Rigathi Gachagua: From Uhuru's personal assistant to his harshest critic after political tiff

Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua shakes hands with Deputy President William Ruto after he was unveiled as the running mate under Kenya Kwanza Alliance on  May 15, 2022. [Standard]

He was President Uhuru Kenyatta’s personal assistant for five years. But Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, who was yesterday picked as Deputy President William Ruto’s running mate, is one of the Head of State’s fiercest critics.

Even to Mr Gachagua, the turn of events is “unbelievable.”

The man who would plan President Kenyatta’s daily engagements between 2002 and 2006 is now not only a point man but second in command in the Dr Ruto pecking order. Coincidentally, the DP and Mr Gachagua fell out with the president.

“Uhuru has really changed. He was really a good man when I used to manage his diary. He was an excellent candidate to handle and an easy person. He was trusting and reliable,” says the MP.

Mr Gachagua was Mr Kenyatta’s Personal Assistant at a critical time when the latter made his first stab at the presidency against the late former President Mwai Kibaki, who had been fronted by a united opposition under Narc.

The Mathira MP says his support for Mr Kenyatta put him at loggerheads with his family, which was firmly in support of a Kibaki presidency. At one time his now late elder brother and former Nyeri Governor Nderitu Gachagua asked him to choose between the family’s position and Mr Kenyatta.

In Provincial Administration

Having been in the Provincial Administration for over a decade, Mr Gachagua says he found President Kenyatta to be a good student of politics and his candidature gained traction during the campaigns ahead of the 2002 General Election.

He says that after Mr Kenyatta was elected President, they worked informally, but things changed during the second term.

The outspoken MP says it was Mr Kenyatta who introduced him to Dr Ruto in 2002, and they forged a close relationship.

“I like Ruto; I believe he can change the country.  I like his economic revival plan and subscribe to it. It will better the lives in the Mount Kenya region and the country at large. I’d vouch for him anytime,” he says.

He says when he was in Kanu, he became an arbiter on two or three occasions when Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto differed.

“There was one occasion the two had disagreed while still in Kanu; when Uhuru moved to support Kibaki while Ruto gravitated towards Raila. I would be the go-between is such cases,” he says.

Run-ins with government

The MP says he has had run-ins with the government because of supporting the DP.

“I have known Ruto for two decades. He is my neighbour in Karen, and our families are close, plus I really like him. He is a critical thinker and sharp upstairs,” says Mr Gachagua. 

He says he keeps his friends and will not desert Dr Ruto because of a fall-out with Mr Kenyatta.

“Some people close to Uhuru say that I should drop Ruto if I support Uhuru. I wonder, because the two are in different situations; one is the outgoing president and the other is seeking to get it. There is no conflict at all. I don’t abandon friends,” says Mr Gachagua.

Mr Gachagua says after the President lost in the 2002 elections, former Cabinet ministers John Michuki, Njenga Karume and his late brother Nderitu Gachagua, who was Nyeri governor, told him to dump Mr Kenyatta and take up a Permanent Secretary position, but he declined and stood with the then official opposition leader.

He says today he is surprised to see his former boss watch as he faces political persecution for supporting Dr Ruto, and vows not to drop his support for the DP. 

Mr Gachagua gives credit to the President for conceding defeat when he lost in the 2002 elections.

“When his political legacy is written, his gracious acceptance of defeat will be one of the highlights of his career. In his autobiography, it warrants a chapter,” he says.

He says despite their differences, he respects the President and is indebted to him for helping the family move the body of the former Nyeri governor from London to the country and later with burial arrangements.

“Even when I was campaigning in 2017, I told my people that even if I lose the election and Uhuru wins, I will be okay. “In the repeat elections I used my money to brand the vehicles and billboards in Nyeri. I literally ran and oversaw the county campaigns,” he said.