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No longer at ease: Ruto and Gachagua on collision course

President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua at State House, Nairobi, on June 13, 2023. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The air of camaraderie between President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua is gone and the two are no longer at ease after differing on a number of issues. 

Multiple sources say some of the differences arise from Gachagua’s "shareholder" stance and the intention of the ongoing bipartisan talks between the Government and the Opposition.

There are indications that the relationship started getting frosty in April when President Ruto secretly met with Azimio leader, Raila Odinga, setting the stage for the Bomas of Kenya dialogue, which Gachagua has been vehemently opposing.

Gachagua appears to be uncomfortable that the bipartisan talks, if successful, will entrench two powerful positions of Prime Cabinet Secretary and leader of official Opposition in the Constitution, upsetting the prevailing balance of political power. Currently, the president is at the peak of the pyramid, followed by his deputy and the Speaker of the National Assembly.

An MP, who sought anonymity, confirmed that there are fears that the bipartisan talks may lead to another handshake and then referendum which Gachagua’s backers believe will push him to the periphery of government.

 “Having learnt from the President who was edged out by Raila and the fact that we are in the first term and Gachagua is not as entrenched as Dr Ruto when he was the deputy president, there is fear that a referendum may end Gachagua’s political career,” an MP confided. 

The team spearheading the talks received proposals from members of the public and has retreated to draft its recommendations, which will then be presented to Ruto and Raila before being transmitted to Parliament.

Since the onset of the talks, Raila and the President have kept off the debate with many speculating that they must have discussed the end game. 

 A political analyst, James Maina wondered why Gachagua, who has since announced that he would look for former President Uhuru Kenyatta, the chairperson of Azimio, would not want the President to look for Raila for a way of uniting the country. 

 “He is a man of two faces. It’s okay for him to look for the chairperson of Azimio but it’s not okay for the President to look for his rival and competitor. He needs to smell the coffee and choose his battles wisely,” Maina observed.

Things are not helped by the growing power of Prime CS Musalia Mudavadi in the Ruto administration. 

 While his position is likely to be made constitutional, Mudavadi's influence went a notch higher on Wednesday when the Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Affairs ministry was placed under him. 

Juja MP George Koimburi disclosed that part of the issue that Mt Kenya region is grappling with is the realisation that Gachagua is not guaranteed the Deputy President position in future while the Western region seems to be gaining an advantage. 

 “That explains why Gachagua is rallying us behind him and the need for him to look for Uhuru so that while we are together, we shall be in a position to negotiate for our place in government,” he said. 

Teething issues 

Koimburi added that Gachagua has continued to ably represent the region in government but noted that they have had a few issues that include the diversion of funds for water and road projects which he described as teething issues. 

 “We are aware of the schemes by our counterparts from Western and we are readying ourselves for an intense mass voter registration drive to have numbers that will assist us at the bargaining table because if we don’t marshal enough numbers, we will lose the deputy presidency by 2027,” he added.

 While terming the recent reshuffle political, Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga said Western gained more and urged the government appointees to rally behind Gachagua, who is the only leader in the region with security of tenure. 

 “Let’s rally behind the deputy president who has a security of tenure as he was elected by people in a joint ticket with the President. As a community, we continue to pledge our support to the President. He can count on our numbers as we silently observe where we are going,” Kahiga noted. 

 Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamuchomba said the firing of sons and daughters of Mt Kenya, the region’s denial of the UDA party Secretary General post, the continued undermining of Cabinet Secretaries from Mt Kenya region and failure to implement the guaranteed minimum returns pledge were some of the pressing issues.

 “I have consistently spoken about one man one vote one shilling and I have introduced the  National Government Constituencies Development Fund Bill 2023 that does not seem to enjoy support from the ruling class. Meetings have been held to brief us not discuss the issues but I have chosen to pursue the matter as that is what the public wants. The issues are rife and have caused rifts,” she said.

The President, who is in Nyanza for a development tour, on Friday dismissed Gachagua’s "shareholder" remarks, saying anybody who imagines that some regions should not get development because of politics is primitive and backward.

“No section of Kenya will be left behind because of political affiliations or party affiliations. We are here to work together for the betterment of every Kenyan,” said Ruto. “It is primitive and backward for anybody to imagine that any region of Kenya cannot get development on account of how they voted.”

He added: “I want to assure you the people of Nyanza that you are in government."

The choreographed message, analysts believe, was directed to Gachagua, who has maintained that Mt Kenya region’s share in government is 47 per cent and, therefore, a major shareholder in the government especially in matters employment and development. 

 “Our share in the Kenya Kwanza administration is 47 per cent of the total votes that went to the President as Mt Kenya region 87 per cent of the electorate voted in our favour. The President can only work with people who believed in him as others would have divided loyalty,” Gachagua has said in the past. 

 The two leaders’ public differences over the issue, according to analysts, indicate that there are deepening cracks between them. 

 “The shareholders remarks can only work against the President and present him as a tribalist which is against the constitutional dictate of Presidency where he and Gachagua serve," Charles Njoroge, a political analyst, noted. 

“The President has never bothered to respond to his deputy but has been waiting to do so at the best opportune time when he is in a region that did not vote for him in a strategy aimed at seemingly dismissing his boss while persuading the region to support him,” he added. 

But Nyeri Town Mp Dancun Mathenge defended Gachagua over his shareholder remarks, saying Mt Kenya region having given its largest share to the Kenya Kwanza administration can never be shy from demanding higher premiums for their loyalty and trust from the government. 

“While the President is right that he is the symbol of unity for all Kenyans, Gachagua is also right by demanding a better share of our region because our numbers played an integral part in forming this administration. The President asked us to put him in power so that we could benefit so it’s his responsibility to reward us more,” he said. 

It is interesting that while in the past, Ruto and Gachagua have been attending public functions together, since the ruling United Democratic Alliance (UDA) National Delegates Council (NDC), the two leaders have only shared a podium in Kiambu the following day to launchSh2.1 billion Thika-Magumu Road, which had stalled for years. 

Since then, Gachagua has spent most of his time in Nyeri and Meru counties in what is seen as consolidating the region.

It is in Nyeri where Gachagua warned that Mt Kenya leaders will always ditch their political affiliations and speak in one voice whenever the interests of the region are threatened, remarks seen as a direct warning to his boss. 

Since his remarks, Mt Kenya leaders have held three political meetings; two in Thika and one at Gachagua’s Karen home.