Gachagua's gamble and curse of deputy president

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua at Peace and Mercy Church of Africa (PMCA), Kaplel Artet ward, Sigowet-Soin Constituency, Kericho County. [DPCS]

On April 15, 1794 US Vice President John Adams in a letter to his wife Abigail described the vice presidency as “the most insignificant office the invention of man contrived, or his imagination conceived.” Adams would later become US second President after George Washington.

And even though a lot has been done to bolster the office described as a breath away from ultimate power, including naming it Deputy President, as opposed to vice, and having the laws provide a joint ticket as is the case in the US and Kenya, any holder of that office ignores Adams’ words at their own peril.

Adams’s words still ring true as no leader wants an assistant close to being his equal like the proverbial adage of ‘you cannot put two bulls in one kraal’.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua is the latest holder who has shown signs of open defiance and therefore the die is cast. There is no going back politically. 

As Paul Coelho, a Brazilian lyrist and novelist once said “When there is no going back, then we should concern ourselves only with the best way of going forward,”

Gachagua cannot look back.

Just 20 months after they were sworn in together with President William Ruto for a five-year term terminating in 2027, the political crack between the two leaders seems to be widening every day.

What began as snippets of simple statements like apologizing to the former president Uhuru Kenyatta for ‘political abuse during the 2022 campaigns’ and the long speeches before welcoming the President to address, has gradually snowballed into more emboldened political gaffes, weeks of shunning encounters with his boss to the now recent outright push for Mount Kenya centric agendas.

The latest Mt Kenya regionalist call on the ‘one man, one vote, one shilling,’ coming a week to the country’s 60th Madaraka Day celebration as the country was preparing to commemorate the unitary self-rule, paints a picture of a man who is charting a political course.

But it is on his repeated rueful repentance to the Kenyattas and his gravitation to Mt Kenya-centric politics that has raised political eyebrows on his perceived new allegiance.

But what exactly does Gachagua want?

President William Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and other leaders at the Akurinu Annual Prayer Conference at Nakuru Boys, High School, Nakuru County on June 09, 2024. [PCS]

With just seven years in active politics, little experience on the operations of governments on the national scale and with no known national or regional political tentacles, DP Gachagua seems to be a man in a hurry to achieve a handful of matters within a span of time.

Building a legion of political followers and especially a base to fall to, understanding the dynamics of states craft and government operations, making money a critical component of Kenyan political psyche, running his national office and warding off competition to his covetous seat has left Gachagua with so much to chew within no time.

Overtly, the DP is a man who is taking his gambles by the day and shooting his shots without flinching. In his haste to achieve much with little time, Gachagua seems he had little in regards to Law number one of the 48 Laws of Power ‘Never outshine your master.’ 

In the short time of President William Ruto’s presidency, the one thing that he has not kept ambivalent is his reward for loyalty. In equal measure, it would be expected that President Ruto will treat disloyalty as political syphilis.

According to political analyst Javas Bigambo, the DP is trying to swallow a coconut fruit and it may interfere with his political digestive system noting that the President has not shown his wrath yet.

“Beyond that, Gachagua is erroneously testing the depth of the river with his two feet, instead of using a stick. He is trying the beaten path that was worked by Ruto in the Jubilee government’s second term but he has the misfortune of timing,” said Bigambo.

The hard debate is; Will he manage to win over the Mt Kenya region to his side before 2027 so that he can use them to bargain for another term as Ruto’s deputy? If he fails to bargain with Ruto to be retained, will he run against his boss in the coming elections?

A glimmer of indications has occasionally been let out. Last week, Gachagua ally Embakasi North MP Gakuya said that they could consider using a different political path should they find challenges under UDA.

Already, there have been talks of Gachagua having identified a party to use in the 2027 general elections. Does Gachagua want to force a political compromise with Ruto to retain his second-in-command seat through a coalition?

Bigambo noted that Gachagua was testing the democratic space and how accommodative and elastic political space within the UDA party.

He said that Gachagua’s timing was, however, ill-fated noting that, the Kenya Kwanza administration was two years shy since it came into power yet the DP was trying to show the muscles of his political strength and raw ambition.

“Because of his raw and unchecked ambitions, Gachagua risks suffering the fate of Julius Ceaser in the artistic and literal works of Shakespeare,” he said.

President William Ruto Convened a crisis meeting for the top UDA organ at State House Nairobi on June 8, 2024. [Courtesy]

In the literally works, Marcus Brutus, a Roman general conspired to take over the life of Julius Ceaser for the greater good of Rome because of the latter’s ambitions.

Bigambo’s advice to the DP is that he should be careful lest he falls on his own sword.

“Instead of showing the sharp teeth of antagonism through the use of Kikuyu unity, he needs to understand that national unity is by far important but beyond all the two, the constitutional obligation under the oath he took requires him to see the big picture,” said Bigambo.

A recent conversation between the President and a legislator who sought anonymity but confided with the Standard, reveals President Ruto is still trying to come to terms with the unfolding scenario where his deputy has become ‘politically edgy, and ‘unprovokedly confrontational’.

“I don’t know what he wants. With time we will be able to understand,” the President told the legislator.

Political analyst Martin Oloo said that unfortunately, Gachagua believes there’s a joint ownership in the government together with Ruto and he is slowly being reminded that it is not what he thinks.

“Gachagua is too fast, he is making a mistake too early and therefore isolating himself, Ruto began building his political muscle on the second term of his deputy Presidency,” said Mr. Oloo.

Oloo said that Gachagua is in the same place with other former vice Presidents and could easily suffer the curse of the second in command.

“In the Kenyan Vice Presidents, it is only the late Mzee Daniel Arap Moi who put himself in his place, he stayed under the radar to survive, the rest got it hard or lacked wisdom for surviving the seat,” said Oloo.  

 But, Oloo notes, that if push comes to shove, Kenyan might see a historic moment where a sitting Deputy runs against his boss.

“Gachagua is speaking to a community that has the hunger for power and therefore easy to convince to back one of their own,” said Oloo.