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Gachagua and poisoned chalice that is Kenya's vice-presidency

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua. [DPCS] 

Reports that some powerful forces in Kenya Kwanza could be scheming against Deputy President (DP) Rigathi Gachagua and Speaker Moses Wetangula, to tame the duo in the 2027 presidential elections have set tongues wagging.

Political analysts have said the recent proposal by some leaders from the Mt Kenya region that Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro be an alternative to Gachagua as the running mate of President William Ruto in 2027 did not just come out of the blue.

Last year, the DP repeatedly told Kenyans that he was the kingpin of the Mt Kenya region, and that he made every effort to mobilse votes from the region for President William Ruto to win, hence the region’s guarantee of a larger shareholding in government. That, however, changed early this year, when a split emerged between MPs from Murang’a, led by Senator Joe Nyutu, who were behind Nyoro, and their Nyeri counterparts who opposed attempts to undermine Gachagua.

Although Nyoro has since clarified that he is fully behind Gachagua, his continued appearance as the guest at high profile events like fund raising meetings in Rift Valley and western have not gone unnoticed.

Former Roads Minister Franklin Bett thinks Gachagua’s boss may either be getting wary of him or he could be getting advice that his deputy will not be of much political value come 2027.

“If you look at the way all vice or deputy presidents have been thrown out since the time of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga in 1966, they were seen by their superiors as having had an eye on their seat,” says Bett.

The former Comptroller of State House points at what happened to Ruto himself when he made it clear early before Uhuru’s second term that he wanted to succeed his boss in 2022 and began creating his own sphere of influence.

Only those vice presidents who played below the radar like Daniel arap Moi under Jomo Kenyatta and Kalonzo Musyoka with President Mwai Kibaki never found themselves in serious controversies.

Most vice or deputy presidents have always disappeared into oblivion, or went on to occupy other roles, after either leaving office or being sacked, apart from Moi, Kibaki and now Ruto who rose to power. 

They include Jaramogi, Josephat Karanja, Joseph Murumbi, George Saitoti, Musalia Mudavadi, Moody Awori and Kalonzo Musyoka.

 Saitoti was even humiliated when he lost in the 2002 succession politics with Moi dismissing him as a mere friend in favour of Uhuru Kenyatta, who was in the end defeated by Kibaki.

“Look at Saitoti, God forbid we are discussing him when he is long gone and he died in a very bad way. It is not even Mzee Moi who could say he should go. It could be the handlers saying unaona huyu Saitoti anamezea mate hii kiti yako mzee (Saitoti is salivating for your seat),” says Bett

Kibaki, who served as vice president for 10 years, was also unceremoniously getting demoted to the health ministry.

Karanja was sacked by Moi after MPs led by the late David Mwenje instigated his ouster claiming he had become so powerful to the extent that he wanted them to kneel before him.

Although Kibaki never engaged in any overt fights with his deputies, he had a power struggle with his Prime Minister Raila Odinga who later quit and ran against him in the 2007 elections.

Presidents all the time have their eyes on the number two, and swiftly gets dealt with once they start attracting or demanding for loyalty from political leaders and threatening their bosses strength and political status in certain regions.

Stubborn deputies

“It is human nature because even in the corporate world and places like Saccos and trade unions, the number twos are always treated with caution by the man at the helm,” adds Bett.

It becomes more challenging in situations where leaders serve for only two terms and then something disruptive erupts in term one. Almost all governors are always in some kind of friction with their deputies because of similar challenges and the 2027 election politics.

To manage stubborn deputies, something akin to what is happening in UDA, three  positions of vice chairman/deputy party leader were created in an apparent bid to manage the deputy’s egos.

“Those positions are created to cool possible threats, especially in term one. I was there at Kasarani, when Saitoti was removed from Kanu leadership,” says Bett.

The position of vice chairman was split into four and shared among regional kingpins, Katana Ngala, Uhuru, Kalonzo and Mudavadi, a move that was aimed at frustrating Saitoti and forcing him to walk away.

The Standard reported this week that Gachagua’s allies have opposed plans to introduce two other deputy party leader slots interpreting that as a plot to weaken the DP by creating several centers of power.

The allies are said to be crying foul over a plot by some quarters in government of bankrolling some youthful legislators led by Nyoro to checkmate him.

Recently, when Ruto met with Raila and agreed that he bids for the position of AU Commission chairperson, the DP appeared to have been caught off guard awkward.

“That is the problem of being overzealous and over reaching yourself. He also made matters difficult for himself by not creating any meaningful political traction “on the ground” (among the voting populace) and within the Kenya Kwanza top rank,” says former Nairobi Town Clerk Philip Kisia.

He says Gachagua may not get a lot of respect from his boss because he is performing dismally at the bottom among the people and at the top where he should earn trust to be the one driving President William Ruto’s 2027 re-election agenda.

“He is in an awkward position but the only advantage he has got is that the 2010 constitution now protects that office otherwise he could not have withstood the heat by now,” says political analyst Martin Andati.

Last year, Gachagua also appeared to have been caught flat footed when President Ruto met with Raila and agreed to convene the National Dialogue Committee (NADCO) when they together with his boss had opposed any kind of talks with the opposition leader.

A furious Gachagua went to Machakos where he told a gathering that the talks that were going on at the Bomas of Kenya between Kenya Kwanza and Azimio la Umoja coalitions were futile and a waste of time for Kenyans.

The President however ignored his protestations and continued supporting the talks until a report was produced with some recommendations that are yet to be implemented.

Andati also argues that the recent proposal that has now fizzled out cannot be dismissed as mere political bickering.

The analyst argues that the President may have realized that Gachagua is a liability and may cost Kenya Kwanza support and goodwill because of the many goofs the DP makes in his public utterances.

Gachagua courted controversy last year when he announced that the the Kenya Kwanza government was to reintroduce the controversial shamba system of farming in forests that had been banned by two previous administrations.

A few months ago, the DP threatened to conduct a grand march in the city to the Supreme Court to protest over a judge he claimed was corrupt without an iota of proof.

With egg on his face, he sent out a press release making tactical retreat hours before the intended march as the media waited for perhaps what could have been one of the biggest stories in 2024 and a major clash between the Executive and the Judiciary since the enactment of the 2010 constitution.

“He is struggling to consolidate Mt Kenya but it is not working because that region is largely with Uhuru Kenyatta who has no time for Gachagua. They worked together but the DP who was his junior undermined the former president and had no respect for him,” says Andati.

Gachagua has never hidden his contempt for Raila as seen when they met at the funeral of a Mau Mau freedom fighter in Nyandarua.

“The reason we fear you Raila is because when you got together with Uhuru Kenyatta, he became a changed man and was so bitter whenever we met but would only smile with you,” said Gachagua. 

“We cannot agree for you to join our administration because you will mess us up the way you messed Uhuru Kenyatta,” he said. 

Among tactics used by past presidents to tame their deputies, included instigating a political campaign and propaganda against the vice president, a case in point being the campaign that was waged against Mwai Kibaki by President Moi.

The frustration of VPs began in 1966, when Odinga realised he was being sidelined in decision making by Kanu then led by President Jomo Kenyatta and resigned with about 30 MPs to form Kenya Peoples Union (KPU), which, however, faltered in ensuing mini-polls.

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