More often than not, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, of the now viral nickname Riggy G, is in the eye of a storm.
When not lambasting a hapless journalist because the “media” has been unfair to the DP and “perennially misquoted him,” he is uttering words that sooner than later will be countered by the parties mentioned.
Barely a month since The Kenya Kwanza ticket was inaugurated, Gachagua has again and again split opinion in his numerous public utterances.
On Sunday, hours after an interview with Citizen TV where he claimed Central Bank of Kenya’s (CBK) foreign exchange reserves were dry, CBK gave a quick, dismissive rejoinder.
“We have lacked foreign exchange, even yesterday [Sunday] there was no enough forex at Central Bank to buy oil from foreign countries,” Gachagua said.
But in a statement early Monday, CBK clarified that current foreign exchange reserves provide adequate cover and a buffer against shocks in the foreign exchange market.
“CBK does not supply foreign exchange for transactions other than for the National Government (i.e., government’s own imports or debt service payments) or CBK’s operations.
Oil importers, therefore, obtain their requisite foreign exchange from commercial banks and not CBK. Second, the foreign exchange cover remains adequate,” CBK said.
Kenya’s forex reserves closed on Thursday, September 29, at $7.42 billion, equivalent to what the country can use on imports within 4.19 months.
The current import cover meets the CBK’s statutory requirement of maintaining at least four months of import cover.
Pronunciations that paint Kenya’s economic situation in a negative light could erode investor confidence, leading to an economic downturn. The shilling could suffer a further blow once the country is seen to have little buffers in terms of reserve currency, and the cost of loans to the country could hike, or the loans dry up altogether.
In the same interview, the DP, in between accusing the interviewer of shooting questions on trivial matters, fired a salvo at the former head of Directorate of Criminal Investigations, George Kinoti.
“We are looking for a professional DCI, not a politician, not a drama queen, not an actor. We want a DCI who will not spend time on drama and the press, who will investigate cases properly, get evidence, take people to court and get a conviction,” Mr Gachagua said.
It could be argued the DP still feels vengeful and is eager to vent at the immediate former administration which he says weaponised state agencies and propagated state capture.
Mr Gachagua is, himself, facing charges of obtaining Sh200 million mysteriously. He has insisted he was targeted by the state, which was whipping Jubilee Party rebels into submission, and has faulted the DCI chief of the time, Kinoti, who has since resigned, for his role in the plot to freeze the money, and for the DP’s arrests.
The DP has repeatedly insisted that the new government found empty coffers when it took over power. He says that although they knew the situation was bad, nothing could have prepared them for the direness they found, a country stuck in a rut deeper than they imagined in their worst nightmare.
As such, he posits, the government will need more time to deliver on some of its promises.
“The promises that we made are actionable but the time frame will change because we did not know the situation was that bad. I want to tell Kenyans that the decisions that The President has made are going to bear fruits within a short time,” he said.
Critics argue that the alibi of “ a dilapidated economy” and “devastated” coffers- part of Kenya Kwanza team says they found only Sh93.7 million at The Treasury, inviting the wrath of former Treasury CS Ukur Yatani who called it argument “out of ignorance”- could be the government’s subtle trick to slow down on delivery and get away with it.
Some ask how, in such penury, the government managed to flag off the first consignment of the Sh3.55 billion worth of subsidised fertiliser.
The DP last month sparked outrage- beside largely muted excitement- when he announced the return of the shamba system.
“This forest belongs to The Republic, and you are its guardians. There was a minister who came and declared it out of bounds. You cannot even pick twigs to cook with, yet they rot in there,” he told a gathering in Baringo. “We had the shamba system where people were given land, planted maize, took care of trees until the trees were mature, and then left. This is your government; we’ve ordered people be allowed to farm in forests so we can increase food production. What is the need of preventing people from cultivating maize then importing it? Isn’t that stupid? We will have a plan of cultivating in forests while taking care of trees. Good thing about trees is when they mature, no one asks you to leave.”
After a flurry of protestations, he has said he was misquoted, and that the shamba system involves occupation of formerly uncultivated land, and subsequent afforestation.
“The shamba system does not mean going into the forest to farm. You go to the forest reserve, where there’s land set aside within the gazetted forest on virgin land (that does not have trees). You then give farmers seedlings. You increase forest cover and food production at the same time,” he said.
During the inauguration ceremony, many observers claimed The DP sounded angry, and vengeful and, in the presence of a teeming international community, should have avoided some of the comments he made. The DP, who said freedom had come with the departure of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government, pin-pointed key pain points of the exiting regime, including their role in battering the economy.
He promised a country where freedom of speech was going to be respected, insinuating it had been muffled by President Kenyatta’s government.
He also promised the new administration would establish an environment “where ordinary Kenyans are allowed to work, where businessmen are not harassed by KRA (Kenya Revenue Authority), where goods belonging to Kenyans will never again be torched by over-zealous public servants, where poor people will never be evicted in brutal evictions by state agencies.”
Not new to controversy, Mr Gachagua had, in the wake of the government freezing his Sh200 million, promised to, when the money got released back to him, continue with a construction project in the countryside that had stalled and to host men and women over, women enjoying “uji” and “kesha” with his pastor wife.
He says he was misquoted as some interpreted that to mean he would seize back the money once in power. But Mr Gachagua says he believes in the rule of law, and the court process, and would be beholden to the court’s decision.
In the preelection period, The DP, while addressing the plight of the police, said that the blue uniforms ought to be changed because the colours belonged to a women’s church group.
“Status and symbols must be respected and protected. The women’s Guild uniform is a symbol for our mothers in PCEA (Presbyterian Church of East Africa) church, and thus what it represents can’t be changed at the whims of a few civil servants,” he said.
The DP, asked about the pact the government has had with churches in Kenya, with pundits and activists accusing Kenya Kwanza of “overdoing religion”, says their administration was unapologetic about it.
“We have no apologies for having prayers in State House. William Ruto and I are devout Christians. My wife is a pastor and his wife is an intercessor. For the record, Kenyans prayed us into victory,” he said.
In a previous interview with KTN News, Mr Gachagua raised eyebrows when he accused David Murathe, then Jubilee Party vice chairman, of illegally benefiting out of, and minting billions of shillings from, being in government. Mr Gachagua, however, promised to let Mr Murathe keep his wealth if his (Mr Gachagua) political faction won the top seat.