Political calculations behind Gachagua's move to mend ties with Kenyatta's


Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua at ACK Good Samaritan Nyangwa sports ground, Mbeere South, Embu County for a Christian service and funds drive towards the Diocesan investment project on March 2, 2024. [DPCS]

They say there are no permanent enemies in politics. Therefore, no one should be surprised that Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua is mending his relationship with the Kenyatta family—a family many believe the DP led Kenya Kwanza to treat with contempt before and after the 2022 general elections. So, is Gachagua playing safe or is he being politically strategic?

In Gikuyu, such a strategic stronghold is called 'hutia ngoige' (touch me, and I will go and say it). This folklore stronghold concept has various versions, explanations, and applications. For example, if someone knows your dark secret, they can use it to manipulate and control you by threatening to expose you if you do not conform to their demands—that person can be called 'hutia ngoige'.

In politics, it is always a backup plan. Most politicians survive on this stronghold strategy. For example, William Ruto knew that he had a majority of Jubilee legislators in the previous government. So, as the story goes, he could dare Uhuru not to play with him, or he would split the party, finish him, and paralyse government operations.

Gachagua, unlike Ruto, needs a strong backup plan. It is, politically, a necessary survival evil. Otherwise, deputy presidents are vulnerable, exposed and somehow dispensable. The little experience we learnt from Ruto and Uhuru's relationship, together with a predictable turn of events given the current positioning of the DP, the second in command should learn to be amorphous and formless to survive.

Two reasons can explain why DPs need back-up plans. First, is presidential anxiety. Normally, from a Machiavellian point of view, the President knows that the deputy is his/her replacement. No human being likes the idea that there is a spare person somewhere waiting to come in anytime. It is only in football or in paternal inheritance order that such positioning can be tolerated.

Moreover, as I have always stated, the unconscious desire for any DP is to inherit power in the order of Daniel arap Moi or Tanzania's Samia Suluhu.

No president can ever have a sweet tooth for such Oedipus dispositions. Why is power obtained in this order significant? If Jomo Kenyatta lived to replace his vice president, Moi would have ended like his predecessors—Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Joseph Murumbi.

So, every DP has the power to become president at the slightest chance. That is why whoever becomes president must treat their deputies with suspicion, and the deputies can only ignore this fact at their peril.

Second, is what I call strategic rivalrism. Deputies are usually mishandled by those closer to the President—this has been the case since independence. Many interested parties desire to assume the position of ‘second-in-command’, albeit covertly.

These politicians pose as symbols of trust, foresight, and think tanks around the President while ghettoising the deputy. Sometimes, they even bar the deputy from accessing the President.

They try to convince the President that the deputy deserves to be tamed should he think he is equal to the President. In this vulnerable position, the deputy can only turn to enemies. Even presidents can find themselves in this position.

For example, during Uhuru's regime, the President felt the heat and relied on Raila Odinga and the opposition to tame his deputy, who was noticeably becoming too ambitious. In his 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene advises that “Enemies can be more useful than friends when you can co-opt them.”

In the Kenya Kwanza regime, Gachagua is privileged to pull the stunt. This is because politically speaking, Ruto has very many options and replacements for Gachagua, while the DP may not have many options to replace Ruto.

Therefore, the Kenyatta family factor is handy for Gachagua and his Mount Kenya constituency. He is creating a 'hutia ngoige’ throttle-hold that he can use to check and balance his relationship with the President whenever things threaten to go south.

Dr Ndonye is a senior lecturer, the Department of Mass Communication, at Kabarak University

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