Gachagua's Mt Kenya kingpin bid hinges on defeating cartels, brews

On April 14, the second in command convened a high-level stakeholder meeting at the Nyeri Regional Commissioner's office - bringing together officers of national administration, security chiefs, governors, Members of the National Assembly and the Senate from the five Mt Kenya counties.

A week later, all MCAs from the Mt Kenya region converged at his Mathira residence where they agreed to form a 20-member committee to lead in the formulation of stringent laws to regulate the sale of alcohol in the region.

On May 4, Gachagua opened a forum bringing together MCAs, senators, investigative agencies, prosecutors, legal drafters, the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) in Naivasha to divulge on the formulation of the anti-illicit brew law.

The effect of illicit brew has been felt after some counties like Murang'a and Laikipia announced a reduction of bars from 4,000 to 1,032 and 3,000 to 1,500 respectively.

Jobs lost

The has however attracted opposition from the Bar Hotels and Liquor Traders Association of Kenya (Bahlita).

"We have always supported the fight against illicit brew but we feel the legitimate jobs have been unfairly targeted and this will only bring misery to our people as over 200,000 jobs will be lost," Simon Njoroge, the chairperson of Bahlita said.

Gachagua's fight against illicit liquor came on the backdrop of a report by Nacada showing the Western region as having the highest prevalence of alcohol use at 24 per cent followed by Coast at 14 per cent and Central at 13 per cent.

The survey showed that the three regions had 767,789, 447,877 and 415,885 users of the substance respectively.

Although the coffee summit that started on Friday in Meru town had leaders and farmers' representatives from other coffee-growing regions, the choice of the venue spoke volumes about Gachagua's intentions.

It is the bedrock of Mt Kenya East region. He earlier held the illicit brew forum in Mt Kenya West.

Leaders have interpreted Gachagua's moves as strategic saying by speaking about issues that are close to the hearts of the locals he will win them over to his side.

There are however others who think he should move with caution.

Mathioya MP Edwin Mugo believes that for one to become the regional kingpin, one must do something for the region, or sacrifice energy and time to help the community come out of a certain calamity.

He says Gachagua is following in the footsteps of his predecessors.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua. [DPCS]

"His style is strategic because he is assisting the region tackle the issues that have affected our source of livelihood. The success of the fight against illicit brew will increase our youth's productivity while eradication of cartels will boost our local economy," the MP said.

He pointed out that Gachagua is taking advantage of the Kenya Kwanza strategy that drove them to power where they focused on economic recovery and not politics of deceit and tribal chiefs to hoodwink the electorate.

However, he was afraid that in the likely event that the efforts fail to yield, he would be held solely responsible and would be held accountable by the Agikuyu community.

"If things go haywire, people will not remember that the Agriculture docket is under CS (cabinet secretary) Mithika Linturi while the fight against illicit liquor is under CS Kithure Kindiki who hails from Mt Kenya region. So the only chance he has is to succeed and we shall support him," the MP said.

Senate Deputy Speaker Kathuri Murungi told The Standard that the success of Gachagua's assignment will not only be a major boost to his political career but also to the farmers of Mt Kenya region.

"Money in the farmers' pockets will definitely be a good legacy for Kenya Kwanza leadership. Alcohol is wiping out a whole generation and any intervention is very welcome. He will automatically succeed because he has the political and President William Ruto's goodwill," Murungi said.

Solomonic wisdom

An MP who did not wish to be quoted said the Deputy President could be treading on slippery grounds on his assignments saying he needs Solomonic wisdom as he navigates the murky world.

"We have continued supporting him because we don't have a choice but we feel if he fails or someone makes him fail, that may be used against him and used to incite Mt Kenya against him in future," an MP said.

The MP said after receiving the report on recommendations for coffee revitalisation strategy and the proposed unified bill on illicit brew eradication, the Deputy President should present the report to the Head of State to prevent a political backlash in future.

Kikuyu Council of Elders Patron Kung'u Muigai recounted that former President Uhuru Kenyatta earned the community's hearts after the 2007 election violence where his actions were seen to serve the community's interests. He said Gachagua's moves were following in the footsteps.

Using the famous Kikuyu phrase 'uthamaki ndunenganagirio' meaning 'leadership is never given, it is taken' Muigai said Gachagua was in the right direction and should be given the opportunity to maximise his position to serve the region.

"We must stop the jealousy which is being witnessed in Mt Kenya region and let Gachagua speak on our behalf owing to his position," Muigai said.