Rigathi Gachagua
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Rumble in the Mountain: Truth behind Rigathi vs Nyoro battle for Mt Kenya

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Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua shakes hands with Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro during a fundraiser in Kigumo, Murang’a County on February 10, 2024.

Photo credit: DPCS

The sun is already up when the Nation team sets out on a journey to Gatongori village in Gaturi Ward, Kiharu Constituency. Murang’a Town is the starting point.

As the road meanders across the hilly terrain, the lush-green vegetation stands in sharp contrast to the snaking black tarmac.

The mission is to feel the political pulse of the Mt Kenya region following a clamour by a section of Murang’a politicians, led by Senator Joe Nyutu, declaring Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro as fit to be President William Ruto’s running mate in 2027 in place of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.

Ruto on Mt Kenya succession politics

The political pronouncement provoked a heated succession debate in the vote-rich region, with leaders allied to the DP scathing in their response. In Mr Nyoro’s backyard, interviews with locals reveal a mixed bag of feelings on the unfolding events.

“Let him not be in a rush. He is on a good trajectory politically but let him not be in a hurry as 2027 is still far,” says Baba Beatrice, the MP’s paternal uncle.

“We want him to go for the seat for us also to have a deputy president,” differs Mama Kareithi, a neighbour.

 MP Ndindi Nyoro and DP Gachagua

Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro addresses wananchi at Mukurweini town in Nyeri County during Kenya Kwanza campaign rally that was led by Mr Rigathi Gachagua on June 7, 2022. 

Photo credit: File

MP Nyoro burst into the political limelight in 2017 when he succeeded his political mentor, Murang’a Governor Irungu Kang’ata, as the Kiharu lawmaker.

The 38-year-old had worked with Mr Kang’ata as the chairperson of Kiharu Constituency Development Fund committee following a relationship that began when the two met while the governor was a councillor.

At Gaitheri shopping centre, just a few kilometres from Mr Nyoro’s ancestral home, locals are equally conflicted.

“He has done well in terms of development,” says Mr John Mwangi. “However, he is still not ripe for the DP position. Rigathi is senior to him. He should allow Rigathi to complete two terms and they can team up in 2032.”

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua addresses a crowd at Ithanga trading centre in Murang'a on February 15, 2024. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Mr Wilson Mwangi, a butcher, is of a different opinion: “Ndindi is ripe for the position but we want him to continue as our MP until 2032. ”

During the 59th Jamhuri Day celebrations, the MP received the Chief of Burning Spear award from President William Ruto for the exemplary development record in his constituency.

“Rigathi has no record that can match Ndindi’s. I will never vote for him again,” says Mr James Maina Mburu.

Aware of the dangers of a single story, the journey takes us to Hiriga Shopping Centre in Ruguru Ward, Mathira Constituency.

Camping at the almost sleepy centre, which is a stone’s throw away from Mr Gachagua’s rural home, the locals say he is being fought politically.

“It is because of his fight against illegal brews. We love him and we will support him,” says Mr Nderitu Nyamai.

Several kilometres from Mathira in Gatundu town, Kiambu County, the discussion takes a heated trajectory with locals scathing in their sentiments.

Mr James Njuguna, a butcher, says he does not recognise Mr Gachagua as the region’s political kingpin, as he has failed to deliver on coffee, milk and tea reforms.

“He lacks leadership qualities. We can see what Ndindi has done in Kiharu but what can be said of Rigathi?” Mr Njuguna poses.

Gatanga MP Edward Muriu says Murang’a County has placed  its hope of clinching the presidency on Mr Nyoro.“We have declared our interest in the seat through Ndindi Nyoro.”

On Saturday last week, Mr Gachagua and Mr Nyoro shared a podium during a funds drive in Kigumo, Murang’a County, where they vouched for political unity in the region.

Mr Nyoro pledged his unconditional support for Mr Gachagua and President Ruto.

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati (left) hand s a certificate to William Ruto (centre) and his running mate Rigathi Gachagua (right) after declaring Dr Ruto winner of the presidential election on August 15, 2022.

Photo credit: AFP

On Friday in Kirinyaga County, the second-in-command urged leaders to unite and refrain from engaging in divisive politics.

“Those scheming to divide the region should know that the people of Mt Kenya are intelligent and aware of what is happening. Those seeking to divide us are enemies of the region.”

Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga admits the region is jittery and there is a push for generational change.

“Two he-goats have never been allowed to stay in the same pen because they will always fight.”

Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamuchomba agrees with Governor Kahiga’s sentiments, saying, the region could be victims of a plot to divide and scatter it so that it stops speaking in one voice. Her view is shared by Democratic Party Deputy Secretary-General Wambugu Nyamu.

“Everything about politics does not just happen from nowhere; it is planned. Somebody is creating that disquiet,” says Mr Nyamu.

But as the battle for the soul of Mt Kenya rages, one governor is loud by his silence. When we bumped into Murang’a Governor Irungu Kang’ata, after earlier turning down our request for an interview, he said he does not want to be drawn into the politics of the region’s kingpin.

The first term governor said he is more focused on transforming his county through programmes such as Kangatacare, a partnership between his administration and the National Health Insurance Fund,and Muranga Youth Service, which offers work-study opportunities to jobless youths.

“Ndindi is my brother on account of our deep historical connections while Rigathi is our boss and I have the duty to respect his office. The real political kingpin is Wanjiku [ordinary citizen],” he told the Nation.

However, despite the succession politics cooling down, Governor Kahiga has fired a warning shot to the President over his dalliance with Western region and plans to split the deputy party leader position into three.

He says the region wants back the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) secretary-general position that is currently held by former Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala, who replaced nominated senator Veronica Maina.

“We want to feel we are in UDA not only by name. We are in this party for our political interests and let it be clear that, if our interests are not taken care of, then there is no point in remaining in the party. ”

The political upheavals in Mt Kenya evokes memories of the aftermath of the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978.

The death of the founding President threw the region into political turmoil after Moi managed to outsmart the Kiambu elites to become President.

During the re-organisation of the region’s politics, Matiba emerged with his Ford Asili party, which had split from the original Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford) in May 1992. But Kibaki decided to form the Democratic Party of Kenya, taking advantage of Matiba’s absence from Mt Kenya and a fallout with other top leaders in the region.

The 1992 election saw Matiba and Kibaki divide the Mt Kenya votes, with Matiba commanding Murang’a, Kiambu and Nakuru while Kibaki took Nyeri, Laikipia and Nyandarua.

While Matiba emerged as the Leader of Official Opposition in 1992, Ford Asili lost its clout in the Mt Kenya region and by 1997 elections, it was Kibaki who would command the Mt Kenya bloc. The rivalry between the two leaders played into Moi’s hands giving him 10 more years at the helm.

Kibaki became President five years later and went on to hand over the Mt Kenya kingpin mantle to Uhuru. Uhuru dominated Mt Kenya politics for 10 years but his decision to back Mr Odinga’s presidency in 2022 saw him lose part of that clout.