Ruto’s biggest gamble yet: How Gachagua became Kenya Kwanza number two

Rigathi Gachagua.

Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

The fear that Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party presidential hopeful Raila Odinga will use the choice of Deputy President William Ruto’s running mate to lock out his main challenger out of the vote-rich Mt Kenya region has emerged as one of the top reasons why Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua was settled on, long after it appeared the team had settled on soft-spoken Prof Kithure Kindiki.

Despite the DP early last week claiming that his deputy’s choice was the easiest, when the rubber met the road, he had to assemble his strategists and allies, mainly from President Kenyatta’s restive Central region, at 6pm on Thursday in anticipation of making the announcement on Friday.

Even then, with a full day of talks, concessions and give-and-take, it turned out to be a Herculean task. At 12.45am, the DP’s campaign announced that it had finally reached a decision, which was announced yesterday at 1pm. There were six contenders for the running mate post—Prof Kindiki (Tharaka Nithi), Mr Gachagua (Mathira), Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu), Alice Wahome (Kandara), Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga) and Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi.

“For the last three days, Mt Kenya leaders have been camping at DP Ruto’s Karen residence. We were leaving the place at around 2am. During this time, we were analysing opinion polls conducted by the Office of Deputy President and UDA,” said Kiambu Woman Representative Gathoni Wamuchomba yesterday.

By 2pm on Saturday, both Ms Waiguru and Mr Muturi were off the list and Prof Kindiki was to face off with Mr Gachagua after the secret opinion polls and voting done by the leaders from Mt Kenya had placed the senator ahead. Sources who were present yesterday confided to the Nation that when they only remained with the two candidates, the supremacy battle between Mt Kenya West and East played out, with the likes of Mr Nyoro rallying behind Mr Gachagua.

Leaders from the region were divided down the middle, while flexing their muscles, with some lawmakers rallying behind Prof Kindiki, as a few MPs, mainly from Mt Kenya West, supported Mr Gachagua.

The Nation has established that even Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetang’ula were not comfortable with the Mathira MP, citing what is going on between DP Ruto and President Kenyatta.

At 5pm on Saturday, with the knowledge that there might not be much progress with the two leaders in the room, the two were asked to give room for a further private discussion between the DP, his strategists and the MPs. DP Ruto was subjected to two things—to choose between galvanising the entire Mt Kenya region with the help of Mr Gachagua or settle on Prof Kindiki and face a possible backlash from the West.

The argument in the room, the Nation has gathered, was that while the Tharaka Nithi senator might be appealing more than the Mathira MP, the two-term senator, who joined Ruto’s legal team as early as when he was 32, cannot marshal votes in the region.

There are also leaders who argued that despite Prof Kindiki having a national and international image, he lacks mobilisation skills and comes from the Tharaka community, which cannot speak for the entire Mt Kenya, hence settling on him could give Mr Odinga a leeway to scoop the entire Mt Kenya West, especially if he names his number two from the region.

Backroom politics

Mt Kenya’s 10 counties control nearly a third of the country’s votes, with Meru having 780,858 voters, Tharaka-Nithi (234,618), Embu (337,627), Nyeri (492,046) and Kirinyaga (378,580). Others are Murang’a (628,416), Kiambu (1,293,309), Laikipia (265,842), Nyandarua (362,357) and Nakuru (1,050,367). This adds up to 5,824,020 votes.

Mt Kenya East comprises Tharaka Nithi, Embu and Meru counties, whose votes add up to 1,353, 103 in comparison to 4,470,917 of the West.

As a hint to the backroom politics, Gatundu South MP and leader of Chama Cha Kazi (CCK) Moses Kuria had taken to the social media saying, “The Mt Kenya region is paying a heavy price for not grooming a successor over the last 10 years. And for destroying our leaders instead of building them. For seeing the bad in people instead of the good in them.

“For all leaders promoting themselves instead of promoting their colleagues. This is a sad day. The only thing left is to ring-fence and salvage our respective counties’ leadership.”

Maara MP Kareke Mbiuki yesterday told the Nation that when it reached midnight on Saturday and leaders had failed to agree, with both camps holding their grounds and with no sign of either Mr Gachagua or Prof Kindiki stepping down in favour of one, the team handed the two names to the DP “to use his wisdom to make a decision”.

“Towards the end of last (Saturday) night meeting, we requested the two candidates to retreat and try to build consensus among themselves. Their verdict was that let the boss (Dr Ruto) decide for himself between the two candidates,” Mr Mbiuki said.

“The plenary concurred and the long meeting and consultations came to an end. Both candidates and the entire Mt Kenya leadership pledged to abide by the final decision of DP Ruto.”

Mr Mbiuki admitted that the choice of Mr Odinga’s running mate played a critical role in having their camp settle on Mr Gachagua. “We considered all factors, especially the winning duo against the Azimio team. We had sober and consultative engagements among all the Mount Kenya leaders.”

