Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua speaks at the ACK Diocese of Mbeere, Embu County, May 12, 2024. [Muriithi Mugo, Standard]

After a week-long lull, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua retreats to his backyard in an apparent fightback against a sustained assault from several corners.

The self-proclaimed “son of Mau Mau” was on Sunday expected to attend a church service in Endarasha, Kieni, nestled in the vast Aberdare ranges, the theatre of the independence struggle decades ago.

But a last-minute cancellation of the church event could prolong Gachagua’s conspicuous silence.

President William Ruto is scheduled to address the nation on his State visit to the United States and whether or not his deputy will be at State House for the occasion remains to be seen.

No reason was given for the postponement of an event that would have provided a platform to respond to his critics.

As he was sworn in alongside President Ruto in September 2022, Gachagua announced that freedom had come, with the President promising that his deputy would not go through what he experienced under President Uhuru Kenyatta.

But that has hardly been the case, with the DP facing his fair share of struggles in recent months, most of which have exposed a possible power struggle between them. The fight owes a lot to the supremacy battles in the Mt Kenya region. 

The DP seems focused on stamping his authority in the region. He has recently come out as the champion of the ‘one man, one vote, one shilling’ revenue-sharing formula that favours population against every other matrix, earning a rebuke from politicians from other regions.

“If you are planning to be President, you cannot ignore counties with small populations. Presidents Daniel arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto never ignored us. Anybody trying to ignore us will be doing it at his own peril,” Tana River Senator Danson Mungatana warned this week.

Gachagua’s quest to be Mt Kenya’s kingpin has grown difficult by the day. His selection as Ruto’s running mate should have given him a head start against the pack of politicians lusting for the position. But two years later, the gap that former President Uhuru Kenyatta left as the region’s supremo appears ever so glaring.

At the Limuru III meeting on Friday, a section of politicians from the populous region maintained that Uhuru remains their leader and urged Gachagua to reach out to the former President if he hopes to make a mark in Mt Kenya’s politics.

Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro has been touted as the strongest challenger to Gachagua’s claim to the throne. Some politicians have endorsed Nyoro as the region’s spokesperson. They have also questioned the DP’s loyalty to Ruto, a move observers see as a ruse to mask their ambitions.

Public Service Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria has also made the DP a subject of constant attacks on social media. Gachagua finds himself in a position similar to Ruto who, as DP, was openly challenged by Cabinet Secretaries, purportedly with Uhuru’s blessings.

That Ruto has kept silent over Kuria’s attacks on his deputy have helped fuel suggestions that the President could be behind Gachagua’s woes.

Such claims have resurfaced in the past week, with the DP skipping a number of presidential events. Their bromance, forged amid the hardship of an all-out State-sponsored assault, has undoubtedly hit rough waters. Many had predicted their inevitable clashing because of their abrasive nature.

University lecturer Macharia Munene argues that it was foreseeable that the two would fall out.

“It was bound to happen and part of the reason is that Gachagua did not seem to know where the line was. There can only be one president, not two,” says Prof Munene.  “He has always been saying that nothing can happen without ‘Ruto and I’ forgetting that only one person can be president.”

University don and political analyst Herman Manyora concurs. 

“Even non-political relationships have friction. How much worse do you think it is with political ones?” Mayora posed.

“The President may not be happy with the way Gachagua is coming out forcefully to speak for the Kikuyu nation,” Manyora added.

Both observers read the DP’s absence from public engagements as a self-assessment move aimed at strategising on the way forward.

Ruto has blown hot and cold on Gachagua’s situation. Recently, he came to his deputy’s defence, shelving plans to water down the deputy party leader’s position in his United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party. Those pushing it wanted a second deputy position created to accommodate Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, who is expected to fold his Amani National Congress and join UDA.

At the same time, he recently appeared to criticise Gachagua over early campaigns, a strategy the DP seemingly borrowed from Ruto’s time as Uhuru’s deputy. 

Gachagua also seems to have lost critical roles. The most notable is the task of leading reforms in the tea sector, a role recently handed to Head of Public Service Felix Koskei.

In recent weeks, there has been talk that Gachagua may not automatically be Ruto’s running mate in the 2027 election, a move Manyora argues would amount to political suicide for the President.

“If he tosses Gachagua out, the reading will be that he wants to select someone he can play around with... the President would want to believe that he can control Mt Kenya without having someone there, which can’t happen,” adds Manyora.

Gachagua’s situation is not unique. Besides Ruto, the casualty of Uhuru’s 2018 handshake with Raila Odinga, past vice presidents fell out with their bosses. It was the case between President Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga, who bitterly fell out, leading to the latter’s resignation in 1966.

Moi, Kenyatta’s third VP, knew his place in the political hierarchy and avoided confrontation with Kenyatta. But he had frosty relations with Kenyatta’s handlers and close allies.

As President, Moi and Kibaki, his first Vice President, worked harmoniously until their fallout in the late 1980s. George Saitoti, too, experienced the curse of the vice presidency, with Moi overlooking him as his preferred successor in 2002 in favour of Uhuru.