Why DP Gachagua is now a polished man, not a passing cloud

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua addresses UDA supporters after inspecting the area damaged by the raging waters of Kijabe Dam in Maai Mahiu, Nakuru County on April 29, 2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Having developed an image of an irritant and clumsy deputy president since he took office with President William Ruto after the 2022 election, the rapid transformation of Rigathi Gachagua into an engaging politician has taken many by surprise.

He has scored quick victories over the last 14 days, first succeeding in pushing for an amendment to the UDA party constitution and succeeding in having only one position of deputy party leader, followed by his allies winning 14 out of 17 slots in the UDA grassroots party polls for Nairobi.

Political analyst Martin Andati cautions that anybody who underrates Gachagua is making a very big mistake because he broke a record by being the only politician to serve as MP for only five years and then became deputy president.

The only other person who rose that fast was Dr Njuguna Karanja who was an Assistant Minister for 18 months before President Daniel arap Moi appointed him Vice President, albeit in a different political era.

Unlike former vice presidents Moi and Mwai Kibaki before him, Prof Karanja, a former University of Nairobi Vice Chancellor, emerged as an ambitious young professional to the discomfort of Kanu hawks in Moi’s government.

Ambitious politicians such as Jaramogi Oginga Odinga also suffered a similar fate when he served as vice president under President Jomo Kenyatta because he was haunted and removed from his position in a very short period after independence.

Kibaki was at the centre of the Jomo Kenyatta succession, helping thwart forces that were opposed to Moi, just like Gachagua also heavily supported Ruto against Uhuru Kenyatta’s wishes before the last presidential poll.

The man, who later became Kenya’s third president, also survived an attempt to nick him in the bud when Moi unleashed Kanu hawks led by Elijah Mwangale against him.

“Gachagua rose very fast but he has been around power, first serving as a well-connected District Officer in Moi’s government and then moving to Uhuru's corner as the Personal Assistant before becoming MP for Mathira and so he understands the shenanigans and intrigues of power,” states Andati.

He added: “The change in Gachagua is a tactical retreat because his ultimate an ambition is to become president but he cannot come out and say that openly now. He must be having a team of advisors, who told him to change tack and go slow”.

But he is at the same time also running the same scheme Ruto used to make himself popular by reaching out to a sizeable number of MPs for support, especially in the Mt Kenya region, the president’s Rift valley backyard and other regions.

Pundits say he has reached out to some MPs quietly without engaging in much fanfare to get their loyalty with the aim of consolidating his own support within Ruto’s voting bloc.

The analysis further paints a more toned down deputy president, a man who is now less forceful in his speeches and more restrained in his attacks against Uhuru and his government.

“His style of politics has also transformed. Even the way he presents himself in public. The way he dresses. His demeanor. The intonation. Even the way he delivers his messages has changed. He appears now as very a civilised and polished person,” says Nairobi politician Philip Kisia.

The former Nairobi Town Clerk thinks Gachagua has proved that he is highly intelligent by quickly realising that he needs to secure his backyard through accommodating all leaders in the region.

President  William Ruto with his Deputy Rigathi Gachagua after addressing the media at the Deputy President's residence in Karen, Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

“He is reaching out and telling all leaders, let’s talk. Going as far as apologising to those he may have wronged like the Kenyattas because he cannot succeed by fighting present and past leaders,” says Kisia.

Gachagua is also changing strategy, knowing well that the anti-dynasty campaign that President Ruto used to win votes in the Mt Kenya region and other parts of the country in 2022 will not wash again because of the punitive taxes and other tough policies that many Kenyans are opposed to.

“You saw the other day traders on Luthuli Avenue protesting and 80% of them are Gachagua’s people who voted for Kenya Kwanza. They are very unhappy but he is now trying to win the hearts of those people," said Kisia.

The idea is to bring his community together in readiness for either running in the very near future or to make sure that in 2027, he gives Ruto a very hard time, in terms of sharing of government.

Andati has also seen a big change in Gachagua because he has stopped talking about the shareholding in government upon realising that Ruto was trying to micromanage him through the likes of MPs Ndindi Nyoro and Kimani Ichung’wah.

