When Mrs Dorcas Wanjiku Rigathi talks about her husband, Kenya Kwanza presidential running mate Rigathi Gachagua, a bout of cheer erupts and flashes across her visuals and vocals.
Her intonation matches the contours of the journey travelled, the trials overcome, the conquests made, the prevailing struggles and the dreams of the immediate future.
For 35 years, the power couple has stayed close, shadowing each other and raising a family together. And now, they are on the cusp of making history as the country’s second family if Deputy President William Ruto wins the August 9 presidential election.
The journey thus far, Dorcas says, has been a streak of miracles. On the very first day she met Rigathi, she was on a suicide mission.
“At the time I was downcast, weighed down heavily by misfortunes. It never rained for me and my family, it poured! The trip was supposed to be my last under the sun. I had laid everything in motion in my head, and waited on the moment,” she says of a July 1987 university students trip to late President Daniel arap Moi’s Kabarnet Gardens home.
At the time, Rigathi was a student leader at the University of Nairobi while she was a student at Kenyatta University. He had gone round the universities in a bus collecting fellow students for the trip, and ticking their names at the doorstep as they got in.
“I still remember… he wore a suit and a brown tie. I thought he was quite interesting,” she recalls. Once at the lawns of Kabarnet Gardens, Dorcas set her plan in motion; and darted off the convocation, making a beeline for the person of Moi. In her estimation, the President’s security would not take it lying down and would open fire on her.
“They did not even have the chance to stop me. When Moi saw me sprinting toward him, he stood up, and waited on me. When I explained myself after bumping into him, he said I should never imagine killing myself, that life had twists and turns, and encouraged me. He told me a lot of things, including his own story. In the end, I saw life in a different way.”
It did not end there. Moi asked her to see him at State House the following day, together with her parents and siblings. And shock on her, when she turned up, she found Rigathi there, together with his mother on a different mission. This is the coincidence that set her up for a lifelong affair with Rigathi, who later became a public administrator and a politician.
“They must have discussed about me with his mother or something. He thought what I had done the previous day was quite courageous. That is the first time I saw my mother-in-law,” she says.
Before that, her life had been turned upside down; from a daughter of a fairly wealthy man who ran thriving businesses in Nakuru to a domestic worker in her Murang’a village to living in Kiandutu slums in Thika. In the course of his transport business, her father was put in over lost cargo that was in his custody, on its way to Dar es Salaam.
“My mother sold almost everything we had to pursue justice for him. He was eventually released, after four years, and had to restart again. He died of depression not long thereafter when I was 11 years old,” she recalls. To add salt to the injury, their mother vanished for many months after this, later turned out that she was hospitalised. During that period, Dorcas and her seven siblings had to work for relatives to fend for themselves, and live with their grandma.
“We slept in a chicken pen at our grandma’s place. Some relatives didn’t want us to stay with her but she wouldn’t let us go…. In fact, one of my sisters died out there, of pneumonia,” she recalls. She says the experiences she went through those days forged her lifelong desire to work with widows and the underprivileged. She believes they were mistreated purely on account of her mother’s status as a widow, and fears that her brothers would claim inheritance.
She underscores one particularly riveting act of mockery that has stuck with her for years: “It was Christmas time when children are seized of cheer. One of our relatives came with two, very nice dresses, ready-made. My sister and I were the same age as his kids. He gave us the clothes to try them out and we were excited to remove the rugs we had.”
“When we came out, turning around, he told us… when you think about yourselves, do you really think you deserve these clothes? We were told to remove them in front of everyone.”
When their mother came back, they moved out to Kiandutu slums where she set up a small business as they attended Mungumoini primary school.
At Kiandutu, life was slightly better, except for the indignities of slum life, including washing clothes off by the cemetery and waiting on them to dry while semi-dressed. For all the struggles, she says, it was a miracle that she and her brother passed their primary school exams with flying colors and were admitted at Alliance Girls and Alliance Boys respectively.
But that was not it yet as there was no fees. “I remember my mother telling us we shouldn’t worry, and that somehow help would come through. True to her, at one high noon, our then DO, a Mr Kibathi came by, and told us he had heard our plight, and paid our fees for a year,” she says.
At Alliance, she says, she was allowed to make and sell table clothes which supplemented bursaries. Her elder sister who was helping out died the year she reported to Alliance Girls, further complicating the situation.
Later she moved to St Francis for high school before proceeding to KU to study education. “I shook him off severally. On our first date, I insisted on paying for my dinner. He complimented me for it, and said he thought I could make a better mother. I was fascinated at the thought,” she says.
