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Gachagua's nightmare: After a season of chest-thumping reality dawns as Raila and Ruto mingle

President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni hosted President William Ruto and Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga at his Kisozi country home in Uganda. [PCS]

Opposition chief Raila Odinga has a knack for making history repeat itself in Kenya’s political landscape owing to his ability to worm his way to power and even the presidency at the expense of deputy and Vice Presidents.

It is the kind of brotherhood that Raila develops with presidents after hotly contested presidential polls that has over the years made the occupiers of the second most powerful office spend sleepless nights.

After President William Ruto trounced Raila in the 2022 polls, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua expressed his fears of a possible rapprochement between the two competitors.

Gachagua’s fears in March last year were triggered by a ceasefire that was declared by Raila after weeks of violent street protests during which he almost managed to make the country ungovernable over what he called a stolen election.

The Deputy President was aware that Raila has always eclipsed the Vice and Deputy Presidents, and was apprehensive and dismissive of the National Dialogue talks. He at one time suggested to the government representatives to abandon the talks describing talks as ‘waste of time’.

“Nothing will come out of those talks. It is a waste of time. I’m telling you as Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya. Raila wanted us to give a share of the government and a handshake, but we refused that. He asked for three positions for ambassador, and we refused,” Gachagua said on August 23 when he attended the burial of Mwala MP Vincent ‘Kawaya’ Musyoka’s mother, Anne Musau.

On March 19, while speaking during an interdenominational church service at the Kapsabet showground in Nandi, Gachagua said he would not allow Raila to have the advantage and shake hands with the president, saying that he will be the one to blame if it happened.

When Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua welcomed Azimio Leader Raila Odinga as he arrived on the second day of the Africa Climate Summit held at KICC Nairobi. [Silas Otieno, Standard]

“This man is trying to force a handshake. And I have placed traps around the State House so wherever he is seen he is grasped because if we allow him into our government he will destroy it. Also Mr. President if you might be having plans to have a handshake with him I will not accept that,” he said.

On September 30, during the burial of freedom fighter Muthoni Kirima, Gachagua again said Mt Kenya region has always united when it felt threatened even as he promised to reach out to his political rivals including Uhuru Kenyatta.

“This community of Mt Kenya people is unique. We talk differently and say different things but if our interests are threatened, we put our differences aside, meet at night and speak in one voice the following morning as was the case during the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala),” said Gachagua while promising to be back to the region ‘should things go south’ between him and the President.

Political analysts aver that by the Raila-Ruto partnership powered by the latter’s ambitions to have Raila contest for the AUC, things might be tough on Gachagua. Since 1999, Raila has always found a way of ‘forcing’ the governments for a post-election agreement and he has succeeded in doing so with all the Presidents Kenya ever had apart from the founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

 Through his party the National Development Party (NDP), Raila established a partnership with the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) was awarded a Ministerial position together with his party officials.

While the then Vice President George Saitoti retained his position, it was neutralised and did not have much say as the President consulted Raila widely on matters of the day-to-day running of the government. Raila would later become Kanu Secretary General, replacing the long-serving party hawk, Joseph Kamotho.

In 2008, although the late President Mwai Kibaki had picked Kalonzo Musyoka as his Vice president, he was eclipsed by Raila when he assumed the position of Prime Minister.

After the hotly contested presidential elections of 2017, whose results were annulled by the Supreme Court, Raila boycotted a subsequent poll. However, in March 2018, Deputy President William Ruto was shocked when there was a handshake between former President Uhuru and Raila.

Ruto painted a picture of an isolated man in the Uhuru government. Raila had his people landing state jobs while he was the special envoy for the African Union on Infrastructure.

Raila, who had put up a spirited fight against the Uhuruto government, became a darling of the State and the two accompanied each other in public meetings with their allies hitting Ruto politically. What followed was a political pact and the formation of the Azimio coalition with Raila as the coalition’s Presidential flagbearer and Uhuru as the coalition’s chairperson.   

As President, Ruto has followed the route of his predecessors and questions are emerging whether the pain suffered by Saitoti, Kalonzo and Ruto will come back to haunt Gachagua who from the onset of the bipartisan talks has been unhappy with the arrangement. And just like his predecessors, President Ruto has used terms like ‘win-win situation’ to justify their cooperation with Raila. 

According to Prof Peter Kagwanja, the post-negotiations agreement between Raila and Ruto may isolate not only Gachagua but Mt Kenya region and just like how Raila has maneuvered to make such political agreements culminate into political pacts, Gachagua will emerge as the victim.

“Both Gachagua as an individual and his region will automatically become hewers of wood and drawers of water in Ruto-Raila’s newfound cooperation. Our numbers will no longer be relevant as Ruto will inherit the Nyanza and Coast region in 2027,” Kagwanja noted.

Gachagua’s close allies said that he did not wish to be dragged into the matter and has adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

President William Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichungwah and his Senate counterpart Aaron Cheruiyot arrive for the joint National Executive Retreat and Parliamentary Group Consultative Meeting in Naivasha, Nakuru County on February 19, 2024. [PCS, Standard]

Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamuchomba, who had claimed two months ago, that the Nadco report was a precursor to handshake said she had been vindicated and claimed Gachagua would be a victim as he did not have a party on his own.

“From the onset, I had a feeling that the President would at some point alienate us. There have also been tactics of scattering them and fighting them and this can be attested in the Mt Kenya region counties that are embroiled in the fights from Nakuru, Kiambu and Meru counties,” Wamuchomba added.

However, MPs George Koimburi (Juja) Sabina Chege (Nominated) and political analyst Pius Kinuthia separately observed that the cooperation between Raila and Ruto will be different as he will relocate in Addis Ababa should his bid be successful.

“Raila will be out of Kenya if he succeeds to be the next AUC chairperson. He will not be here to infiltrate local politics and that is how Gachagua will not be affected like his predecessors, and there is no cause for alarm because Gachagua is well briefed unlike in the past cases,” Koimburi told The Standard.

On his part, Kinuthia said it was important to contextualise the relationship between Raila and Ruto and Ruto and Gachagua saying having been a victim Ruto may not go the Uhuru route.

“President Ruto is a gentleman and he has repeatedly said he would never subject his Deputy to the humiliation he was subjected to by former President Uhuru Kenyatta and that was the basis of the Mt Kenya region support to him,” Kinuthia noted.

Chege noted “History might not repeat itself this time round because of Raila’s advanced age and the fact that should he succeed he will retire a Pan African who will not engage himself in the local politics. We are however in interesting times but we must give it to Ruto that he is coming out as a master of politics surpassing the late Moi.”

However, Raila, while addressing the Homabay residents dismissed claims that his bid for AUC would see him abandon local politics.

“Let me respond to some issues being raised. I’m not going anywhere, I am around. I have been running around trying to look for support from different Heads of States. I went to meet the President of Uganda to ask for support,” he said. 

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