Rigathi Gachagua: The making of a new Mt Kenya kingpin

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua makes his remarks during the 11th graduation ceremony of Outspan Medical College in Nyeri county on November 19, 2022.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi I Nation Media Group

By virtue of his office, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua is now the senior-most politician from the Mt Kenya region.

Even though his election as the country’s second in command does not automatically confer on him the region’s leadership mantle, his recent actions point to a kingpin in the making.

Revelation by the DP that he rallied the Kenya Kwanza lawmakers from the region to vote for Azimio-backed candidate, former Kieni MP Kanini Kega, in Thursday’s election of the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) is seen as a scheme to stamp his authority in the region.

Mt Kenya voters defied former President Uhuru Kenyatta in the August election by voting overwhelmingly for President William Ruto, challenging his position as the perceived regional kingpin.

DP Gachagua, in a public address on Friday, asked Azimio-allied leaders from the region to join his camp. He vowed to unite the region and said that, together with Dr Ruto, they were not interested in revenging against those who mistreated them during the Kenyatta era.

Mr Gachagua said he would ensure there are no political divisions between Mt Kenya East and West, a clear indication that he plans to take charge of the region’s politics. “We will unite our region, Mount Kenya, so that we speak with one voice,” he said.

In yet another public address, DP Gachagua implored the region, more so the Mount Kenya Foundation that bankrolled Azimio leader Raila Odinga, to rally behind the Kenya Kwanza administration.

If he convinces the region to endorse him as their next leader, it would be the first time the region gets a political kingpin whose political experience is only about five years as a one-term MP for Mathira constituency.

While Mr Gachagua insists that he and some Mt Kenya legislators, including Water Cabinet Secretary Alice Wahome and her Trade counterpart Moses Kuria, MPs Jayne Kíhara(Naivasha), Kikuyu’s Kimani Ichung'wa and Kiharu's Ndindi Nyoro, whipped the Mountain to vote for Dr Ruto, many Central residents believe Dr Ruto won acceptance on his own and would still have bagged the region even if he had campaigned alone.

In October last year, President Ruto, while campaigning, declared himself as the political supremo of the region as he moved to maintain his grip.

“I am welcoming them to the mountain, but as they come, let them know that mlima ina wenyeji (Mt Kenya has its owners). When they were away, I made several tours of the region, we built roads and initiated other development projects,” said Dr Ruto at Nyahururu DEB Primary School in Laikipia County.

Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamuchomba, an ally of DP Gachagua, said the deputy party leader of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) “has sacrificed a lot for Mount Kenya”, hence speaks on behalf of the entire region.

Clear win

“Yes, he is our kingpin. Gachagua oversaw a successful Kenya Kwanza campaign and delivered a clear win for all seats. He has protected the interest of the Mountain painfully,” she said.

Attorney General Justin Muturi, who underwent coronation last year at the Njuri Ncheke shrine in Meru and Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga in Murang’a had been interpreted as having shown interest in the region’s kingpinship, yesterday told Sunday Nation that he is now focused on serving Kenyans as legal advisor to the government. “I have a job to do as the Attorney General of the Republic of Kenya,” Mr Muturi said in a brief text to the Nation.

On September 18 in an interview with NTV, DP Gachagua said it was not about the region’s kingpin, but that what was conspicuous is that when he asked residents to vote for Dr Ruto, they heeded and ignored Mr Kenyatta.

“What is kingpin all about? What I know is that I am the Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya and I am the senior-most leader from the region. So, the way people perceive me, I leave it to them, but what I also know is that I talk to the people of Mount Kenya in their own language and they listen to me. Uhuru Kenyatta talked to them, but they disregarded what he told them. I asked them to go in a particular direction and the majority of them were in agreement,” he said.