She remembers her days at KU with nostalgia.
The stipend the government was giving students at the time; boom, came in handy for her: “It was sufficient if you were not into pleasures. I moved my mum from Kiandutu to a one-roomed house in Thika town,” she recalls.
At the close of the ’80s, she cleared university and got married to Rigathi. She also secured a job at Cooperative Bank, joining the agriculture department of the bank as a junior officer. At the time, Rigathi had started out as a young administrator in Moi’s government.
They started out at a one-roomed house in Kahawa Barracks, before moving to a two-bedroom house.
“We hustled the longest. In the early morning, I would be at Marigiti buying groceries which we would sell in Muthaiga to make some money. On another occasion, we would be in Kariobangi Light Industries making sweets which we would distribute around.”
In those early days, Rigathi was transferred to Gichugu, in Kirinyaga, and she moved in tow to Nyeri Coop branch where she closed ranks with her mother-in-law to farm.
“She was making close to Sh300,000 a month from French beans, cherries and the like. She would hire land to do more of what she was doing. I helped her,” she says.
By this time, she was already a bank manager, getting a modest salary and enjoying the other perks that came with a bank job. In 1992 they came back to Nairobi, Rigathi at OP and her at Coop headquarters as a manager in charge of the special duty department.
“It’s at that time that we had bought a plot for our Nairobi home. We combined our Sacco loans, and every month we would pour stones. It took us five years to build the house,” she said.
She says despite the good jobs they were holding, they tried many things, besides sweets. They started a furniture business which partnered with Uchumi Supermarkets to display their wares in all branches. Rigathi went big on wheat farming and land selling, she says.
In 2006, she quit the bank job to take care of family business, but also to serve God. She had been a lay pastor at House of Grace church for some time. She says her quitting was a call to a higher duty.
“God spoke to me, and reminded me that I had made a vow, that everything I had asked for, a husband, children, a home, I now had it all. And indeed, I had made the vow, and promised I would serve Him wholeheartedly if he gave me what I wanted,” she says.
At House of Grace, she concentrated on the widows’ ministry which she says gave and still gives her immense joy. She says the recent pressures of politics, her husband's nomination as a running mate, and noise around it, does not bother her much. For the longest she has known him, he was always in politics. She has come to terms with the demands of the job, including the negative vibes around politics. It’s all part of the package, she says, and works in the end to the good of them.
“I consider him a very serious politician. Remember he also studied political science. He connects quite well with the people, and he’s good with the language. He never went to politics for his own sake or ours, he has a passion for helping the people,” she says.
She says Rigathi speaks the language of the people, and their immediate concerns. When he was caught in the nomination marathon, she says she prayed for her all night long. She says she knew it would all work to his good.
And when he came out successful, life changed around them: “When I was praying for him to be a running mate, I knew I was asking for more responsibilities. Now life now is not the way it was and people expect us to behave in a different way,” she says.
She takes note of what is said or written about her husband. In the recent past, Rigathi has attracted harsh social media commentary, through his words. The rice remarks, the six piece advocacy, and the promises to the youth.
“We have grown a thick skin for it. He himself is a seasoned politician. All these are instigated to narrow his scope and slow him down. Of course it's all twisted, because we know him. I for sure know him,” she says.
She’s not afraid of hitting the campaign trail to support him. She says: “If he asks me I will go… there is nothing big about politics that I don’t know. Politics and church are not far apart. There is no kingdom without politics. The first politics, the king and the prophet came together.”
She says she looks forward to working with the youth, protecting them from exploitation but also creating spots for them to unleash their potential. She’s most proud of Ruto’s wife Rachel, whom she describes as serious but silent powerhouse.
“She does not speak too much what she’s done but she’s impacted many women. She’s doing an amazing job at prisons, silently. Beautiful stuff. Her heart goes out to the vulnerable. She’s also a serious intercessor,” she says.
When she is not preaching across the country, telling her life story to encourage others, she is at home. She says while they go to Mombasa on vacation once in a while, their real joy is in staying indoors at their Nairobi or Nyeri homes. She takes pleasure in ironing his shirts and would iron them even when they are brought in from drycleaners. He says the feeling is mutual between her and Rigathi: “If he picks up an ironed shirt to wear, you will find him looking for me to iron it for him.”
He says her husband loves mukimo and vegetables. They walk together every morning, and exercise together at the home gym. Together, they have two adult boys. “My childhood is my biggest testimony,” she concludes.