Gachagua: A strategist who likes to play the fool


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]

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua has often been labeled as un-urbane, not well versed with the smooth ways and an unexposed individual, mainly because of the way he dressed initially, which has since improved, and the manner of his speech.

Not shy of outbursts, Gachagua has let out some unprintable epithets. Political pundits, however, believe the DP, as is wont to be true in character of Kenya’s chameleonic politicians, uses deception as a tact to win.

Many have described him as uncultured, uncivilised, crude, undefined and politically weak.

Before June 2022, many did not expect that he could be President William Ruto’s preferred running mate and his choice came as a shocker to many.

His competitor in Kenya Kwanza, Kithure Kindiki, now Interior Cabinet Secretary, was thought to be the most fitting choice for Ruto. Presidential in nature, Kindiki has always projected a polished educated demeanor and well-adjusted in manner. He also had more experience in politics having served as Senator and Deputy Speaker.

But Gachagua, a one-term MP with a harsh tongue and appearing  erratic in bearing, emerged victorious in the running mate contest leaving many surprised. In the July 20, 2022, Deputy Presidential Debate he faced off with Azimio running mate Martha Karua, where Azimio supporters coined a narrative Gachagua apewe microphone.

There was the running narrative that whenever Gachagua was given a microphone, Kenya Kwanza lost votes - a good thing for Azimio and its flag bearer Raila Odinga.  

However, Gachagua landed a first surprise emerging in a fairly well-cut suit. His answers to questions also attracted some empathy - and at the end of the debate, he came out opposite of what had been thought would be. There were signs that he was a man who knew where he was headed to.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua addressed Mai Mahiu residents after they were displaced by raging flood waters. [Joseph Kipsang, Standard]

Karua, on the other hand, remained composed and tried as much as possible not to attack Ruto’s character. She articulated Azimio’s manifesto with composure and ease but was often forced on the defensive by an aggressive and resilient Gachagua.

In the weeks leading up to the recent grassroots election, the matter of the UDA party constitution providing for three deputy party leader slots generated much debate. To Gachagua’s loyalists, that was a plot to checkmate their leader. They vowed to use all means to have that provision scrapped and the positions reserved for the President and Deputy President.

Supporters of that UDA structure within Kenya Kwanza argued that the other two deputy party leader positions were the bargaining chips to lure Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula to fold Amani National Congress and Ford Kenya respectively.

In the end, Gachagua was the one that smiled when on May 3, the party’s the National Executive Committee approved amendments to the UDA Constitution to create one office of the deputy party leader and two offices of assistant deputy party leader. 

“The Committee also sanctioned a detailed review of the Party Constitution, the Nomination Rules among other policy documents for further deliberations and approval by the National Delegates Congress (NDC), read a statement signed by party Secretary General Cleophas Malala. Then came the UDA grassroot elections where his ally, Embakasi North MP James Gakuya and Nairobi Governor Johnstone Sakaja eyed the Nairobi chairmanship position.

Today, Gakuya is celebrating that his wing of delegates elected at the polling station level won 14 out of the 17 constituencies. That gives Gachagua’s man an easy ride.

These political wins by Gachagua, at a time he keeps describing himself as an average mind that is “not so clever and neither is it stupid” confound his political rivals.

According to Barrack Muluka, a communication strategist and political analyst, Gachagua has always worn a mask to get his competitors to underestimate him. When critical moments arise, he drops the mask and dresses in armor to destroy his opponents when least expected.

“In the deputy presidential debate with Martha (Karua), Gachagua emerged with the attire of a polished leader in his speech and choice of words. He is chameleonic and you can only underrate him at your own peril,” Dr Muluka said.

Gachagua’s past experience in the then provincial administration, Muluka said, makes him a tricky leader to deal with.

‘’These chaps running around in Central Kenya like Ndindi Nyoro who is barely in his 30s may not know what will hit them as it will be like a political thriller.’’

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua hosted President William Ruto at his Karen residence. [Boniface Kendo, Standard]

Political pundit Charles Njoroge said Gachagua is a good student of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, operating under the maxim ‘’All warfare is based on deception.”

“Given that he is a student of Literature, he must be putting into practice a phrase in Tzu’s book that it is only the one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on. He appears weak when he is strong, and strong when he is weak,” Njoroge told The Sunday Standard.

Part of the book reads ‘’be extremely subtle even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate’’.

Gachagua’s political moves could be equated with those of the second President Daniel Moi, Njoroge says, who despite criticism by some government quarters, appeared unambitious and calm and despite scheming to bar him from succeeding the founding President Jomo Kenyatta, he became Kenya’s President for 24 years.

Nyeri Senator Wahome Wamatinga told  The  Standard that despite looking ‘’weak and undefined’’, there is no single remark or message that Gachagua makes that is not highly calculated with a desired outcome. “For us who have known him for over 20 years, we know that he is highly calculative and camouflaging individual. His messages appear reckless but that is a deceiving strategy aimed at his opponents. On the contrary, he is an administrative excellence and he understands the art of politics and that is why he chose a political line and defended it to the finality.”

Wamatinga describes Gachagua as a meticulous and perfect planner and only a political fool may not understand his modus operandi. But political observer Esther Kamuri said whether Gachagua’s antics will yield the presidency to him will depend on a number of factors including how well his opponents will read him and come up with a strategy to launch a counterattack.

“Will he sustain his moves of playing the fool?  Or will that will open his perceived opponents’ eyes and establish a political scheme to counter his cards? These are some of the factors that will inform Gachagua’s ascent to State House, which I presume is the ultimate goal for every ambitious political leader in Kenya,” Kamuri said.