Despite being DP Ruto’s lawyer at The Hague and his continued support for the DP since the March 9, 2018 handshake between the Head of State and Mr Odinga that saw allies of the DP purged from the leadership of both the Senate and National Assembly, there are leaders who felt that Prof Kindiki, unlike Mr Gachagua, was inconsistent in the DP’s camp. It was argued that while he was known to back the DP, he often had long breaks from the campaign trail, especially after he was removed as Deputy Speaker.

Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa, another ally of the DP, told the Nation that the Mathira MP is the classical example of their bottom-up and hustler narrative.

“We were comfortable with both but told the boss to use his discretion and other means to arrive at the best candidate. There were several parameters and voting by Mt Kenya leaders was one of them. The front where Gachagua performed well is that we began with him, we have suffered in the trenches and he has the requisite experience required in terms of having worked in government and serving as personal assistant to President Kenyatta,” Mr Barasa said.

While unveiling Mr Gachagua as the running mate of Kenya Kwanza Alliance (KKA), the DP described him as an astute debater, a principled, resilient and fearless fighter for the right cause. “Gachagua is my friend whom I’ve worked with, especially on that bottom-up economic model and we started that journey together. He understands people’s issues; he is passionate about ordinary people,” DP Ruto said.

Maendeleo Chap Chap (MCC) leader and Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua, who was part of the team being consulted on the choice of running mate, told the Nation Mr Gachagua outsmarted Prof Kindiki because he has demonstrated that he could unify Mt Kenya, whose voting will play a big role for KKA to win.

“DP Ruto settled on Gachagua because of his vast experience. He is committed to relieving the plight of the poor, is a unifying force and excellent mobiliser; and represents Mount Kenya,” Dr Mutua said, adding, leaders outside Mt Kenya did not have much say on the choice of running mate and the whole process was left to the region’s leaders to agree before DP Ruto stepped in.

“I was there throughout and at no time did I hear the other party leaders have issues with the choice. The Mt Kenya leaders are the ones who narrowed the list down, plus science and other factors, to Kindiki and Gachagua. I believe some people are trying to blot what has been a very democratic, inclusive and harmonious process.”

Although some MPs from Mt Kenya East do not see Mr Gachagua as a unifier of the region, Juja MP George Koimburi said Mr Gachagua had demonstrated that he could bring the region together. For Kenya Kwanza, any fear that the mountain could drift towards Mr Odinga, or be angry with the DP enough not to come out to vote, was too big a risk to take.

“Settling on Gachagua was not only for DP Ruto but the entire Mount Kenya and the majority of Mount Kenya leaders settled on Gachagua. Kindiki will get something in our government,” Mr Koimburi said.

Attorney-General

Besides being a good mobiliser, Mr Gachagua outfoxed Prof Kindiki, who, some DP allies have hinted, is likely to be given the position of Attorney-General because of his vast experience in law, if they win.

Ms Wamuchomba, the Kiambu Woman Representative, disclosed that during the consultations at Karen where the two were given a platform to make presentations on what they will do as deputy president, the Mathira MP was the best because he showed that he understood the bottom-up, he resonates with businesspeople from Mount Kenya and has resources—a key contribution in DP Ruto’s State House journey.

“In the 17 hours, we gave them the opportunity to do presentation on what they would do if one becomes a deputy president, what one would do before becoming a deputy president in terms of the campaigns, their contribution in terms of resources, knowledge, teamwork. We believe Gachagua is going to be an effective administrator having been a public servant for a long time,” she said.

“His age was also a qualification because we wanted a person who has the knowledge and experience that would double what William Ruto has, especially on matters of business. To represent the interest of the Kikuyu community, matters of business are critical and we need someone who understands the business circles and how politics interferes with business.”

Gilgil MP Martha Wangari said: “We support his decision and hope that Rigathi’s organisational skills and grassroots support will add value to the presidency.”

Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono said Mr Gachagua defeated Prof Kindiki in showing how the bottom-up economic model can be implemented.

However, Mr Gachagua a father of two and husband of Pastor Dorcas Wanjiku, says being in public service makes him fit for the position. He argues he understands how a country should be governed.

Mr Gachagua served as district officer in Molo and Laikipia during the Kanu rule when provincial administrators wielded a lot of power and their orders were law. He says he has equipped himself with enough experience and can run a government without any push and pull, citing his personal assistant role to Mr Kenyatta and former President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi’s Head of Public Service Philip Mbithi.

“I’ve been in public service for a long time. I joined the government as a young officer in 1989 and served for a record 14 years. I was in the nerve centre of government when I was personal assistant to Prof Philip Mbithi. I know and understand government. I also understand the civil service. He said the support Dr Ruto enjoys in Mt Kenya is due to his mobilisation efforts.

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