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Rigathi Gachagua blunders at Kasarani embarrassed Kenya and the president

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua speaks after being sworn at Kasarani on September 13, 2022. [Kelly Ayodi, Standard]

September 13, 2022 was more than a big day for William Samoei Ruto at Kasarani. It was a big day for a movement; the wheelbarrow movement that espoused class freedom from what appeared like class oppression, a fulfilment of a dream that initially appeared impossible.

It was the crowning of hope, feeling good, and creating the belief that one’s background was no obstacle to success. The parades, the entertainments, and the attendance were impressive. Although the shortcomings of the day were few, they were noticeable and could portend future friction between the holders of the two highest offices in Kenya, Dr Ruto and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.

The air of unbelievability that the riff-raff could elect one of their own to the presidency drove thousands of people to Kasarani to see Uhuru giving the ‘sword’ to Ruto. They woke up early just to witness unreality turn into reality and to enable them to talk about it to posterity.

The mood was similar to the one in 1963 when thousands trudged to Uhuru Garden to see the British Union Jack lowered to the tune of 'God Save the Queen' as the new flag rose and the national anthem played.

This time, it was the lowering of the Uhuru flag and the raising of the Ruto flag that had a distinct wheelbarrow emblem.  The feeling was also similar to the 1828 Jacksonian moment which ushered ‘democracy’ for white men in the United States and changed political practice that still reverberates in that country. The lesson in both countries was that the elite had to stop taking ‘small people’ for granted.

The day was also big for Uhuru in that it was an image redeeming time and was made bigger by Mr Gachagua’s errors in lowering the dignity of the occasion. The day before, Uhuru made peace with Ruto and committed to behave honourably on the big day, and he did.

In addition, his image was enhanced by the failure of the Azimio bigwigs to attend that national event, thereby eroding their standing. Uhuru, bigger than those he led in the Azimio, was made more respectable by Gachagua who, either in his temperament or in poor preparation, missed the import of the occasion.

Gachagua was so overwhelmed that he fumbled during his swearing-in and blundered while introducing the president. Although his role was to introduce the president, he sounded as if he was competing with the president in making policy statements by giving a long irrelevant speech about the evils of the regime they were replacing, with Uhuru stoically sitting there. This made Gachagua to appear insensitive to the sensitivities of the audience in the stadium and those watching television worldwide. He misunderstood his place and what the occasion was, inadvertently making defeated Uhuru look good, and embarrassing the country and the president.

Gachagua looked and sounded particularly bad, seemingly vengeful and lacking in civility, and let political success unknowingly lower his sense of national dignity. There were 17 African heads of state and governments and powerful delegations from extra-continental powers, all there to stamp Ruto’s acceptability as a legitimate leader and also to pay glowing tribute to Uhuru. Having closely followed Ruto’s victory, they wanted to ensure that their national interests continued to converge with Kenya’s interests under Ruto’s stewardship.

As Uganda’s Yoweri Kaguta Museveni pointed out, the foreign dignitaries were not there to get involved in domestic political squabbles. Did Gachagua get the point? Gachagua’s advisors and handlers, if any, should in the future prepare him better than they did to know what the occasion is and the appropriate behaviour in public as the deputy president.

Ruto, the fifth, wants to be in control; not beholden to another man who thinks they are equal. Gachagua should learn from former vice-president Daniel arap Moi how to conduct himself.