Although Kenya Kwanza leaders from the region view Mr Gachagua as the region’s kingpin, allies of Mr Kenyatta are of the view that the mantle has not changed hands yet, despite him being the country’s second in command. Former Water Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki yesterday said DP Gachagua has noticed a leadership vacuum in the region and is trying to capitalise on that by persuading Azimio MPs to join his camp.

“There is a leadership lacuna and that is what Gachagua has established. The former President is much more engaged in other interventions outside the country. Therefore, this creates a little confusion in the region. From the hierarchy point of view, Gachagua is now the senior-most leader—which earns him respect that he deserves,” said Ms Kariuki.

According to Jubilee secretary general Jeremiah Kioni, Mr Kenyatta remains the region’s political spokesperson as the August 9 General Election had very little to do with Mt Kenya’s kingpinship.

“For Gachagua to speak on behalf of Mount Kenya, it will take time and it has not happened. He is not the kingpin of Mount Kenya but is just expressing/thinking of the community just like others. The kingpin of the region is the former President because the majority listen to him. Getting another kingpin will take time. We in Jubilee are still in Azimio and will work with Raila Odinga,” said Mr Kioni.

Former Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui said Mount Kenya voters are in what he described as a “wait and see mode” and will make decisions based on their interests. “I have not been part of any meeting with such a resolution. The matter will emerge in the next few years, depending on who best articulates the region’s interest. This is not a position by appointment but one earned through trust,” said Mr Kinyanjui.

Former Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugi, an ardent supporter of the former Head of State, said residents will decide who their political spokesperson is, arguing that it is a process that takes time and is determined by how a person has pushed for the community’s interests. He said that since assuming office as DP, Mr Gachagua has shown that he is ready to protect the interest of the region and if he continues on that trajectory, he would automatically become kingpin.

“Rigathi is currently the senior-most political leader from our region in active politics. He has shown—in that short period—that he is willing to use this position to support the interests and people of the region, regardless of their political leanings, or personal relationships with himself. If he continues doing this, he could very easily be made the regional kingpin by the people, especially as the position is currently vacant after Uhuru’s retirement from active politics,” said Mr Wambugu.

Former Majority Leader Amos Kimunya and nominated MP Sabina Chege said now that Mr Gachagua, being the senior-most leader from the region, deserves respect from other leaders and residents. “By virtue of his position as DP, he is the senior-most political leader. There are, however, other leaders of different facets. Mt Kenya does not usually revolve around one leader from long ago,” said Mr Kimunya.

United States International University’s professor Macharia Munene opines that Mount Kenya’s electorate feel they were betrayed by individuals who surrounded Mr Kenyatta, hence it won’t be easy for them to trust any leader. “We should not jump into conclusions that Rigathi is the Mt Kenya kingpin. He has a pretty good chance of being recognised and accepted, but that will depend on his behaviour. The people of the mountain are currently looking for someone to trust,” Prof Munene argues.

Imenti North MP Abdul Rahim Dawood told Sunday Nation that there is no debate as to who is the Mount Kenya kingpin, arguing that Mr Gachagua took over the mantle automatically. “Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua is the new kingpin of Mount Kenya besides being the senior-most leader from the region. He now has the capacity to bring the region together more than before. We, as Mount Kenya leaders, will be more united in the future for our common destiny because divided we fall and united we prosper,” said Mr Dawood.

Yesterday, Murang’a Governor Irungu Kang’ata refused to comment on whether he recognises DP Gachagua as the Mount Kenya supremo, saying “I want to stick to comments on development.”

The Mount Kenya kingpin is a position of influence previously held by leaders such as Dedan Kimathi (pre-Independence era), Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (1963-1978), Kenneth Matiba (1993-1997), Mwai Kibaki (1997-2013) and Uhuru Kenyatta (from 2013). 

In 2002 when then-President Daniel Moi left office, the Rift Valley region slowly but eventually settled on President Ruto. In 2013 when Mwai Kibaki was leaving office, the Mt Kenya region quickly and seamlessly settled on Mr Kenyatta.