Rigathi Gachagua
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Why DP Rigathi Gachagua is a man under siege in Mt Kenya

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Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua addresses mourners during the burial of Julius Kano Ndumbi at Ngungu Primary School in Kirinyaga County on May 21, 2024.  

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

May 14, 2022. This is the day Kenyans were kept guessing on who would be the United Democratic Alliance party (UDA) presidential running mate.

When then Deputy President William Ruto convened a meeting at his official Karen residence to unveil his running mate, a 17-hour political standoff characterised by anger and name-calling ensued, forcing the postponement of the all-important announcement.

A majority of Mt Kenya MPs were reportedly against Mr Rigathi Gachagua being named to the top position. Prof Kithure Kindiki – now Interior Cabinet Secretary – was their preferred candidate.

But in a surprise turn of events, President Ruto settled on Mr Gachagua in the face of all the opposition, elevating the then first-term MP to become the country’s second-in-command following the August 9, 2022 General Election.

It appears some of the politicians in the ruling alliance, including those from his Mt Kenya region, have not embraced the “truthful” man, who political analyst Prof Macharia Munene calls a political “bully”.

Revenue sharing

His recent call for the adoption of the one-man-one-vote-one-shilling mantra in revenue sharing has since opened him up for attacks by politicians, who ordinarily would not be taking on him publicly, lifting the lid on a looming rebellion that could lead to his isolation within the ruling alliance ahead of the 2027 elections.

Some of the leaders from the populous Mt Kenya are said to be propagating for generational change, a political move that is said to have rattled the DP.

Steered clear

His recent absence from high-profile state functions hosted by President Ruto has further lent credence to a possible frosty relationship at the top echelons of the Kenya Kwanza government.

But whereas DP Gachagua had on Sunday steered clear of the political fights in his backyard, he yesterday fired back at his detractors, telling them off and even challenging them to make good their threats to replace him in the 2027 election matrix.

“It is okay for those dreaming of removing me to do so. There’s no problem with dreaming. They can continue dreaming,” Mr Gachagua said during a burial in Kirinyaga County.

He added: “It is too early to start fighting over 2027 and 2032 polls. Leadership comes from God. Let us work for the people. If it is about positions, just relax and God will give you. As the English saying goes, every dog has its day.”

Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru – who is in President Ruto’s delegation to the US – on Monday uncharacteristically fired a salvo at Mr Gachagua for allegedly feeling insecure about politicians with higher political ambitions.

The DP has been pushing to be recognised as the region’s kingpin.

“While we respect the office of the Deputy President, and indeed any other office of leadership, a progressive democracy does not allow us as occupiers of public leadership offices to personalise them to the extent that it becomes taboo for anyone else to nurture and express ambition to occupy them. We hold these offices in trust not as owners,” said Governor Waiguru in a social media post.

It is also quite telling that Ms Waiguru chose to attack the DP while in the company of the President.

“Let us recognize the right of all, especially our women and our youth to aspire to high office. Let us hold their hands in mentorship on political and socioeconomic leadership. Everyone has a right to dream and pursue their dreams like those in current leadership dreamt and their dreams actualised by the support of millions of youth and women. They too, deserve support, not hostility,” she added.

DP Gachagua has also had a running supremacy battle with Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro.

His tiff with Mr Nyoro played out in the open two weeks ago, when the two separately visited victims of deadly mudslides in Mathioya, Murang’a County.

Mr Nyoro, who was first to arrive at the displaced families’ camp, had in his entourage the Mathioya MP Edwin Mugo, Murang’a Senator Joe Nyutu and Woman Representative Betty Maina.

Mr Nyoro told the gathering that President William Ruto had given him Sh1 million to donate to victims of the mudslides that killed six people and displaced more than 50 families. In his address, Senator Nyutu described Mr Nyoro as the political leader of the Central Kenya region.

“We have MP Ndindi Nyoro here, who in my considered opinion, is our hope,” said Senator Nyutu.

Shortly after Mr Nyoro and his team had left, DP Gachagua arrived at the camp accompanied by Mukurweini MP John Kaguchia and Nyeri Woman Representative Rahab Mukami. He was received by Murang’a Governor Irungu Kang’ata.

