Rigathi: Quest for DP, why we fell out with Uhuru and Moi drama 

Rigathi Gachagua

Outgoing Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Mathira MP says Daniel arap Moi was paying a debt when he chose Uhuru Kenyatta as his political heir.
  • Outspoken lawmaker says he last spoke with President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2019.

For four years between 2002 and 2006, Rigathi Gachagua was the custodian of Uhuru Kenyatta’s diary as his personal assistant. As a Kanu presidential candidate in 2002, Mr Kenyatta travelled with Mr Gachagua throughout the country as his PA.

But now their friendship is being tested as the two are political rivals, with President Kenyatta supporting Azimio candidate Raila Odinga and the Mathira MP backing Deputy President William Ruto in the August 9 race.

The MP has also been in the cross hairs of anti-corruption agencies and is being mentioned as DP Ruto’s potential running mate. In an interview with Saturday Nation Writer Walter Menya, he reveals the intricacies of their relationship, secrets of the corridors of power during the Kanu administration and the falling-out in Jubilee.

There have been suggestions that you are the possible running mate for DP William Ruto. What are your thoughts on this? If it is not you, who else do you think can be a good running mate?

You cannot stop people from wishing you well. That is natural and I have no problem. People can pray for me and wish me well. If I get it, well and good. If not, equally, well and good. I have no fixed mind except for the fact that we must form the next government and I must be part of it in whatever capacity.

But with regard to any particular position, I have no hang-ups. We are not interested in positions. We first want an economic plan to lift our people out of the economic mess that the government has brought to Mt Kenya, despite our being in government. 

Then we have told DP Ruto the mountain will give him the votes, but he must give us a promise: His government must not allow demolition and eviction of our businesses and our houses. That is one of the things that have pained us about Uhuru Kenyatta and his government. 

We have told Dr Ruto that as he does that, we will be quite happy to be part of his government, to join and assist him in that economic transformation in whatever capacity, and we agreed.

Does Mt Kenya want the deputy president post?

Mt Kenya people would be quite comfortable with the number two position and we have told DP Ruto, but we will not give, and have not given, him any conditions to support him. Secondly, we did not tell Ruto whom to choose should he decide to have his number two from the mountain. We left that to him. 

He will look around the mountain and find out who is best suited to help him run the affairs of the government. In addition, of course, we asked him to look for somebody who would be able to help him marshal the votes, someone with some acceptance.

Your comments on the number two slot was met with protests from ANC...

I am a leader from the mountain and I have to fight for the interests of the mountain. That is what leaders do. Politics is about interests and I was simply stating the interests of my people in the Ruto camp.

You burst to the national scene very first. What don’t people know about you?

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 would service guns for the Mau Mau, while my mother provided them with food and ammunition. We grew up from a very humble beginning in a colonial village, where the colonial settlers put people so that they could control them. 

They dug deep trenches around the village. I am the eighth-born child out of nine. Many days we went without food and by God’s grace we finished school. I was later admitted to the University of Nairobi for a Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration and Literature, and in 1988, I joined the government. I served both the central government and in the field. I also served at Harambee House, rising to be the assistant of the then-Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet, Prof Phillip Mbithi.

Even after he left, I remained there until 2001 when I was seconded to President Uhuru Kenyatta as his Personal Assistant. He was then the Minister for Local Government and Kanu’s presidential candidate. I helped him through the 2002 election, which he lost and became the leader of the official opposition party. 

I helped him for another four years until 2006 when I left him and concentrated on my business. From then, I have been a businessman. In 2017, I vied for the Mathira parliamentary seat on a Jubilee ticket and won. And here we are.

Prof Phillip Mbithi left the government acrimoniously. As his PA, what happened?

It was very stressful for him and for all of us. He was called by President Daniel Moi in the morning to State House around 1994. They worked on a Cabinet reshuffle. The President had asked him to make suggestions on who should move where and some names were to be dropped. They agreed on a list and he left it with the President to await the one o’clock news. He came back to the office around noon., but the announcement did not come at 1pm. 

We were just working in the office when the changes were announced at 7pm. All the changes they had agreed on were not announced. The only change that was announced was that Prof Mbithi had been moved from the Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet to the position of secretary general of the East African Community. 

The professor was livid. He could not take it; he felt betrayed and was very unhappy. We tried encouraging and telling him that he was now representing East Africa, but he said he was not taking up the appointment; he rejected the job.