“Even the proposal to bring Musalia Mudavadi on board as one of the deputies in UDA was part of the schemes of taming Gachagua and so he had to change tack by asserting his authority in the UDA elections,” says Andati.

He describes the two recent events in UDA as a major victory for Gachagua given he has forced Mudavadi to go back to the drawing board after speculation mounted that he had planned to abandon his party, ANC, for a top position in UDA.

Political pundits further argue that Ruto thinks Gachagua is not popular in his Mt Kenya backyard and that is why the likes of Nyoro and Ichung’wah are being hawked around as possible alternatives.

But Gachagua is not sleeping. He is working hard to get his space and come out as his own man or as the kingpin in the region by approaching all leaders, including opposition figures like Martha Karua and Jeremiah Kioni.

Analysts think Gachagua just like Moi and Kibaki may have been advised that it is important to play the balancing act of not upsetting the applecart by creating unnecessary supremacy wars in the party despite attempts by Ruto’s inner-circle to target him.

Kisia, until now a harsh critic of Gachagua, now says he is doing very well because people are seeing a completely different leader presenting himself as a servant, unlike his boss who dictates that you don’t have to be popular to lead.

Like Moi, the deputy president is also trying to understudy his bosses, lying low when he worked for Uhuru between 2001 and 2006 as his personal assistant while he served as minister, presidential candidate and later as leader of the opposition.

Like Moi did in the post-independence era to marshal support for Jomo Kenyatta and his Kanu party, Gachagua mobilised some MPs from Central Kenya to rally behind Ruto from 2021, leading to his victory in 2022.

Nyeri Town MP Duncan Mathenge is one of his key men and was reported to have welcomed the decision of having only one UDA deputy party leader, noting that it would strengthen Gachagua’s position and influence in the party.

 “Gachagua is the Deputy Party Leader of UDA, that is the position and that can only be changed at the NDC. People have the right to associate, and express themselves. Party structures will be used to decide whether there is need for three deputy party leaders,” he said last week.

Andati also pointed out that like Ruto who understudied Moi and later Raila, Gachagua also appears to be keen learner and quickly mastered the political style of key players he allied himself to like Uhuru and Ruto.

Indeed, in February 2022 he said: “Uhuru Kenyatta knows me and if there’s somebody who knows him, it is me. We have done many things together."

Like Moi did in Rift Valley, Gachagua is determined to win his backyard in the Mt Kenya region and parts of Rift Valley that has an estimated 6.5 million votes.

The power games taking place in Kenya Kwanza can be also equated to previous events especially in the Kenyatta I administration and later Moi’s government.

First, it was the powerful Tom Mboya, Kenyatta’s blue-eyed boy who changed the Kanu constitution creating more positions of deputy party leader to edge out Vice President Jaramogi.

Fast forward to Moi, it was Ruto, then working as the Kanu Director of Elections who masterminded the creation of four Kanu vice chairman slots to push out then Vice President Prof George Saitoti.

“By sticking out his neck and fighting to protect his turf quietly while also playing the good boy, it will be difficult to push out Gachagua and that is what Mudavadi should be aware of as he navigates his way in Kenya Kwanza,” says Andati.

So apart from the fact that Gachagua’s position as deputy president is protected by the Constitution, it will also not be easy to force him out.

It will not work the way Odinga was forced to quit on April 14, 1966 to form the opposition, Kenya Peoples Union.

So Gachagua will be sitting pretty for now but pundits caution that the scheming against him will continue because many senior Kenya Kwanza leaders were opposed to his selection as Ruto's running mate and wanted Kithure Kindiki instead. 

Ruto however pulled a surprise by sticking with Gachagua, mainly because he wanted to reward the Kikuyu community for their support and also because Gachagua like Moi in 1966, appeared to be a conformist.

Kenyatta surprised many in Kanu by going for the 42-year-old Moi, who was regarded as a weak politician from a small community despite having a choice of picking a stronger candidate from the many regional kingpins at the time.