At the event, the DP spoke mostly in Kikuyu parables, at one time telling the residents that he had wished to visit them earlier but the local leaders were not available to welcome him.

It is unusual for a leader of the Deputy President’s stature to visit a constituency in the absence of the area MP, particularly when they subscribe to the same political party. “Kang’ata (governor) these people are thirsting for me… do you have any other king of the Kikuyu?” DP Gachagua asked the crowd.

Highly placed sources have revealed to Nation how a meeting hosted by President Ruto at State House Nairobi to reconcile the two flopped, with the DP allegedly telling his boss that he would split his energies between supporting him (Dr Ruto) and fighting Mr Nyoro.

As the rift between DP Gachagua and his boss widens, the fault lines are becoming clearer, going by recent public speeches made by senior politicians from the mountain.

Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga has taken a hardline stance in support of the Mr Gachagua, while Ms Waiguru, on Monday declared that anyone was free to express their political opinion and run for any political seat.

Mr Kahiga on Sunday said they will not sit back and watch the DP being undermined.

“We will not allow our son to go through that at all. Kama mbaya, mbaya (let the worst happen), but he will not be taken through that.

“He was not given the seat on a silver platter, he fought for it, and he is not a deputy president by default,” Mr Kahiga charged, even taking a vote through acclamation.

Other central Kenya governors are said to be straddling the middle line.

Governor Kang’ata, for example, is said to have close friendship and family ties with MP Nyoro, but at the same time DP Gachagua has been courting him to secure his political backing in the county.

Governor Kimani Wamatangi on the other hand has been seeking the DP’s support to fight off his political battles with National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah, even as he has been careful not to lose political favour with State House.

Prof Munene says Mr Gachagua is a man in trouble of his own making. “He has been trying to lead people, but there are no people to be led. He appears to be a bully and an impression got to his head that since he is the senior most elected leader from the region, then everybody should follow him,” says Prof Macharia.

He says the open attack by Kenya Kwanza politicians has exposed him as a vulnerable second-in-command with no constituency of his own.

Other Mt Kenya Leaders seen to be leading the onslaught against Mr Gachagua include Laikipia East MP Mwangi Kiunjuri and Public Service Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria.

Mr Kiunjuri has been rallying the mountain to work closely with the President, appearing to be giving the DP a wide berth and even publicly contradicting him at joint events.

Does not make sense

CS Kuria recently hit out on the DP over his push for the one-man-one-vote-one-shilling mantra, saying it does not make sense for a region with a DP and a host of CSs to keep on lamenting when they have power to make things work for the people.

Mr Kuria had also castigated DP Gachagua after he told Narc Kenya Leader Martha Karua and Jubilee-Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni to abandon the Limuru III summit and instead engage him over their concerns.

“This country does not have a forwarding address to solve Kenyans’ grievances. You cannot be telling us that if you have grievances you address them through me…as who? I don’t know why you are asking me about my boss (Rigathi)…but let me answer you so that you get it straight, I don’t agree with him, I don’t agree with that position,” said Mr Kuria.

Less populous counties

Mr Ichung’wah has also joined the growing list of politicians who have publicly discredited Mr Gachagua.

The Majority Leader said counties’ population cannot solely be used to determine their revenue share. He argued that there are less populous counties that generate more revenue than the heavily populated ones.

Javas Bigambo, a political analyst, describes the implosion in Mt Kenya as a contest of ego and interests. He says that Mr Gachagua has shot himself in the foot by antagonising local leaders as well as creating an impression that he could be having trouble with his boss.

“The fact that he is the senior-most politician in the region, he should not continue drumming it to the entire country. What he needs to do is to embrace everyone and behave like a national leader,” says Mr Bigambo.

“It is curious that President Ruto has given them room to square it out as a region. But the person who risks losing out is Rigathi. You don’t go to war this early, he will burn out,” he observes.

Similar views were shared by Prof David Monda, who says that Mr Gachagua should be reminded that he is not a co-president.

“The fact that President Ruto said nothing to defend Gachagua while some of Ruto’s closest attack dogs went after the DP speaks volumes. How much more of this type of treatment will the DP receive between now and 2027?” argues Prof Monda, a professor of Political Science at the City University of New York.

Prof Monda says Dr Ruto could be preparing the stage to have someone else as his running mate.