I went to his Muthaiga residence, which was a government facility, and advised him that rejecting the appointment meant he needed to move out of the house to avoid being evicted, a piece of advice he did not take. He instead wrote a letter to State House, protesting against his removal, but one hour later, his belongings were thrown out and he had to take off.

You were his PA, you were together the whole day, everything had been normal...

We were together. What followed was a serious persecution of the people around him. I was sent to North-Eastern Province because the powers that be felt the need to dismantle the team around Prof Mbithi. I was able to appeal to the President later on and that if he had a problem with Prof Mbithi, 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. 

Prof Mbithi was a very good man, a dedicated public servant, but could not handle politics. That office is very hot. He was a very truthful man and a lot of people had many issues with this. 

His problems emanated from Postbank, which was being used by people in Kanu to take money that was not secured. Professor had a problem with that. He also had many problems about contracts and the dealers around the president went and put a lot of fitina (incitement) and he was sacked; he felt betrayed. 

We used to work for many hours. He steered this country to stability and continuity in an era when Kenyans were agitating for multipartyism. Anyway, that is how things are in the government. What we are seeing today is not any different.

Critics say as a provincial administrator you were dictatorial and never stopped the persecution of Mt Kenya people in Molo during ethnic clashes in the 90s

That is a lie. I have never served in Molo. I was in Kirinyaga, Kiambu, Laikipia, Turkana, Wajir and Kakamega. I have even heard a principal secretary talk about it. They need to go to the registry and ask for my file. For the record and to make the work easy, my personal file number is 611592. 

I served in the provincial administration and I cannot be condemned for serving President Moi. Everybody in government served President Moi. Mwai Kibaki, who is celebrated in this country for pursuing economic solutions, served as vice president to Moi for 10 years. 

Uhuru Kenyatta was a Cabinet minister in Moi’s government. In fact, he was Moi’s project. If anybody has a problem with anybody who worked with Moi, he should have serious problems with Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta. Even Raila Odinga served under President Moi. 

In any case, Moi served for 24 years, meaning that anybody who is anybody in this country at one time or another served under Moi. You cannot tell us that because we served under Moi, we should not speak up.

Rigathi Gachagua

Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua during interview at his home in Nairobi on March 9, 2022.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

What made you leave public service?

I became a personal assistant to President Kenyatta and when he lost the 2002 election, naturally, we had to exit. I continued serving him in my private capacity, though, because he was not entitled to that. I left because we lost the election and never went back.

Let’s talk about the President. As his PA, how was Uhuru back then?

Uhuru was a nice man. When we started taking Uhuru round the country, he was very green, had just come to the public life and did not know much. He was a student. I literally moved with him to every corner of this country every day and he improved his public speaking.

He improved very quickly on messaging, he was a fast-learner. He was also very agreeable. He agreed to be advised, to be mentored. We had a good show from nowhere to 1.8 million votes and we congratulated ourselves. He took it in his stride when, finally, lost to Mwai Kibaki, who got 3.6 million votes. 

One of the things we remember President Uhuru for was his concession speech. It saved this country from acrimony and violence. I have said many times that his concession speech tells us that if people concede after losing an election, there will never be violence because that is proven. The violence we have seen is due to some people not conceding defeat and that has brought problems.

The problem is where you say you have lost unfairly then your supporters resort to violence.

In your view, why did Moi settle on him?

Looking back, I now feel Moi was paying back a debt to Mzee Kenyatta. I think they had a pact. Looking back now and analysing, no other reason could make President Moi pick Uhuru Kenyatta. He was spoilt for choice. There were very many people whom he could have picked who had served him with loyalty. They had serious public and proven track records, but he still chose Uhuru, the only reason being he was Kenyatta’s son.

Would you say it was a wise or a poor choice?

Looking back, Uhuru was not ready to be president. The Uhuru of 2002 was not ready. He did not have management skills, he did not have leadership skills, he did not have experience in governance and it would have been a very big mistake for the country.

You carried on being his PA even after that loss...

Even after I left in 2006, I continued to be one of his very strong allies and we worked until 2013, when he became president. I was not an MP, but we continued engaging very closely. I would visit him at Sagana and he would call me to the State House. We pushed until he got the second term.

What was the point of departure?

