy presidential debate

Martha Karua

Kenya Kwanza presidential running mate Rigathi Gachagua (left) and his Azimio la Umoja counterpart Martha Karua during the deputy presidential debate at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa on July 19, 2022.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

It was a clash of contrasting personalities as Mr Rigathi Gachagua squared up against Ms Martha Karua at the Catholic University of East Africa auditorium last night.

Coming as a curtain raiser ahead of the big face-off between their principals – Dr William Ruto and Mr Raila Odinga – next week, Mr Gachagua and Ms Karua seized the opportunity to highlight what their respective administrations would do after the August 9 elections which is touted as the battle for the country’s economic liberation.

From the word go, it was a slugfest and a battle of wits, with both Mr Gachagua and Ms Karua keenly aware their debate performances might have a bearing on the fortunes of their respective principals — Kenya Kwanza presidential candidate William Ruto and his Azimio la Umoja rival Raila Odinga.

From the proceedings, it was evident that both candidates had prepared well. They had studied closely the policy proposals from their respective party manifestos, and been primed on the facts and figures.

Battle for deputies: Ruth Mutua puts Justina Wamae to task on bhang pledge

They had also been prepared on the likely minefields, and the bombs likely to be thrown their way, and also armed with the talking points designed to put their opponent on the defensive.

Another area of preparation would appear to have been on how to remain calm and composed despite provocation, to avoid bouts of anger and to give clear concise answers in simple language.

While the deputy president nominees are just part of a supporting cast, with their debate being a warm-up for the Ruto-Odinga duel set for next week, the match-up last night took on added significance given that more than any previous elections, the running mates were being assessed not just on the value they add to the ticket, but their own potential for leadership.

In particular, Mr Gachagua and Ms Karua are being weighed on which of them can fill the leadership vacuum in Mt Kenya as President Uhuru Kenyatta exists the scene.

Whoever wins on that score can not only add a handsome bounty to the vote basket of their respective presidential candidate, but also be in pole position for a future presidential race.

Gachagua hits out at Karua for being a 'State project' in Azimio

It was not by accident that both candidates tried to swing discussion to the issues dear for Mt Kenya voters.

Other issues highlighted were Mr Gachagua’s pushing of Dr Ruto’s trademark Bottom-Up economic policy and the Hustler versus Dynasty narrative, which emphasises issues dear to the under-privileged.

Mr Gachagua was keen to turn to a Ruto versus Uhuru duel, part of the campaign strategy that seeks to depict Mr Odinga as a “project” who will be a puppet of the retiring President.

Ms Karua, for her part, focused on her and Mr Odinga’s reform credentials going back to the multi-party campaign, as opposed to the Ruto-Gachagua record in service of the one-party regime.

Another key area of emphasis was on Azimio’s pledge to tackle corruption, which Mr Rigathi early on deflected with the observation that Mr Odinga had become an apologist for Kenyatta-regime, corruption and economy on the point of collapse.

Right off the bat, the pair took on the key issues for which their principals choose them: Ms Karua on fighting corruption and the promotion of constitutionalism, and Mr Gachagua on the promotion of an economic overhaul geared on the bottom-up economic approach Kenya Kwanza says will help promote small and medium businesses.

Mr Gachagua upped his management credentials, his service in the public administration, saying: “I am an active man. I wake up early and don’t take alcohol. I have a fairly good idea on what I need to do to assist my candidate William Ruto to move around the country and implement development programmes.”

What I'll do as Deputy President - Karua, Gachagua

Ms Karua, on the other hand, said she will be a deputy president, if elected, that respects her place, and is a dependable principal assistant to help his boss.

She defended her resignation in the Mwai Kibaki government, saying it was out of principle, following Mr Gachagua’s jibe that by Ms Karua quitting on President Kibaki, a man he described as a gentleman of Kenyan politics, could not work with any other person.

“Those who don’t understand principle, can never envisage resigning. I think it’s dishonest to continue taking public salary when you can no longer deliver your duties,” said Ms Karua.

Mr Gachagua, expectedly, defended the DP’s move to stick to his office after irreconcilable differences with his boss, President Kenyatta.

“Ruto was elected by the people of Kenya and that’s why they cannot push him out. If he was not, he could have been sacked long time ago and Gideon Moi appointed DP. That was the plan: Provoke Ruto and quickly replace him,” said the Mathira MP.

Ms Karua, on the other hand, insisted that Dr Ruto set a bad precedent as DP by staying in office even when there was evidence of an irreparable political marriage with his boss.

The former Gichugu MP pushed back against claims by Mr Gachagua of being a project of President Kenyatta, citing her appearance in an interviewing panel for the task.

“It is true my principal and I are projects; but projects of the people. My principal consulted the people and I appeared in a panel to be interviewed for the role, not like Rigathi who was handpicked,” she said.

But Mr Gachagua, who once served as President Kenyatta’s private secretary, drilled down on the project accusation, suggesting that the Head of State’s continued stay as the Azimio council chairman was confirmation of “Uhuru’s plan to continue ruling Kenya after the end of his 10-year term”.

Uhuru wanted me to abandon Ruto - Gachagua on frozen assets

“Uhuru has said he is going anywhere. It is not me,” Mr Gachagua said.

Meanwhile, corruption, high cost of living and unemployment dominated the first tier debate where the two deputy presidential candidates vowing to tackle the triple threat.

Roots Party deputy presidential candidate Justina Wamae said their plan to slay the corruption dragon will involve hanging the corrupt, adding in their government integrity will be key.

“Kenyans should shun politicians who bribe them to win their votes. Campaign bribery leads to corruption as those elected seek to return their campaign funds. We are here to give alternative. No one owns any vote,” said Ms Wamae.

Her Agano Party counterpart Ruth Mutua said past governments have compromised integrity in the country but their administration will herald transparency and trust amongst Kenyans.

“Lack of will has impeded the fight against corruption. Integrity is paramount to us as Agano party,” said Ms Mutua.

Differing with Ms Wamae on hanging the corrupt, she said their government will instead have those implicated in graft face the law.

“Our governance is not to hang anybody. Hanging is not even in the Constitution. We shall follow the law to deal with the corrupt. Everyone will face the law,” she said.

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