Dorcas Gachagua has seen it all, done it all

Pastor Dorcas Wanjiku Rigathi with her husband, Deputy President-elect Rigathi Gachagua in Karen, Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

When Pastor Dorcas Wanjiku Rigathi talks about her husband, Deputy President-elect Rigathi Gachagua, a bout of cheer erupts and flashes across her visuals and vocals. Her intonation matches the contours of the journey travelled, the trials overcome, the conquests made, the prevailing struggles and the dreams of the immediate future.

For 35 years, the power couple has stayed close, shadowing each other and raising a family together. And now, they have made history as the country's second family after Deputy President William Ruto won the election to become the country's 5th President after Uhuru Kenyatta.

The journey thus far, Dorcas said in an earlier interview, has been a streak of miracles. On the very first day she met Rigathi, she was on a suicide mission.

"At the time I was downcast, weighed down by misfortunes. It never rained for me and my family, it poured! The trip was supposed to be my last under the sun. I had laid everything in motion in my head, and waited on the moment," she says of a July 1987 university students trip to late President Daniel arap Moi's Kabarnet Gardens home.

At the time, Rigathi was a student leader at the University of Nairobi while she was a student at Kenyatta University. He had gone around the universities in a bus collecting fellow students for the trip, and ticking their names at the doorstep as they boarded.

"I still remember... he wore a suit and a brown tie. I thought he was quite interesting," she recalls. Once at Kabarnet Gardens, Dorcas set her plan in motion; and darted off the convocation, making a beeline for the person of Moi. In her estimation, the president's security would not take it lying down and would open fire on her.

"They did not even have the chance to stop me. When Moi saw me sprinting towards him, he stood up, and waited for me. When I explained myself after bumping into him, he said I should never imagine killing myself, that life had twists and turns, and encouraged me. He told me a lot of things, including his own story. In the end, I saw life in a different way."

It did not end there. Moi asked her to see him at State House the following day, together with her parents and siblings. And shock on her, when she turned up, she found Rigathi there, together with his mother on a different mission. This is the coincidence that set her up to a lifelong affair with Rigathi, who later become a public administrator and a politician.

"They must have discussed about me with his mother or something. He thought what I had done the previous day was quite courageous. That is the first time I saw my mother in-law," she says.

Before that, her life had been turned upside down; from a daughter of a fairly wealthy man who ran thriving businesses in Nakuru to a domestic worker in her Murang'a village to living in Kiandutu slums in Thika.

In the course of his transport business, her father was jailed over lost cargo that was in his custody, on its way to Dar-es-Salaam.

"My mother sold almost everything we had to pursue justice for him. He was eventually released after four years, and had to restart. He died of depression not long thereafter when I was 11 years old," she recalls.

To add salt to the injury, their mother vanished for many months after this, it later turned out that she had been in hospital. During the mother's absence, Dorcas and her seven siblings had to work for relatives to fend for themselves, and living with their grandma.

"We slept in a chicken pen at our grandma's place. Some relatives didn't want us to stay with her but she wouldn't let us go," she recalls.

She says the experiences she went through those days forged her lifelong desire to work with widows and the underprivileged. She believes they were mistreated purely on account of her mother's status as a widow, and fears that her brothers would claim inheritance.

When their mother came back, they moved out to Kiandutu slums where she set up a small business as they attended Mungumoini primary school. For all the struggles, she says, it was a miracle that she and her brother passed their primary school exams and was selected to join Alliance Girls and Alliance Boys respectively.

At Alliance, she says, she was allowed to make and sell table clothes which supplemented bursaries. Her elder sister who was helping out died the year she reported to Alliance Girls, further complicating the situation.

Later, she moved to St Francis for high schooling before proceeding to KU to study education. "I shook him off several times. On our first date, I insisted on paying for my dinner. He complimented me for it, and said he thought I could make a better mother. I was fascinated at the thought," she says.

At the close of 80's, she cleared university and got married to Rigathi. She also secured a job at Cooperative Bank, joining the agriculture department of the bank as a junior officer. At the time, Rigathi had started out as a young administrator in Moi's government.

They started out in a one-roomed house in Kahawa, before moving to a two bed-roomed house. "We hustled the longest. Early in the morning, I would be at Marigiti buying groceries, which we would sell in Muthaiga. On another occasion, we would be in Kariobangi Light Industries making sweets which we would sell to shops."

In those early days, Rigathi was transferred to Gichugu, in Kirinyaga, and she moved to Nyeri Coop branch where she joined her mother-in-law in farming.

She says despite the good jobs they were holding, they tried many things, besides making and selling sweets. They started a furniture business and partnered with Uchumi Supermarkets to display their wares in all branches. Rigathi went big on wheat farming and land selling, she says.

In 2006, she quit the bank job to take care of family business, but also to serve God. She had been a lay pastor at House of Grace church for some time. She says her quitting was a call to a higher duty.

"God spoke to me, and reminded me that I had made a vow, that everything I had asked for, a husband, children, a home, I now had it all. And indeed, I had made the vow, and promised I would serve Him wholeheartedly if he gave me what I wanted," she says.

At House of Grace, she concentrated on the widows' ministry which she says gave and still gives her immense joy. She says the recent pressures of politics, her husband getting nominated as a presidential running mate, and the noise around it, does not bother her much.

For the longest she has known him, he was always in politics. She has come to terms with the demands of the job, including the negative vibes. It's all part of the package, she says.

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