When the President decided that he needed to follow a certain political direction without consulting leaders and voters, many were not happy. Instead of calling us to persuade us why he had decided to move in a certain direction, he became very ruthless and lashed out at us.

Those who refused, he set out the criminal justice system on us and started this serious plan of persecution. We said no and have stood our ground. In addition, I explained to him I had very serious problems with how he was managing the economy. 

Of course, my own thinking and the thinking of many people from Central Kenya is that Kibaki had performed well. We were sure Uhuru, being a younger person, would do much better than Kibaki. But the reverse is the reality.

When Kibaki left, he handed over a good country to Uhuru Kenyatta. The public debt was Sh1.8 trillion. Ten years later, we are at Sh11.2 trillion. There is also state capture of certain industries to favour a few families.

What has changed?

The person I knew then is not the person I know now. Uhuru Kenyatta was a cool guy. I would go to Sagana and we would chat for three hours on many topics and he would take it positively. After two, three or four months, he would make some changes based on the discussion that we had.

That is good because a leader who accepts the truth is a good leader. For many years, he called to ask for my opinion. I am now shocked that he finds me useless because of I am truthful. 

Before, he found me useful. He would ask me what I thought on different issues. I would spend my own money to move around to find out the information and tell him. I am still the same person and he knows it. I am a truthful man. The only difference is that, before, I would tell him the truth in private because he was accessible; he would ask me to tell him the truth in private.

When is the last time you two spoke?

Sometime in 2019.

What was the issue?

I asked him about the problem he had with DP Ruto and he said there was none. I asked him that “we hear you are unhappy with us for not going your direction”. He said that was not true, so I went ahead with William Ruto.

Did you ask him whether he was supporting Baba at that time?

No, he told me the handshake had nothing to do with 2022 and that he was doing it for peace and I asked him what peace because we, from the mountain, did not have any problem with the people from Luo Nyanza. There was no conflict, but he just said he was looking for peace, which was okay. I asked him specifically whether he had any problem with us supporting Ruto and he said he had none. 

Therefore, we went ahead to support Ruto, only for him to set up the criminal justice system to persecute us. The Prosecution has been very heavy. It has frozen our accounts, all our companies have been frozen by the Kenya Revenue Authority; our phones are monitored 24/7 by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations; everywhere I go, my house, any constituency, the intimidation has been on another level. We have taken it in our stride. I have said that I wish him the best because I remember the good things he has done for me.

What is that one thing he did for you that you are forever grateful for?

When I lost my late brother, Governor Nderitu Gachagua, the President was there for me and my family and I am grateful and forever indebted. My family and I were down. He ordered the High Commission in London and its staff to give us every assistance. 

The body was brought home and the state covered the funeral expenses, about Sh40 million. He came, we spent time with him the entire day. The following day, I went to see him. We had many issues and he helped us sort them out.

For that, I am forever grateful to the President, even if he has ordered my persecution. I also want him to remember the one good thing I have done for him.

After the Sagana 3 meeting, you were quoted as saying you had so many secrets about the President. What could they be?

Down to the grave (laughs). You know when you are trusted by somebody, you cannot give out details even if you have differed. That will be really unprofessional and unfair. People differ, but you must protect the relationship you had. If today I started spilling everything about Uhuru Kenyatta, even William Ruto would start fearing me. I am telling you the President, in my view, is a good man, but he is keeping the wrong company than when he used to listen to some of us.

What do you think was the turning point in the UhuRuto relationship?

From what I get from the DP — and I agree with him — the President seemed to have been persuaded by his advisers to create a legacy of his own as opposed to the UhuRuto formation. In the first term, they were moving everywhere together, opening projects together, but when we got to the second term, he was advised otherwise.

Even David Murathe said the Uhuru of 2017 would be different. In fact, he said he would be a benevolent dictator. The only aspect he did not get right was the “benevolent” bit. When the President is harassing people who supported him, that is not benevolence. We thought Murathe was joking, but the President pushed Ruto aside.

Is it possible for the President and the DP to reconcile?

We never say never, but it is increasingly becoming difficult. The President made his decision. He has rubbed so many people the wrong way. He has really committed so many wrongs to us. He has punished everybody who made him president and made him to get to where he is.

Tomorrow in the Sunday Nation:How Mudavadi and Wetang’ulula fit in Kenya Kwanza, Ruto’s path to victory and the possibility of a post-election handshake between Ruto and Raila after the August 9 General Election.