Rigathi Gachagua: The village boy a step away from becoming Kenya’s DP
The child of Mau Mau, as he describes himself, Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua could just be an election away from becoming the country’s deputy president.
He was picked on Sunday to be Deputy President William Ruto’s running mate in the August 9 presidential election after a day long negotiations characterised by stalemates, anger and name calling that stretched late into the night as UDA allied MPs haggled over the best candidate between him and Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki.
Despite being a strong supporter of President Uhuru Kenyatta, whom he also worked for as a personal assistant, Mr Gachagua was among the MPs from the Mt Kenya region who abandoned the President and opted to follow the DP to UDA in the wake of the falling-out between the country’s two most powerful men.
As a result, the first-term MP has stood with the Deputy President amidst the tribulations the latter faced after their fallout with President Kenyatta, oftentimes coming out with guns blazing to throw insults at the President.
In his typical abrasive style, the MP, who is facing corruption charges in court, blames the President Kenyatta for his tribulations, pointing out that they are meant to cow and intimidate into abandoning his political beliefs. His bank accounts have been frozen as a result of the corruption charges.
“When the president decided to follow a certain political direction most of us felt ignored because we were not consulted,” he once said, explaining why he had to abandon his former boss, in a recent interview with the Nation.
“Instead of persuading us why he became very ruthless and lashed out at us. He set out the criminal justice system to those who refused to agree with him. He started this serious plan of persecution. We said no and we stood our ground.”
“I can tell you that the persecution has been very heavy. The court has frozen our accounts, all our companies have been frozen by the Kenya Revenue Authority, our phones are monitored 24/7 by the DCI, everywhere I go, my house, any constituency, the intimidation has been on another level. But we have taken it in good stride,” he added.
Born in 1965 in Ruguru Village in Nyeri County, Mr Gachagua associates himself with the Mau Mau struggle for independence.
“I am a child of the Mau Mau. My parents were in the Mt Kenya Forest during the struggle. My father was a technician. He used to service guns for the Mau Mau while my mother provided them with food and ammunition. He grew up in a colonial village. Those colonial villages were where the settlers put people so that they could control them. They dug deep trenches around the village,” he said in the interview.
An eighth born out of nine children, his elder brother, Mr Nderitu Gachagua preceded him as Mathira MP and later became the first governor of Nyeri County only to die while still in office.
After his primary School education, Mr Gachagua was admitted to Kenyatta High School in Kirinyaga between 1978 and 1981. He went back to the same school for his A-levels which he cleared in 1983 and was admitted to the University of Nairobi where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in public administration and Literature in 1987.
He joined the civil service in the same year he graduated, starting off as an assistant secretary and personal assistant to then Minister of Home Affairs and National Heritage Davidson Ngibuini, who was also Mathira MP at that time.
He then went on to serve a former head of civil service Prof Philip Mbithi in the same capacity before the latter unceremoniously resigned from public service after his apparent demotion by then-President Daniel Moi.
Mr Gachagua says that after Prof Mbithi left the government, staff who worked closely with him were harassed, intimidated and transferred to far-flung places. That is how he found himself as an administrator in then North Eastern Province.
“I was able to appeal to the President later on and told him that if he had a problem with Prof, most of us had no problem with him and he needed to have some empathy and my transfer was cancelled and I was posted to Kiambu,” he said.
As district officer, he worked in Kirinyaga, Kiambu, Laikipia, Turkana, Wajir, Kakamega and I also served in the main Office of Harambee House.
Then a new break came in 2001 when President Moi nominated Mr Kenyatta to Parliament. This was part of the wider scheme that was to prepare Mr Kenyatta to succeed once Mr Moi’s final term in office came to an end. As luck would have it, Mr Gachagua became Mr Kenyatta’s personal assistant and was by his side as he mounted his unsuccessful presidential run in 2002.
“When we started taking Mr Kenyatta around the country, he was very green and had just come into public life and he did not know much. I literally moved with him to every corner of this country and he improved his public speaking, he improved very quickly on messaging, he is a fast learner. He agreed to be advised and to be mentored,” he said.
He would remain by Mr Kenyatta’s side until 2006 when he left to go into private business as CEO of Ridor Group of Companies. When his brother was ailing and even after his death, Mr Gachagua was accused of behaving like the acting governor despite the county having a deputy governor. During that period, he built networks and used these to contest and win the Mathira parliamentary seat in the 2017 elections.
Mr Rigathi is married to Pastor Dorcas Rigathi and they have two children.