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A close look at DP Ruto's presidential running mate Rigathi Gachagua

 

Deputy President William Ruto with Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua during the Kenya Kwanza rally at Heshima in Bahati Constituency on March 19, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Kenya Kwanza Alliance party leader William Ruto has finally named Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua as his presidential mate after protracted and high-octane negations he said spilt over 17 hours at his Karen residence. 

But who is this man who could be a future president of Kenya?

Rigathi Gachagua joined politics in 2017 when he vied for the Mathira seat. Before then, little was known about him.

His brother, Nderitu Gachagua, was a household name in Nyeri who went against the grain in 2013 to become Nyeri governor flying the now dissolved GNU party ticket.

Though his name was not felt in the public arena, those who knew him said he was a powerful figure during his brother’s tenure. He called the shots in the county administration.

A power broker, Rigathi ran the county when his brother fell ill. He ensured that the county government ran smoothly despite his brother’s absence as he was airlifted abroad for treatment in the UK.

Probably due to getting closer to the trappings of power, he threw his hat into the ring for Mathira parliamentary seat in 2017 after his brother’s death. He beat politician Wambui Wamaranga to clinch the seat.

The 57-year old once worked for President Uhuru Kenyatta but became one of his harshest critics and a fierce defender of Deputy President William Ruto. He ended up being the face of Tanga Tanga (a wing of Jubilee MPs allied to the DP in Mt Kenya). Due to his deep pockets and outbursts against the government, he earned himself a title, regional overseer of Ruto’s presidential campaign. 

After years in civil service, Rigathi left to work for Uhuru as a personal assistant until 2008 when Uhuru joined former President Mwai Kibaki’s government after the disputed 2007 elections. His dalliance with Uhuru faded after the famous March 2018 handshake between the President and ODM leader Raila Odinga when he claimed the president had betrayed his deputy.

He says his parents were Mau Mau freedom fighters. Rigathi schooled at Kabiruini Primary School and later joined Kianyaga Boys High school in Kirinyaga. He is also an alumnus of the University of Nairobi where he pursued political science and Literature before joining Oklahoma University in the US.

When he jetted back into the country, Rigathi was employed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs between 1989 to 1992. He was sent to work as a District Officer (DO) in Molo where he got close to the country’s second President Daniel Moi. He once worked as a personal assistant to Head of Civil Service Philip Mbithi in the 1990s and among his briefs was writing speeches for the former President. It is perhaps the experience he got from working with Moi and Uhuru that he counted as attributes that would favour him as the best running mate for Ruto.

Those who know Rigathi say he is decisive and has a firm stand on political social and economic affairs.

Rigathi’s fame rose again when Uhuru and Raila came up with the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). He led UDA stalwarts to oppose the recommendations in Mt Kenya region.

Gachagua claimed Uhuru was crafting a strategy to stay in power despite his term coming to an end in August. “He wants to remain in power but we will reject it. If he wants to be respected and if he doesn’t want his name to be dragged in the mud, let him retire honorably and follow the footsteps of his predecessor Mwai Kibaki,” Gachagua said.

In fundraisers that Ruto has not been able to attend, he has trusted Gachagua to relay his contributions and political message and he has done it with utmost faithfulness. ‘Tanga Tanga’ troops have also accompanied him to such harambees. He has been clear that nothing or nobody would stand in the way of Mt Kenya getting the running mate slot. Not even the joining of Musalia Mudavadi’s ANC and Moses Wetangula’s Ford Kenya to the Kenya Kwanza coalition.

Two months ago, he said in a television interview that the DP slot was reserved for Mt Kenya, remarks that led to discomfort within the coalition.

“As far as I’m concerned, Ruto is a presidential candidate and the running mate will come from the mountain at an appropriate time,” Rigathi said. ANC Secretary Simon Gakuru, however, described Rigathi’s sentiments as premature. He said the MP had no authority to speak on behalf of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance.

“Kenya Kwanza has not decided on its presidential and running mate. This will happen and be unveiled at an appropriate time by our principals,” he said. But Rigathi has also had to contend with challenges within the corridors of justice. In February, the Asset and Recovery Agency told the court he had no proof that Sh200 million in his bank account was legitimately sourced.

According to the agency, Rigathi’s three personal accounts conducted a series of suspicious debit transactions amounting to Sh7.3 billion and a total credit of Sh12.5 billion between 2013 and 2020 which they believe are proceeds of crime.

The MP is in court fighting a Sh7.5 billion graft case around six counts of economic crimes, including conspiracy to commit an offence of corruption, money laundering and fraudulent acquisition of public property.

The authority says he received the money through three different bank accounts, in his name at Rafiki Microfinance Bank. He allegedly received the cash between 2013 and 2020 in Nairobi.

On the charge of conspiracy to commit an offence of corruption, Gachagua is charged alongside UDA’s Senatorial aspirant Wahome Wamatinga among others. Rigathi has maintained that the corruption allegations levelled against him are politically motivated.